22 June 2014

My Faux Pas While Conducting Research

I'm having an opportunity to review a thriller for a literary magazine and I so want to do a great job, an honest write up. So, what does an avid reader and fan of literary fiction do? We research anything that seems out of place. I think that's what we do.

It's my first official write up, so I wasn't quite sure what to do when I ran across a paragraph that simply did not ring true to me. I just couldn't believe that there would be 50,000 graves in a particular cemetery. Hell, Arlington National Cemetery has 300,000 (yes, I discovered this in my research) and they are the largest cemetery in the United States. Any other cemetery should pale in comparison, right?


So, what did you do, Diane?

I found the cemetery in question on the Internet and I called them!

"This is Lynn speaking, how may I help you?"

"Hi, Lynn. I'm conducting some research and would like to know how many marked graves you all have in your cemetery."

*silence*

*uncomfortable pause*

"I will find someone who can help you with that. One moment please."

Great customer service skills, by the way.

"Hello, Brett here. How can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm researching some information and would like to know how many graves you all have in your cemetery."

"Well ma'am, we have approximately 38,000 folks who have been laid to rest here and within various structures throughout our grounds and facility."

Now the silence was a massive white noise in my frontal lobe, slowly replaced with the knowledge of my faux pas. In my haste to uncover what I felt to be a greatly exaggerated metric, yet a highly insignificant piece of data conveyed in a work of fiction, I'd let my better judgement go and I had approached my target as if I were some insensitive ass. This isn't me, I promise.




So, what did it matter this number? Why did that red flag go up and why did I feel a compulsion to find out if it was true? If you say it was my OCD, that's partially it. It wasn't until I pondered my inner soul that I figured out what actually triggered that need to pull out of the story and go looking for answers.

Truth be told, I would never have questioned this had it not been a well-rounded, convenient number. If it was 46,000, fine! Even 51,000 would not have phased me a bit. I would have continued on with the story without even a single bump. Now I understand auditors a little more.

So there you have it. Stay away from well-rounded numbers, even if you've done your research. It will save your readers some embarrassment, maybe. Not every reader would think to call a cemetery and ask such a thing. Or would they?

Last thing I would like to do is publicly apologize for 1. Questioning the author's integrity (after all, it is fiction) and 2. Being such an insensitive ass toward all the 38,000 folks laid to rest in that cemetery. In closing, I think I've learned a little something about social etiquette.

Question of the day: What was the oddest research you ever conducted and what was the response?



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