Sources That Disagree

Beginning Writer’s Answer Book, edited by Jane Friedman

I’m researching an article, and some of my sources disagree on several points. What can I do about this?

One of the most difficult tasks in writing a nonfiction article or book is reconciling information received from different sources. In some cases, the writer’s own research gives him enough knowledge about the subject to judge who is right. But other times, it becomes necessary for the writer to communicate the conflicting information to the conflicting sources, letting each answer the questions raised by the other. For example, if you were writing about the effects of cigarette smoke on nonsmokers, and two researchers gave you contradictory statements, you could call or write each and say “[Name], of [professional affiliation], disagrees with your position,” quoting the other expert. Then ask, “Could you comment on that?” By including such comments in your finished piece, you allow readers to decide for themselves which source is credible. In some cases, both sources will be equally credible, and readers will come to the conclusion that enough research has not yet been done on the subject to reach a definitive decision.

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