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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006 (Index of presentations)

More than ‘Just the facts, ma’am [or sir]’: Accuracy and impartiality in crafting an encyclopedia article

Author Paul Kobasa
Track Free Knowledge & Access to Information
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Paul Kobasa began his work life as an academic librarian before moving to scholarly publishing when he joined Greenwood Press (now the Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport CT) in 1977. At Greenwood, Kobasa worked successively as an indexer, production manager, acquisitions editor, and marketing manager. He drew on both his library and scholarly publishing experience when he joined the American Library Association (Chicago) in 1983 to head marketing operations for ALA's publishing division. In 1988 he was recruited by World Book to develop topical reference publications and has launched such successful publications as the World Book "Power Line" series of academic self-help publications, the World Book Student Discovery Encyclopedia, and World Book's Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists. He also has been instrumental in the evolution of World Book's electronic publishing efforts, and now as World Book's vice-president, editorial and editor in chief, he is responsible for the content development and business management of World Book's print and electronic publications for the worldwide school-and-library and home-consumer markets.
Joint session with: Validation on Wikipedia: How do I know this article is accurate.


  • World Book separates fact checking from copy editing to help ensure accuracy, clarity, and impartiality by submitting content to another pair of eyes. Our fact-checking standard is to verify discrete statements of fact, expositions of theory, and similar elements in at least two independent reliable sources, more if they are available. In instances of contemporary issues, sources may include an individual with pertinent expertise or demonstrated experience.
  • The data may be right, but the order in which they are given may be wrong. The copy may be understandable, but less important factors may be emphasized over more important factors. Correct sequence and proper emphasis can be as critical to the accurate presentation of some topics as is the precision of facts.
  • “Another pair of eyes” can be especially helpful in establishing impartiality. Obvious bias usually is evident. Inadvertent bias borne of cultural predispositions or a scholar’s understandable pride in his or her specialization can be more difficult to discern. Weighing emphasis (above) can help to check both evident and latent bias. The process of applying house style also can help check bias.
  • To paraphrase something probably not spoken by Thomas Jefferson, “The price of accuracy is eternal vigilance.” Apart from data we expect will change—population figures and the like—other data may not change but their interpretation may be elaborated. Theories are proved or disproved, and information accretes around them in the process. Systematically capturing, validating, and incorporating such organic growth is a further aspect of maintaining accuracy in general reference material.
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