Claiming the Facts – Researching the Ridiculous

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Something about claims on labels has bothered me for years. I read them because I want to know how I might be affected by a product.

So if an antiseptic kills only “99.9%” of viruses and bacteria, I don’t want to know just the ones it kills, I want to know the remaining .1% that are left behind to threaten my wellbeing. That’s not being nit-picky, is it?

 

And if a bath soap recommended as gentle enough for a baby’s skin is only “99.44% pure”, is it unreasonable to be concerned about the impurities that make up the .56% balance of ingredients? After all, so many products out there offer medical solutions by being absorbed through the skin – nicotine and anti-nausea patches, to name just two – I’m hesitant about my grandchildren being exposed to even small amounts of an unknown impurity during bath time at grandma’s.

 

Which all goes to say how important research is… most of the time.

In a post last fall I mentioned the importance of having accurate details in our writing, and just last week in one of her posts Jody Hedlund talked about how we do our research. As I read through the responses it was obvious there are many different approaches. Some do copious amounts of research before beginning to write. Some do only what’s necessary to get started and then research for specifics as they go along. Still others do very little in the initial draft, choosing to let creativity move them along, and fill in the blanks by researching later during the revision process.

However we do it, there are two points that beg to be noticed:

  1. Whatever details we use must be correct. Readers will notice incongruities and lose faith in our credibility and our authority to tell the story. If we throw in facts of questionable accuracy during the initial writing, we need to mark them for later verification.
  2. There is only so long we can put off writing in favour of research.  While it can be tempting to stay immersed in all the fascinating data, at some point we have to push aside the books and notes, turn off the internet, and begin writing the story. It doesn’t matter how accurate the details or how authentic the setting, if the story is never told.

If you do initial research for a story, when do you know it’s time to start writing? Oh, and if you’ve run across any statistics on the missing .1% and .56% mentioned earlier, I’d love to have you share them!

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