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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

How to Refresh and Reward Your Readers’ Trust

Even if you haven’t made any of the trust-damaging mistakes I mentioned in my previous post “How Far Should Readers Trust You?“, plenty of other writers have. Chances are, your readers have gotten jaded.

Now is the time to distinguish yourself as a writer of impeccable integrity, no matter what genres and platforms you work with. Make yourself the writer your readers feel safe reaching out to.

One my readers, KPerrymn, advised, “One thing we as writers can do is follow the advice of Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan” in her article “How to Stay (slightly) Sane this Week: A User’s Guide to the Media Maelstrom Ahead.”

The topic of the week Sullivan wrote about has passed, but the how-to pointers remain relevant and I recommend you read the entire article. Until then, Sullivan’s points to remember are:

  • Consider actually reading that story before you share it on social media
  • Know your source
  • Trust the stories you like even less than those you don’t want to believe
  • Wait and see (what follow-up information adds to the whole story)
  • Know who is paid to say what on cable (or internet)
  • Compare and contrast
  • Take a break

Check Our Impulses

I’m pretty sure he never said this…

Echoing Sullivan’s first point – actually read the entire piece before sharing it – Katy Steinmetz’s “The Real Fake News Crisis” (mentioned in my previous post) cites a study that found “6 in 10 links get retweeted without users’ reading anything besides someone else’s summation of it.”

Steinmetz suggests that false stories travel faster than true ones (six times faster according to one study) “because lies do a better job of stimulation feelings of surprise and disgust.”

The more emotionally loaded a post is, the more likely we are to share it. If the post comes from a familiar source, you’re more likely to share it (remember the Familiarity Heuristic). But people you know are just as likely to knee-jerk react to false information as anyone else.

Everyone online needs to put the brakes on our impulse to resend. Writers also need to brake our impulses to incorporate emotionally charged information into what we write until we’ve checked the accuracy of the information and the credibility of the sources.

I admit I didn’t fact-check this

Check The Facts

Think you know everything you need to know about fact-checking?

Test yourself by reviewing this introductory information about the why and how of fact-checking in Forbes.

You’ll find a more in-depth exploration from The Atlantic’s fact-checking editor Yvonne Rolzhausen.

Think of the puppies, if not your credibility.

Check Our Sources

Writers have a responsibility to check and share sources with our readers whether we’re writing for a major news outlet or our own blog.

Hold yourself accountable to your readers: identify the source by name, include the hyperlink or publisher information (for print material) and challenge yourself examine who or what organization is behind the website.

Are you relying on and sending your readers to credible websites and publications? What do other sites have to say about the source? Are you relying on true experts or someone with an axe to grind or a product/service to sell?

For example, I feel comfortable referencing material published in Psychology Today, Scientific American Mind or an academic journal. I’m not likely to reference a website published by someone without professional credentials to support their self-proclaimed titles unless their information sources are correctly identified so I can assess the trustworthiness of those sources.

Your Writer’s Challenge

For one day, challenge yourself to check facts and credibility before resending anything on social media.

Yes, this will take time. That’s the point. If you’re not willing to take a few minutes to fact-check, it’s a signal that the post probably isn’t important enough to pass on.

Likewise, challenge yourself to more thoroughly check facts and source credibility before including information in your writing.  

Until now, I haven’t identified sources in blog posts with the same rigor I do in my books. That changes now. (see in the Source Summary below)

Check Your Bias

I know at least some of my biases…

Sullivan’s third point, “Trust the stories you like even less than those you don’t want to believe” highlights the significance of questioning confirmation bias and other biases that influence our thinking without our conscious awareness.

Identifying and questioning bias is a bigger topic than I want to get into here. I welcome your comments and guest posts on the subject.

Listening to Clint Watts, former FBI counter-terrorist agent discuss surviving in a social media world of hackers and terrorists on NPR was an intriguing introduction for me. Watts also mentions the importance of breaking out of our social media bubbles and reading/listening to different perspectives and opinions with open, questioning minds.

Take a Break

Yes, we need a break from the news and other information, as Sullivan mentions in her last point. But we need more than that. As writers we need to learn how to access the constant deluge of information without drowning in it. We’ll explore that in an upcoming post. Again, your insights are valuable additions to our discussion, so please comment below.

Source Summary

Margaret Sullivan, “How to Stay (slightly) Sane this Week: A User’s Guide to the Media Maelstrom Ahead” in the Washington Post, 9/24/18

Katy Steinmetz, “The Real Fake News Crisis: How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News” in Time, 8/9/18

Wray Herbert, “Heuristics Revealed in APS Observer, October 2010

Jayson DeMers “Why You Should Be Fact Checking Your Content (And How to Do It)” in Forbes, 6/7/18

Yvonne Rolzhause, “How to Fact Check The Atlantic” in The Atlantic, 1/25/18

Shaharm Hesmat, “What Is Confirmation Bias?” in Psychology Today, 4/23/18

Clint Watts, “Former FBI Counter-Terrorism Agent Reflects on ‘Messing With The Enemy’” on NPR, 6/8/18, audio version, printed transcript

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2 Comments on “How to Refresh and Reward Your Readers’ Trust”

  1. Catherine A. Brennan November 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm #

    Rosanne, I am so pleased to see you posting on this topic. As librarians, we refer to this set of skills as “information literacy” and school media specialists(school librarians) intentionally make time to teach it. I have seen library patrons take as gospel truth some accusation about a public figure from a website where the spelling hadn’t been checked, let alone the facts. i know that I have had to post corrections to things I had previously posted. Why not spend the time to get it right in the first place?


    • rosannebane November 8, 2018 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks Catherine! I absolutely agree that information literacy is essential and in woefully short supply on the internet. Librarians are underappreciated by many, but I love you guys. Every writer should know that librarians are our best friends and fellow book-lovers.


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