More about what makes a writer -- the absolute necessity of checking your facts

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.”

There is something about the published written word that automatically imbues everything stated with a certain authority. Each of us should  bear this in mind when preparing our articles, and certainly before publishing… anywhere.

Who hasn’t read an incorrect fact supporting a story? You know, a real whopper that leaves you scratching your head. The only thing that’s worse is if you wrote it yourself! Errors of fact can hurt a writer’s credibility and raise red flags about the validity of other information in an article. Or in any other article the writer has published.

Take it one step further. Publishing an article riddled with misinformation not only besmirches the writer’s reputation, but the publisher’s as well. If we post material, particularly material that purports to educate the reader, especially those articles written in encyclopedic style and we are wrong, what is the effect on the publishing site – Hubpages for example?

Do we not jeopardize the reputation of our site? Now, those doing research may say, ‘don’t use Hubpages as a source. They’re full of ****.” Now we’ve destroyed not only our own authority, but that of all the other writers on the site as well.


(And I do beg pardon of the writer of this article for using the instance, but it is such a real doozy, and so typical of the problem I simply had to. I mean no personal disrespect. Though I was completely taken aback.)

Or worse: imagine yourself an elementary student and as part of your homework you’re asked to write an essay on the country of Mexico. So you get on the computer, parental block and controls in place, and type in your query. “Tell me about Mexico.”

A recent Hubpages article comes up in the Google search, and you click on it.

The article begins: “Mexico is South America’s most northerly and largest country….”

You happily read through the article, which really is full of excellent snippets of history, culture and lovely photographs. The article itself is written like an encyclopedia, so full of facts, so full of information stated boldly, with assurance. Here it is, all your work done for you, so you scribble down the salient points and hand it in to your teacher.

This information took five seconds to ascertain

From the north of the continent, the countries that make up North America are:

Canada
United States of America
Mexico
Cuba
Bahamas
Jamaica
Dominican Republic
Haiti
Puerto Rico
Antigua and Barbuda
St Lucia
St Kitts & Nevis
Dominica
Grenada
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Guatemala
Belize
Honduras
El Salvador
Nicaragua
Costa Rica
Panama
Trinidad and Tobago

Those countries commonly referred to as Central America are:

Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Unfortunately, your teacher knows Mexico is part of North America, always has been and unless there has been a major shift in tectonic plates which unhinged all of Central America and shifted Mexico down to sit beside Brazil (which, by the way, is considerably larger) still is. (See the map of North America to the right. Canada up top, United States of America next, then, Mexico, with a few islands to the east, and the countries commonly referred to as Central America make up North America.)

“But,” you cry, staring at your poor grade and all the corrections in red ink, “I found an article on Hubpages that said… “

You get the picture. What makes this story even worse is that I read this article and left a correction. With you, the little elementary student in mind, I said, “Oh dear. Mexico is part of North America which makes it the most southerly and smallest of the three major countries of that continent.” And left the little box checked that would inform me when next the moderator left a comment.

Before the moderator could do so, someone else commented, “Actually, Mexico is part of Central America.” (Actually, Central America generally refers to those countries below the southern Mexican border, although some sociologists include the three most southerly Mexican provinces, including the Yucatan.)

Oh for crying out loud, I thought to myself, having lived in North America most of my life, both the top and the middle, and traveled all over it, including Mexico. I don’t believe this. Don’t these people have internet access, or even a half decent Atlas at hand?

Would you believe it, the moderator wrote back and said, “I have to disagree with you, Lynda. I’ve rewritten the opening to say Mexico is part of Central America.”

Of course! Don’t check your facts. Don’t go and look it up so that the article you’re writing has some semblance of reliability. Heavens no! That would be too much like a professional approach. Just jump to a conclusion and write it in a published article that you’ve written to inform others. It would have taken thirty seconds to Google the matter. And what disturbed me are all the lovely comments, "What an informative article." “Oh, I didn’t know any of these facts before.” Well guess what; there's every possibility you still don't. That's what happens when we publish misinformation. It all becomes suspect.

Do I sound ticked off? Well yes, I am. Not because someone chose not to believe me; not for any personal feelings but for the sheer irresponsibility. When writing articles of this genre, accuracy of facts is of great importance. Who knows what uses this article will be put to?

The damage done goes well beyond the credibility of this particular article, or the other hundreds of similar articles written under the same name which now all come into question, or the writer but to the entire site and everyone writing here.

