Being an effective writer isn’t just about showing off your creativity. If you want to impress you need to make sure that you add impact by consistently using facts, stats and quotes in the most potent way.

So that you don’t look like a numpty (remember Sam Smith at the Oscars? Poor thing), you need to make sure that all your references are firstly (and most importantly) true, and secondly that they add something meaningful to your piece. Here’s our best practice guide to getting it right.

  1.    Google (then check again) – Don’t just assume the first report you come to is correct. Google is full of conflicting information, and it’s your job to check for consistency (or not) in the reports that you’re reading. Conflicting information isn’t a problem, it can often make your article more informative, and possibly even challenge your preconceived ideas on a subject. Remember, not all sources are created equally. The information on your friend’s personal blog doesn not hold as much weight as a Cambridge lecturer or a well-respected news outlet (assuming there are still some left).
  1.    Research, research, research – It’s hard to believe, but Google is not the only source of information out there. Read around your subject, it will help you gain deeper insight into what you’re writing about, which will translate into more authoritative work.
  1.    Attribute quotes and stats – It should go without saying that you need to acknowledge when you’re referencing someone else’s work and ideas. It might feel like an effort, but readers could easily confuse laziness with plagiarism and your writing reputation probably won’t recover from the latter.
  1.    Don’t make wild claims – This morning I read a Medium article that stated, ‘the most likely to have a breakthrough in one industry is not the expert or insider but the expert from a different sector who’s looking in with fresh eyes’. Steve Jobs might have had something to say about that. This is a sweeping statement that really means nothing when you think about it. The writer didn’t back up this claim with any facts and made me question the credibility of the entire piece, which is not what we want as writers, is it?
  1.    Check your stats, then look for more – Apparently, 73.9% of statistics are made up*, but what % are misleading? In 2014, there was a lot of noise around Facebook’s drop in younger active users. According to iStrategyLabs there was a huge 25.3% drop in their 13-17-year-old users – a stat that could (and did) cause the shareholders some alarm. However, the same report referenced that the number of 55+ users had increased by a gargantuan 80.4%, which made the picture look a whole lot rosier. Don’t rely on one dramatic statistic to prove a point as there is usually another perspective to be explored.
  1.    Find out who said it first – This follows on from point 5 – try to establish the original source. It’s much more satisfying as a writer to interpret statistics and facts and draw your own conclusions (and, let’s be honest, we should all be doing this anyway.) Nowadays there are lots of writers out there, and you need to set yourself apart with innovative and interesting viewpoints. Be different, dig a bit deeper than everyone else.
  1.    Don’t trust Wikipedia – I could have contributed to an article that stated that I was the first person to walk backwards around the world. I obviously wasn’t so I haven’t but I COULD. Don’t trust Wikipedia.

Having an opinion is one thing, but when it comes to writing you need to make sure you can back your assertions up with facts. It’s the difference between ‘I think he’s guilty’ and ‘I think he’s guilty because I saw him leave the murder scene with some lead piping’ – OK, a tad dramatic, but you get the point. Weaving facts and stats into your writing will give you the credibility you and your writing deserve and will help set you apart from the gazillions of writers out there.

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*I haven’t referenced this as I made it up

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Suzanne Turrell

I've worked in the insurance industry for the last ten years in a variety of marketing and strategy roles and now using that experience to do more of what I enjoy, write! I am a keen home cook and spend most of my time planning what to cook, cooking and eating it.

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