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Complements are a nice way to say 'thank you!'

t’s always nice to receive a complement about your work. It’s even nicer when that complement also says something about your work ethic.

I received just such a complement last week.

“Your first shot is far more accurate than most final articles.”

An academic made the comment in response to the first draft of a story about “What’s eating your plants.” He’s an entomologist who specializes in insects that attack edibles. The story is for Mother Nature Network (MNN) (I’ll link to it when it’s been posted).

I sent him the draft because I prefer to have sources review stories before they are published. The stories, especially those for MNN, often report on scientific causes and effects in urban agriculture. Because the academics who supply the information understand that I don’t have a scientific background, they offer explanations in layman’s terms.

Even so, topics are complex, and what is being said may not always be clear to a writer who doesn’t have experience in a technical field. Asking sources to review drafts of stories prevents mistakes that embarrass me and the experts on whom I rely.

Not surprisingly, I’ve never had anyone turn down a request to to review a draft. As one professor said, “It protects me and you.” Then she added wistfully, “I was misquoted so badly once that a colleague called me and said, ‘Did you really say that?’ “

Most news organizations have a policy against letting sources review stories before they are published. The standard reasoning is that sources will try to skew a story in a way that favors them or a positon they take. That may be true in political reporting, but I’ve never run into that in science writing. My experience is that sources just want to be sure that the public gets accurate information.

I take accuracy seriously, and I do my best to be 100 percent accurate on my first shot. But if I’m off, I’m grateful for people who care as much as I do about ensuring that information is correct before it goes into the public domain. In the end, we all win.

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