I recently wrote an article called what makes a writer in which I call for all of us to try and improve and grow in our craft, to not be satisfied with first-draft efforts, to proof-read, to learn the basics, but all of those things are in vain if our writing is poorly spelled, riddled with inaccuracies, or based on second-hand assumptions that will leave our audience misled, confused, or worse. If readers complain because they disagree with your opinion… well, that’s part of life, but if they complain because you have your facts wrong, that destroys your credibility as a writer. And the credibility of your publisher.

“My key piece of writing advice is look up everything,” says editor Cynthia Clampitt. “Writers should NEVER write what they think is correct without checking first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen things come across my desk, in which a writer has written off the top of his or her head. The errors were horrendous. I’ve seen Mikhail Baryshnikov named as the president of Russia, penultimate used to mean “more than the best” (it means “next to last),” and more examples. I tell writers there are two things they need to look up: all their facts and all their words. Because if they don’t, the publication will look stupid.”

Hubpages is a site for amateur writers, this is true. It’s easy to tell ourselves I’m writing simply for the fun of it. I’m not paid (at least not directly.) I’m not professional and it’s only Hubpages, after all. What we publish here is strictly up to us. After all, we have no content editors. So what’s the harm?

I’ve already illustrated one side of the harm. Here’s the other:

Many writers here on Hubpages use this site as a personal publishing opportunity but write professionally elsewhere. I’m one of them and there are many others. For us, this place is fun, a social site, but more, a chance to write on those subjects we want to explore but seldom get paying opportunities. We are already aware of the necessity of fact-checking because we will be fired from the professional sites or print if we don’t. Oh yes, the professional publishing world has little room for someone producing erroneous writing.

Destroy the reputation of this site, make it an unreliable place to get information, and you ruin it for those who write here to produce a personal portfolio. Many of the other writing sites have already initiated standards as to the veracity of content for that very reason. Write rubbish and you’re off.

Hubpages allows the members to publish as they please. Fine when you’re writing opinion or personal observations, but when you’re writing to inform the reader, you owe it to them, to your own reputation, to the other writers here, to Hubpages and to the collected written works of the world to make sure you do inform, not misinform.

“Just about every prominent magazine, journal and book publisher employs legions of fact-checkers. These ranks of people spend hours going over the works of even the best writers with a fine-tooth comb. The need for correct facts is just as important in articles from members submitting their first piece to the myriad of online sites as it is for stories that appear in The Atlantic Monthly, Time, The New Yorker or Technology Review.” – S. Kleever, editor

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Comments 49 comments

Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

It amazes me the people that use Wikipedia as an encyclopedia for information. Anyone can change their information making it invalid.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

It amazes me how many people publish without using any sources to confirm their facts! Thanks for commenting, and a good heads up for those using Wikipedia (though I've never had an issue with them.) Lynda


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I use Wikipedia, but just as a first stop. I use the references at the end of the articles more than the info in the article.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

A lot of Wikipedia is correct but just double check.


The Donkey profile image

The Donkey 5 years ago from Little Rock, Arkansas

Really like that quote at the top!


Nan 5 years ago

Lynda it's good to bring the facts to our attention. Some people take the articles to be factual without looking them up.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

"I love talking (writing) about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about." - Oscar Wilde.

Kind of sums up your message for me, Lynda. Would you agree?


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Great Uninvited Writer, for doing your fact-checking. But the issue isn't Wilipedia, it is the developing a level of professionalism as a writer. The world is suffocating in misinformation. We should be careful not to add to that.

Hi Nan -- You are so right and therein lies the problem.

Hi drbj -- I don't quite get what you mean. You've become too clever for me. Are you saying some people know about nothing therefore write nothing? Which would be okay with me. It's the people that write about something they know nothing about without checking their facts that I'm addressing here.

Or, are you saying this hub is about nothing? At which point we'd have an interesting debate. Let me know.

As always, Lynda


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Yes and No. Yes, to your point that some people who may know nothing about the subject will too often write anything. Just to be writing something.

And No, your hub was definitely about something but that something was actually 'nothing' in reference to the above writers.

Have I made myself clear? If so, please explain it to me. :)


someonewhoknows profile image

someonewhoknows 5 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

The Media outlets sometimes do the same thing when they do reporting on a particular subject.

