ON BEING AUTHORITATIVE
It's important to write with authority, because written words carry weight. How can you be sure to do so?
The techniques vary slightly based on the type of writing you are doing. Let's confine our attention to opinion writing and news/feature writing.
On opinion: A person can write with authority if he or she is a bonafide expert on a subject. Otherwise, it is necessary to quote others, in effect borrowing the expertise of others. It also lends authority to include the arguments of those who take the opposite position from yours.
On news/feature: Writing style is one way of instilling authority, but a surefire way is to do extensive reporting. We differentiate for the reader between material that we know through our own accord with what we obtain from other sources. Two basic types fall under the "know-of-own-accord" category: common knowledge and what we see/hear ourselves. It is common knowledge, for instance, that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, so we don't have to credit the Pentagon for that fact. If we attend a soccer game and see the player score by kicking a high shot with his right foot, we don't have to quote the coach to that effect. Otherwise we employ attribution both to provide verification and to instill authority. The most common form of attribution is linking a person or written source to a direct or indirect quote. However, any proprietary information that is obtained through reporting or research should be attributed--and that includes public information. It is important to weave attribution into the story as elegantly as possible so that the story doesn't read like a bumpy road. In some cases, when information from several sources is intermingled in a story, it is appropriate to carry a line at the end of the story, possibly in italics or in parentheses, giving credit: (Some information from this story came from Associated Press reports and from the Encyclopedia Britannica). This often occurs when historical information is incorporated into the story. The use of confidential or unnamed sources should be avoided altogether. In the professional press there are times it is appropriate. However, even in those cases, strict adherence to certain procedures must be carried out to maintain integrity and even at times withstand legal action.
Several ethical issues flow from the desire to write with authority. Three of the most important are: conflict of interest, honesty and plagiarism.
On conflict: A writer must be independent or neutral in connection with the story subject matter. If there is any doubt about such independence, it behooves the writer to state any affiliation, past or present, with any of the persons, organizations or issues covered in the story. Even an appearance of conflict can undermine a story. An example might be a social friendship with a business or governmental person being the focus of a story you are writing.
On honesty: The writer must never invent. Go through the story in the revising process with an eye toward finding any point in the story where a fact might have been guessed at or not double-checked or where there might be a element of slight exaggeration or distortion.
On plagiarism: Passing off the work of someone else as your own, in whole or in part, is a serious violation of trust between the writer and reader.