Nonfictional writing that uses research can cover a lot of bases and topics, including other people, businesses, organizations and entities. With so much information available on the Internet, it can be fairly easy for writers and content buyers to use information with a particular perspective or slant that comes back to bite.
The legal action of libel allows a party to sue another who intentionally disparages the plaintiff with written information intended to harm by being made public for lots of readers to see. The action is designed to hold publishers responsible for intentional damage of private individuals and entities. This includes those who publish information in the Internet, which is the most modern format of written communication now.
While most of what is written and put on the Internet will likely never trigger any kind of legal action, all it takes is one case to actually be pursued to create a nightmare for a content provider or writer. That said, while a content writer or buyer can’t prevent a libel lawsuit from being started, he can do a number of things to make sure the case has a very hard time going anywhere. Following some basic tips below can help tremendously:
- Base conclusions on documented facts – A writer can’t use citations enough when discussing another person, business or entity. While some subjects are fair game, such as public figures or agencies, many others are not. To prevent an argument of libel before it can begin, a writer should always make sure whatever is claimed in writing has a documented basis for that statement, especially when the written work includes quotes or statements attributed to a person or business.
- Avoid using too much personal opinion – The best nonfictional writing involves sticking with the facts and not embellishing them or going off on tangents. The more personal opinion that gets injected into content, the more likely the material is to offend someone and make them take notice. People can’t argue about factual information; they can only spin the facts into different presentations.
- Try presenting a balanced summary – Using material that shows both sides of an issue and how it involves a given individual or organization can not only provide a fair picture of a topic, it can also help defuse any argument of intentional harm. Oftentimes, alleged harmful writing when proven libelous appears very one-sided without any inclusion of the opposite perspective. Good material lets the reader decide the issue versus thinking for him.
- Use credible sources – With the various information sources on the Internet it’s easy to find someone writing just about anything. However, a writer has an obligation to use credible sources. Two-bit blogs and wiki sites don’t count. A good source should be one that includes some kind of internal vetting before the information is published. Often sources that have in-house editors are preferred over one-author resources.
Again, a lawsuit can’t be prevented, but it can be made very difficult to pursue with good pre-planning when writing about a person or legal entity.
Tom L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.