Ideally, fact checking should occur before the copyediting stage. If an error is discovered, the author may need to do some rewriting that should be checked by the structural editor. Some processes use specialized fact checkers (those at larger magazines, for example). However, copyeditors do usually apply their critical eye. Check what the project manager wants, and get it in writing. Do not leave yourself open legal action over a factual error or libelous statement.*
Fact checking starts with the author as the source of URLs, notes, and credible sources. Every fact gets checked with two sources, ideally. Names are a particularly vulnerable type of fact. My name gets misspelled all the time, even when I supply it.
What Facts to Check
These crucial categories of facts are given in Editing Canadian English (ECE):
- job titles
- phone numbers
- email addresses
- monetary figures
- geographic locations
- instructions and steps
How to Check the Facts
How should you check them? Follow the steps, map the directions, type in the URLs, call the phone numbers, look up the dates, call the sources to check their names and job titles. Go right to the source. Query any discrepancies, since the author may have got it right, fixing a widespread error:
“Change ok? Per company webpage.”
Also flag anything that seems debatable or that a reader might take issue with.
Potentially libelous material needs extra care. “Anything that could leave you or the client open to legal action should be referred to a lawyer,” says ECE. For instance, leave a comment saying “Cleared with legal?” beside any instance of calling an event “an act of terrorism.” Include these concerns in the transmittal note to the project manager.
The editor’s responsibility is to flag these items, and suggest corrections where available. The author and publisher are responsible for the content of their product.*
*Beware of your contract terms; many contracts include a clause that makes the editor responsible for factual accuracy and libel. Consult your lawyer.