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Content Attribution Builds Trust, Credibility With Readers

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The use of content attribution is one of the most basic concepts in traditional print journalism. It has benefits for online journalism as well.

Content attribution provides the source of a fact, quote or controversial statement. It uses words such as “says”, “said”, “according to” and variations along with the person, website, etc., that offered the information.

Newspapers are more strict about using attribution than magazines. It is more likely to appear in reporting of people and events and less likely to appear in opinions or commentary.

It is much less likely to appear in original online articles. So many of them are written by people without journalism training or knowledge of the need for it. One important exception is Wikimedia, which uses citations as a form of attribution.

Either way, content attribution ensures higher accuracy and increases trust and credibility with readers and website visitors. The reference itself becomes an opportunity for an external link, which is useful for site visitors.

Attribution Examples

Consider the following two examples of a claimed fact. They both make the same statement except one doesn’t have attribution and the other does.

“NFL viewership has declined 50 percent this year because people are mad about kneeling players.”

“NFL viewership has declined 50 percent this year because people are mad about kneeling players, Joe Smith said.”

The first example sounds as if the writer is making that highly suspicious claim. The second example shows that Joe Smith and not the writer is making it. As a result, it is Joe Smith and not the writer who suffers a potential credibility problem if the claim isn’t true.

Just as importantly, attribution requires the writer to look for a credible source of information and not produce a “fact” from memory or off the top of the head. The act of looking for a source takes time, which is precious in the fast-moving, low-cost online environment. But accuracy pays dividends.

Attribution Frequency

A series of personal observations and opinions like the ones in this article don’t require attribution.

Facts that are debatable or subject to change usually require it. Statements with numbers in them almost always require it. Controversial statements or anything with the potential to trigger a lawsuit for libel or defamation of character absolutely require it.

If possible, use attribution at least several times in an article to assure readers that most of the facts come from a particular source.

In the online environment, the end result is an article that assures the reader about its accuracy and about the writer’s trustworthiness. It also might make return visits more likely.

Attributions and Citations

The difference between attributions and citations is simple. Attributions appear within the body of the article and citations usually appear at the bottom of it.

For example, a newspaper article in the news section usually has attributions scattered throughout the article, especially anywhere that information from new sources appear.

One of the most prominent examples of citations is the Wikipedia website. References to facts within the article have a number next to them. Visitors will scroll to the bottom of the article to find that number and an explanation of the original source of that fact.

Impact on Brand

Brand value reflects the trust, credibility and even loyalty that website visitors perceive about the website. So content attribution adds value to the brand.

It does so because visitors will know that the information comes from a credible source used by the website, which makes the site they are visiting credible as well.

Because the site and source are credible, they build trust on the part of the visitor. They make it more likely that the visitor will come back in the future and potentially share the site with other people.

As a result, trust and credibility translate into brand loyalty for the website.

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