There are times when the "facts" are not always so clear ,even the history that is written in some text books are somewhat lacking when it comes to the facts.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi someonewhoknows. True, there are some 'facts' that seem to shift with the teller. Probably because they're opinions. But other facts remain carved in stone, because they just are. For example, no matter what your opinion on the fact, Obama is President of the United States and his name is spelled O-B-A-M-A. It is these kinds of facts I'm suggesting we get right, not the nebulous ones.

Hi drbj -- This seems to be a sore spot with some. And yet it should be just plain common sense. So I'm on a tear -- so be it.

So what you're saying is people who know nothing often write about something without checking anything because something is better than nothing, and my hub is something about something but for those who write anything about everything it will mean nothing.

Do I have this right?


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Lynda - Wow! Congratulations on reaching 100. You truly deserve it. You're an inspiration to others and share your vast experience with those of us who struggle with every word.

True, fact checking is essential. Will we look back in a few years confused by all the opinions and poorly researched articles? Probably.

And BTW, your conversation with drbj reminds me of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First". Very funny.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks Peg. Yeah -- wonder how long it will stay there. Definitely fact checking is supremely important, and yes, we stand to confuse many with all the misinformation out there.

What's on second.

Lynda


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

Congrats for 100 hub articles. They are all put together with a deep sense of caring and responsibility. I especially like your humor! This was another good example and very useful or all our sakes here at the hub. I wish I had time to go back and read them all! I will work on that!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Spot on. I couldn't have explained it better myself.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz

I enjoyed reading this Lynda. There was a time when, to find the authoritative voice on a subject, one went to the library reference section and spent hours researching the works of individuals highly qualified in their field(s) of expertise. Unfortunately, the ease of the Internet Search has perpetuated a lazy sloppiness in fact-finding. Worse, and as you wrote, it has severely lowered the bar of what qualifies as an expert.

Although not something I regularly do in my own articles, in any work of a factual nature it is a good practise to include a bibliography of all sources consulted; after all it is a practise observed by the true experts. In my own research I often consult the bibliography for further information, and to gain confidence that the writer has done their due diligence.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 5 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

What an excellent hub, and you are soooooooo right! There are so many different stories on the web on the same subjects, yet which one is true? To be a repectable writer and one that folks come back to, they get the truth and the real facts. rate up, love & peace darski


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Mrs. Lynda, you touched on a whole bunch of serious topics here. Checking facts is critical!! I did over four thousand kilometers in five days to write http://hubpages.com/hub/No-School-for-the-Forgotte...

That is exactly why I did all that traveling, to get my facts! Most people are so quick at retelling an overheard story. Soon, we find ourselves speaking of that wizard in the red, velvet robe shooting lighting out of his staff ... what? Well, ya stories change with each time one is told and so without checking facts we end-up with fantasy.

I would think most people want to be credible in what they say; screaming "wolf" all the time is certainly no good. I do think that the main problem lies in the fact that most people do not know how to properly do research. I don't even think most people know what doing research means ... it's all in education.

I personally like facts because I like to know the truth in things. Lies bore me. The facade of buildings, the cover of books, they are all interesting but inside is a greater part of the story.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Howdy Lynda - Did you imply that Mexico is not the northernmost of the South American countries? What a shock that would be to them if only they realized it.

Gus :-)))


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Wow, El Salvador and Costa Rica are in north America? Did I get that straight? And Nicaragua, Panama too ... why is Venezuela not part of North America too? It must be Chavez's fault.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Oh. Lynda, you really put out and into the block. OK, I did my writing about Mexico from a geographical book and I took it for face value that it was correct Tha Mexico is the most northerly of South America. In the meantime, when you pointed it out to me, I accepted it and done some more research. I found several article stating it is Central America which also make more sense to me. Then somebody told me that Central America and North America is like England and Britain. To avoid more contratiction I took it out altogether.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

HI fossillady, Thanks but it's not for 100 articles, though i've written that many. I don't keep the old ones published once they are no longer performing. No, the kudos were for reaching a personal score of 100. And I'm surprised it's still up there today. Normally I bounce down to 94 or 93 within an hour or so. But that's beside the point. Thanks all the same. Lynda

Hi parrster, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, the internet has made research much easier, but also chancier. There is so much misinformation out there now because too many don't check their facts that you're likely to have to check your sources to other sources. Another reason why it's so important to present true facts. Thanks. Lynda

Hi Darlene. Very true. There's already so much rubbish out there, we should not add to it... Thanks for commenting. Lynda

