Why you should never write “Anon”

If someone’s idea is important enough to quote, 
they’re important enough to mention. - Megan Kerr

I’m amazed by the number of books from thought leaders and experts that include quote after quote by “Anon”. Usually, it’s not actually anonymous – the writer just doesn’t know who said it. As the editor, I shoot off to Google, spend 5 minutes digging around, and come back with the person’s name and the exact words they used. This isn’t just a pedantic nicety: this is the heart of what we do as thought leaders.We all talk about the ideas economy and the value of expertise. Having ideas, good ideas, good enough for people to like and quote, takes time: they don’t spring out of nothing. They are the tip of an iceberg of thought and work. Likewise, expertise takes years – often unpaid or self-funded years, knowing that once you have it, it’s payback time. If you’ve put in your 10,000 hours, you know what you’re talking about. You can speak with authority and make a name for yourself. Unless, of course, people steal that.

When you write “Anon”, you’re stealing. It doesn’t feel like it, you don’t mean to, and it takes most people a while to realise that it simply is theft. Someone has had a great idea, for which the minimum payback is exposure, their name, and you’ve stolen it. Not just that sentence – but part of the 10,000 hours that went into them being able to say that, because that was their investment.

Writing “Anon” also looks unprofessional. It reads as “couldn’t be bothered to find out”. Sometimes, someone does know the source, but doesn’t want to say, because the name just doesn’t match up to the other people they’re quoting.  Uh-uh. If someone’s idea is important enough to quote, they’re important enough to mention.

When you’re writing online, on blog posts, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easy to let things slide. For a start, there’s no editor pulling you up.  And as soon as something starts proliferating, it gets harder to track down the original source. It feels less important – everyone knows everything on the internet is basically free! No. Every great line, every awesome picture, was created by a person. Credit the person. Actually, this is even more important online. Things whizz around so fast that the chances are much higher of the original person seeing their quote or picture being used. Turn it around. Think of the ideas you’re proudest of. Now see them in a snazzy little online poster format, without your name, being shared by someone else. Your trust and respect for them capsizes. What are you doing to people’s trust and respect for you, when you write “Anon”?

Intellectual capital needs to be respected. People whose businesses run on intellectual capital need to lead the way. Attribute, attribute, attribute. There is no “Anon”.

Some tips on tracking down the original source

  • Only write “Anon” if a printed, respected dictionary of quotations gives the source as unknown.
  • Don’t trust a rash of Google results – mistakes proliferate. Hack back to a respected source, either first-hand (their own website, the original newspaper report at the time) or an established knowledge site, eg Mirriam-Webster, Oxford Press.
  • If the whole quote in quotation marks doesn’t get you good results, try using a few key words without quotation marks. Often a wrong version is doing the rounds.
  • For original image sources, work backwards in time, for the earliest chronological version. Check some image stock sites.
  • At conferences and panels, write each speaker’s name at the top of your notes and use their initials to mark their contribution in your notes. Afterwards, you can thank them for specific comments you found helpful and you can attribute their words if you write about it.
  • Online, link to people’s sites as well as giving their name.
  • Einstein probably didn’t say it. Check. Wikipedia has a helpful list of sayings commonly misattributed to Einstein as well as a list of general misattributions.

Want this this kind of vigour, rigour, and discipline applied to your book? Email me to book your work in and discuss your project.

6 thoughts on “Why you should never write “Anon”

  1. It’s interesting isn’t it, that if you did an academic paper for an MA/PhD you would probably lose marks (and credibility) by citing ‘Anon’ in your Bibliography. And yet do it online and it’s somehow fine. Is this because there isn’t yet a developed etiquette of how to credit sources if they’re found online? In years to come, will our descendants be horrified at our casual use of t’interweb as the font of all knowledge, no matter who did (or didn’t) say it?

  2. Absolutely, Lucy – but actually there’s plenty of etiquette, from the discreet “h/t” (hat-tilt) to linking to people’s name. We aren’t always that disciplined though, which is why we need to remember just how important this actually is.

  3. You’re definitely correct Megan. If someone’s idea is important enough to quote, then they’re important enough to mention.

    As with me, I always quote or link back to people if ever I’ll be mentioning them on my writings, be it a novel, non-fiction, or true-to-life stories. It’s just pretty disaapointing sometimes to know that there are still few writers who are somewhat lazy in finding the real source for the quotes they are using and just put it under “Anon”. And yes, verify first who will you attribute the quotes with ‘coz you might end up attributing it to a wrong person much like what happened to Einstein.

    By the way, congratulations in finally having a twitter account for Thought Leaders, I have followed you already. :-)

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