I’m currently writing an article on the difference between a nonfiction picture book manuscript and a nonfiction article manuscript. One of the writers I interviewed reminded our readers that they should find each and every article in three different sources. I’m including her quote although I don’t necessarily agree.
The reality is that someone can write something and the piece she writes can be used as a source in several other works. When this happens, certain facts will be repeated several times. The funny thing is that this happens with fallacies as well as facts especially if something is sensational.
The other problem with this rule is that a primary source may state something or explain something that no one else has seen fit to repeat. That’s been the case with my work on the black women who were mathematicians at NASA during World War II. After oscilloscope readings were made on a paper recording tape, the women had to use a tape reader to calculate the difference between the actual test data and a set of reference points. One of the tools that they used to do this is called a film reader. Unfortunately, most people who write about their work see the gizmo in question and call it a slide rule. Two different gizmos and, to make it even more confusing, both were used by the mathematicians. BUT the film reader was used at one point in the process and the slide rule in another.
How many places have I found slide rules mentioned? I quit counting.
How many places have I found film readers mentioned. I’ve found it in several places but all within the same source. Why do I trust it over the others? Because it is a historical summary written by one of the mathematicians and published by NASA.
Do you need to find each fact three times? It will make your editor feel better but you still need to make sure that you find it in three accurate sources and not simply three sources restating the same incorrect “fact.”