Hi Gus -- I don't understand your comment. Mexico and the Mexican people are very aware they are part of North America and proud of that fact. I've worked in that country and met quite a few professional people there. The subject of North American cooperation came up often. So you see, they do realize it. And once again, I'm not quite sure what you mean -- at all. Sounds like a rather condescending American view of the country. Lynda

Hi Mr Happy, Do me a favor. Google a map of South America. See where Venezuela is? Definitely on the South American continent. That's why is is not considered part of North America. (sigh!) The countries we refer to as Central America are north of the isthmus (Panama) between North and South America. See? Look at the map carefully. Lynda


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hello, Hello,hello, You did not need to write this here. I was not going to name you. And please understand, I mean no disrespect to you personally. However, I would think that when you set out to write your travel/history/geography articles about the world, which I have enjoyed, you would first get an understanding of the facts of the place. And if questions come up -- Google them. You can get straightforward answers in seconds!

It is so very important, Hello, to get those facts right when writing this kind of article, because you set out to educate others. That is my point, my only point.

I can't imagine what kind of book would hold the information that Mexico is part of South America. Whatever it is, throw it away. Quickly. And never use it again. About Britain and England -- this is not an apt analogy for Central America. There is no continent called Central America there is only North and South America and the dividing line is the southern border of Panama. The term Central America is more of a political/social one than geography, and I've already listed those countries normally referred to by the term. Sometime the three southerly provinces of Mexico are included -- but not always. However, no matter what, Central America is part of North America and Mexico is not part of that area.

My point is not about the Americas however, but the danger of writing what amounts to an encyclopedia style article giving out bad information. Facts should always be checked and it is so easy to do so. Just because something 'makes more sense' to you, does not make it a fact.

I did not write this to belittle you or your efforts, but as an example of a problem. And I would never have named you. But one thing is clear -- instead of getting the facts and stating them, you chose to just take out an important bit of information. Your frustration? I don't understand. The information is so easily obtained. Google: What countries make up North America? (Or South.)

I've always enjoyed your travel/history articles, but now I have to wonder how much of that information is correct. That's the problem in a nutshell. And that is what I'm addressing here.

However, I apologize for any bad feelings. Not my intention. Your friend and admirer, Lynda


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

Which countries signed on to the NAFTA project?

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rather solves the location of Mexico, doesn't it? Along with Lynda's lengthy discussion of geographical correctness. I believe her point in this hub was to inform each of us to check all our facts and word definitions creating informative, truthful reports.

I'm sure that Lynda's Canadian heritage has given her this appetite for geographical succinctness, but the entire hub is aimed at the heart of journalistic, or any other, reporting. Just the facts, Ma'am!

I thought she did a fantastic job, as is her tendency, without the excessive vitriolic verbiage being tossed regarding Mexico's location.

Look up your facts, people, or write creative, fictitious hubs of magnificent splendor requiring nothing but proper punctuation, grammar, plot and imagination--along with a few other necessities that may allow a story to be understandable and legible.

At any rate, amateurs make mistakes, spelling or otherwise, and won't learn anything from Lynda's beautiful rant.

C'est la vie!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks randslam, I think. "Excessive vitriolic verbiage?" Moi? Jamais! (My Canadian heritage.) You are right; this hub has nothing to do with Mexico and everything to do with fact-checking. Mexico is but an example.


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

Sometimes we have to use a hammer to drive the nail home.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

And often we miss, hitting our own thumbs.


WildIris 5 years ago

The lack of fact-checking on the internet is one of my personal pet peeves. You've put into writing what I've been thinking for months. Thanks. I find myself wanting to include sources to anything I write if only to maintain a degree of credibility. Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia, but too many treat it as such.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you WildIris. Yes, we should all be aware of the danger of adding to the mountain of misinformation out there. Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia, but it is a good place for a beginning. As they often quote their sources, you can use them for a foundation to build upon. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Lynda


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

Do you suppose Sarah Palin (I'm gonna hear it Now) checks those facts for her books? LOL sorry, just could not resist that one. Great hub, very good information.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Surely you jest. You thought Sarah Palin wrote those books? Puh-lease! And lastly, what facts?


randslam profile image

randslam 5 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

All good points made above, and coincidentally, I was just doing some research on an upcoming hub and went to Wikipedia to find that the biography I was researching had several errors in the names and titles of accomplishments of the person's biography I was putting together.

It's a good thing I was doing a good deal of cross-referencing, and have been familiar with the historical bio of this person, or I may have made the same mistake as Wikipedia's authors.

