Who Said So? Proper Attribution
See if you can determine the common characteristic of these three seemingly unrelated statements:
* More than 4 million Americans are believed to have Alzheimer's disease, and the number of people afflicted could increase to 14 million by 2050.
* Approximately 20 percent of companies doing business today are considered high credit risks.
* Mount Everest has been determined to be seven feet higher than previously believed.
What is their mutual trait? Attribution is missing in each of them.
Attribution is the act of identifying and acknowledging the originator or source of information, a theory or a statement.
Additionally, attribution should explain the qualifications of persons to make such assessments. Attribution, which is a fundamental component of academic and journalistic writing, should be used prominently in business writing as well.
Lack of substantiation compromises credibility of claims. Consider, for example, this assertion: "Corporations spend several billion dollars annually to improve the writing skills of employees."
The statement gives no indication of who developed that claim, and how the estimate was determined. Without that information, the assertion is dubious.
It is improved somewhat in an amended version: "Corporations spend several billion dollars annually to improve the writing skills of employees, according to a business survey conducted by a blue-ribbon group evaluating the quality of writing instruction in the nation's schools and colleges."
However, that still does not identify the organization that performed the evaluation.
Proper attribution finally emerges in a more explicit version: "A group of education and business leaders has determined that corporations spend several billion dollars annually to improve the writing skills of employees. That's among the findings of a business survey conducted by the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools and Colleges, which was established by the College Entrance Examination Board of New York City."
That version not only gives due credit, but also lends veracity to the claim. Attribution is appropriate for opinions and analysis of data that may be subject to dispute, but is not required to substantiate widely recognized facts. Thus, attribution is unnecessary for a statement such as "the meeting room is decorated in purple and orange," but is needed for an assertion that "the decor of the meeting room is hideous."
Use attribution for statements that are accusatory, opinionated or unsubstantiated. Clearly identify originators of statements or concepts by their full name, job title or profession, company or organization and city. When citing published works, include the name of the author, publisher, sponsoring organization, city and other relevant information.
Bear in mind, however, that attribution does not insulate a writer from responsibility for honesty and accuracy. Inclusion of a quotation to support a writer's contention is not justifiable if the quote is potentially libelous, fraudulent, illogical or otherwise flawed. Never alter or falsify direct quotes.
Attribution is most commonly indicated by the verbs "said" and "wrote," which are straightforward and impartial. Unintended connotations can be conveyed by other verbs and expressions, including:
Use discretion when applying those terms to statements. Reserve direct quotation for powerful, striking statements. You may find paraphrasing preferable for more mundane statements that you can express more concisely than the speaker did.
You can quote us on that.
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