Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Credit: Use this checklist to get it right

By · Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Three elements in a story — attribution, sources and substantiation — give credit in distinct ways. Credit is essential to give you and your work credibility.

  1. Attribution tells readers where information came from; it makes the story transparent.
  2. Sources indicate that others — not the reporter — provided information; they make the story credible.
  3. Substantiation gives support to information in the story; it makes the story strong.

Here are some key questions you can ask yourself about these three elements to ensure they are present in stories you write or edit and that they appear in the appropriate places.

Questions about attribution

Who is telling the news? Is it clear either in the lead paragraph or within the first few paragraphs?

Is there too little attribution? Does attribution appear in one paragraph but not in the next few paragraphs that follow? Paragraph by paragraph, is it clear where information is coming from and who said it?

Is there too much attribution? Is information attributed to the same person in each sentence of the same paragraph? Can that be streamlined by attributing the information once in the paragraph and making clear that the attribution applies to the entire paragraph?

Is attribution in the proper place? With a change in speaker after a quote, is there attribution at the start of the next sentence so a new speaker is properly introduced?

Questions about sources

Are the right sources in the story? Are they commenting on the right things?

Are the sources believable? Are they close enough to the story that they know what they’re talking about? Are they so close that they seem biased?

Are there enough sources? Are there various points of view? Is anyone missing?

Are sources fully and clearly identified? Are experts’ qualifications clear? Are there any anonymous sources in the story — and have the proper editors approved their use? Are the anonymous sources necessary? What other sources could take their place?

Questions about substantiation

Is any information in doubt? If so, why? What will remove that doubt?

Have assertions been verified? Has material from sources been supported with independent information? Or, has it been included unchallenged?

Is the content strong? Paragraph by paragraph, does the story stand up to scrutiny?

What’s missing? Should anything else be included that would make the story complete?

When you ask these questions again and again, story after story, you develop a natural and helpful habit. Your goal is to end up with a strong story that meets not only your expectations but those of your audience as well. If you don’t ask, readers will.

Comments are closed.