Oh, and Lynda, I wasn't writing about your 'voluminous verbiage,' I was talking about the comment section that kept tapping on the Mexico nail...lol...you've always got just the right amount of verbiage.

Happy Superbowl Sunday--sunday--sund...


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Yes, funny how everyone picked on that instead of the real point. Thanks, though Superbowl is something I'd rather avoid, but won't be able to. My hubby is a football addict.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

Lynda~This is a wonderful piece of work. It is a sound reminder that no matter what we do in this world we are, to some degree, always teaching and always learning. Facts and creatively presenting these facts plays a vigorous role in our daily HubPages lives. I find your concept pertaining to what we individually do on HubPages having impact on the entire community to be a wake up call--to say the least. Thank you for sharing your talent and personal integrity with those of us who put words to the page. I hope to live up to the measure...

K9


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi K9keystrokes Thanks for this thoughtful comment. Yes, no doubt about it the reputation of Hubpages depends on each one of us to a large extent. All for one and one for all .... Lynda


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Super hub and a super message. I love the quote at the top also. You always have the ability to write clear, precise and highly readable information and instruction. I love your style and reflections on writing. Thanks!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks docmo. You know I admire your work too. We should form a mutual admiration society. Lynda


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

where do I sign up ;-)


Peter Owen profile image

Peter Owen 5 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

Well put. This is why I always question what I read in Hubs or anywhere on the internet. People just throw stuff out there without having a clue as to accuracy


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

How true, Peter. Thanks for commenting. Lynda


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 5 years ago from upstate, NY

The more important the subject, the more important is the accuracy of facts. I've found that some of my own information was not from an original and confirmed source. This can do more damage than good to your cause. I tend to like to use reputable think tanks to confirm important facts because even high profile writers post questionable information at times.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Very true, wba108. Check and double check the facts -- very important for any writer. Thank you for commenting here.


Amie Warren 5 years ago

It's the "dumbing down of America". Kids get out of school and can't even tell you what state is next to the one they live in. Some guy did interviews with high school students in Chicago once, since they are on one of the great lakes. 9 out of 10 of them could not name two other great lakes. Seriously. I learned that in the fifth grade. Teachers today are so focused on "teaching the test" that the facts fall by the wayside.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Perhaps, as you say, teaching the test has taken precedence over instilling a love of learning. Once we acquire the skill of reading, all the facts in the world are at our fingertips. But without the love of learning that leads us to want to know more of the world around us, all this knowledge is to no avail. We've fallen into the mechanics, instead of the foundation. Just my opinion. Thanks for commenting. Lynda


SilverGenes 5 years ago

"Now, those doing research may say, ‘don’t use Hubpages as a source. They’re full of ****.” Now we’ve destroyed not only our own authority, but that of all the other writers on the site as well." So true! Opinion is one thing but facts are facts. Get 'em straight. I also feel as strongly about hubs that have been cranked through a translator and come out like: "It is not clear for security of Saudi Arabia in continuous headquarters is the best for example." I'm doing a lot more hub hopping now. Thanks for the article and the news about Mexico! :)


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

I love the mechanically translated work too. Even worse are the computer written content articles. But I digress. Thanks for the comment. Lynda

PS Mexico has always been part of North America so it's not news.


SilverGenes 5 years ago

I'm sorry - that's what I get for being a smart*ss about Mexico. Otherwise it would have been called SNAFTA.


JacksBlogs 5 years ago

Howdy IMMartin, I am curious about fact checking things like: One source says that there are 100,000 to 300,000 American children being trafficked as prostitutes at any one time. (It is a very wide range but it is said as a Fact) And then a HUBBER says, definitely as a fact, there are 300,000 American girls being trafficked as prostitutes. Do we have any obligation to use the original numbers, question the viability of the original source, and should we give the full range as opposed to just letting the numbers racket up higher and higher this way? It seems like people who feel strongly about something will use numbers that advance their cause (with a good heart, of course) yet exaggerate in ways that could miss lead. How does this kind of behavior connect with what you say in this HUB? - JacksBlogs


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

The FBI and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children state that at any given time between 200,000 and 300,000 children are bought and sold on American streets, and that on the average, 100,000 children a year are trafficked into this situation. Why don't you check out this information for yourself if you want? Further, if you read more carefully you will see you have mis-interpreted these two statements. One is the number of children working in servitude and the other is the number of children newly taken into the trade each year. There is no exaggeration.

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