Accuracy Checklist for Journalists

Fewer editors in the newsroom mean that reporters have to step up their self-editing game.

This accuracy checklist should help.Accuracy01

Fewer copy editors in the newsroom—in fact, fewer editors in general—means that reporters must increasingly perform that function themselves. Before submitting a story or hitting “publish” on a website’s CMS, take an additional 15 minutes to review your work for accuracy. You’ll save yourself the embarrassment of writing a correction the next day.

Facts
Check these first three items while your story is on the screen:
1. Review spell-check suggestions and correct any actual errors.
2. Click links.
3. Call phone numbers.

Use a printout of the story for the remaining checks:
Put a ruler under each line as you read the text. Underline every fact, and then double-check each one, including:
• Names and titles of people, places and companies – Also, does each second reference (Jones) have a first reference (Mary Jones)?
• Numbers and calculations – Do the numbers add up? Is it millions or billions? Are the percentages correct?
• Dates and ages – Watch references to “next month/last month” when the month is changing.
• Quotes – Are quotes accurate and properly attributed? Have you fully captured what each person meant?
• Superlatives – What’s your source that something is the biggest, oldest, etc.

Grammar
Check each sentence for correct use of:
Subject-verb agreement – Also, are you consistent in your use of either the present or the past tense to tell the story?
Pronoun-noun agreement.
Plurals and possessives.
Punctuation.

Spelling
Read the story backwards, checking the spelling of each word. Here’s a dictionary.

Fairness and context
Terms – Define or eliminate unfamiliar terms, such as acronyms and jargon.
Fairness – Have all stakeholders been contacted and given a chance to talk?
Missing – Does the story leave any important questions unanswered?
Context – Does the reader have the context to understand the story?

Your own common errors
• ____________________________________________________________
• ____________________________________________________________

Final checks
Read the story aloud.
Have someone else read it.
Accompanying elements – Run the previous checks on the story’s headlines, cutlines, sidebars, photos, graphics, videos and podcasts. Check for inconsistencies.

Thanks to these sources for inspiring this checklist:
Steve Buttry’s Accuracy Checklist
Detroit Free Press Accuracy Checklist
Daphne Gray-Grant’s “Preventing goof-ups: 10 proofreading tips”
The New York Times’ “The Reader’s Lament”

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