Fact-checking and tone detection with Merrill Perlman

Fact-checking and tone detection with Merrill Perlman

May 19, 2021 By Cassie Disharoon Conferences

Merrill Perlman presented her session, “What’s That Noise in Your Head?” on the first day of ACES 2021 Online.

In the presentation, Perlman discussed the importance of tone, including how to detect it and how it differs from an author’s voice. 

“Think of tone as music, basically. Different kinds of music set a different kind of mood,” said Perlman.

She also covered what it means to be an instinctual fact-checker, rather than a rote fact-checker. To edit via instinct, according to Perlman, editors should check details for a reason—whether it is definitely wrong, they just think it could be wrong, or it stopped them for some other reason.

To be successful with instinctual fact-checking, it is important to associate facts with the editor’s existing knowledge to start hearing alarm bells go off when information does not look quite right in a written work.

But what happens if an editor has not built many of those associations? According to Perlman, they may know more than they think they do.

“Step to the other side. The absence of knowledge is still knowledge... it’s like you know what you don’t know. So you can see if this fits with what you do know. Even though you have a very limited knowledge of [a subject], you have other knowledge that’s related,” said Perlman.

Getting in touch with these elements of fact-checking and tone can help editors recognize and address the ‘noises in their heads,’ according to Perlman.

“[When your brain alerts you] it could be right and it could be wrong. Regardless, you should be investigating that,” said Perlman.

Perlman’s key intended takeaway from the session was for editors to learn how their brains work and how they perceive those mental alerts.

“You don’t have to know the answer. All you need is to understand how your brain tells you, ‘huh, that’s weird.’ And then you have the opportunity to find out whether it truly is weird, or whether it’s correct,” said Perlman. 

This idea stuck with some attendees as they left the session. 

“The thing I'm taking away most is to listen to my inner alarm bell. If something in the writing stops me, I should try to figure out why rather than doubting or dismissing it as not a big deal/an overreaction,” said Crystal Shelley, a fiction editor and newly elected ACES Board of Directors member who attended Perlman’s session.

This is key to implementing better instinctual fact-checking while editing, according to Perlman. 

“The brain doesn’t give you the answer [to the instinctual alarm], usually, and even if it does you want to make sure it’s the correct answer. But it does tell you there’s something here that you might want to look at,” said Perlman.

Registered conference attendees can click here to see this session through July 31, 2021

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