The dreaded fact error

In Writing for Mass Communication and Reporting, students face the dreaded fact error. That’s the 50-point deduction for any factual error made in their writing.

The factual error can be a misspelled proper noun or an incorrect address or an incorrect time. A fact error also could be making a factual error in presenting information, such as saying the University of Florida is in Tallahassee.

The purpose of the dreaded fact error is to encourage accuracy — and concern about accuracy.

But getting a fact error can be breath-taking, upsetting and discouraging for students. 

When the lab instructors and I talk about grading, the fact error often is a topic of discussion — the students who cry or who get angry. How can we help students learn from the fact error and become more careful editors of their own writing? How can we help students use a fact error to motivate improved performance rather than causing discouragement.

I was in a store in the mall one day to get a wedding present and get it engraved. The gal who was at the engraving machine looked up and said, “Hi, Dr. Dodd. I had you in MMC 2100 several years ago — and I made a fact error. You just tell your students that if you work in place like this you have to pay for your fact errors. If I misspell someone’s name in an engraving, I have to pay for the item I made the mistake on.”

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