They’re the same right? Wrong; well at least not in my opinion. I’ve written professional medical reports for 20 years, been published in non-fiction, worked as a paid website content provider and written fiction for almost 30 years and I’ve learned that truth and accuracy can differ widely. Why does it matter? What is truth to one person may not be so for another. While a statement or description may be true or based in truth, it may not be accurate to the specific item or event.
Truth is defined as: “conformity to knowledge, fact, actuality or logic” and accuracy is defined as: “exactness, correctness”. Sound similar, don’t they? But they can be viewed quite differently when details are important.
Example: The sky is blue. Is this a true statement? Of course, one can ask any random person and they would agree upon this universal truth. However, is that an accurate statement? Perhaps. It can depend on current weather conditions, time of day, physical location, personal perception and many other variables.
So what, right? Truth versus accuracy, it’s close enough. Why bother being so specific? It’s all just words, just semantics. It matters because all human communication relies on statements to be both truthful and accurate. You can say the sky is blue but that statement is simple, limited and is unable to fully describe the richness of an evening sunset.
As a paramedic, if I were to document that a person is “sick” what useful information can a doctor or nurse garner from that statement? It may be true, but is it useful? How can the emergency department staff relay information that simple? Or worse, how do I explain myself to a judge should the worst case scenario occur? This is why medical and legal documents are so detailed. They need to be in order to cover all aspects of a situation, to avoid any misunderstanding.
Truthful, yet simple statements are not useful when dealing with the complexities of the real world. People are too intricate, too easily misunderstood or too willing to misunderstand. Even such a simple truth can be clouded by emotions of either the writer/speaker or the reader/receiver.
So how does this impact you as a writer? Think about your writing, the words you choose and how you describe things, people, emotions and sensory details. Are they true or accurate? Your story depends upon accuracy to create impact, which will in turn create readership. Accuracy in your work is the difference between ‘it felt hot’ and ‘as hot as a black car baking in the noonday sun’. Don’t write ‘dog’ when you can write ‘pit bull’. It creates an immediate and vivid picture in your reader’s mind.
The English language is varied. It possesses a plethora of perfect words to describe exactly what you want. Don’t settle for close enough. Perception is everything. If the majority of your readers have misunderstood your message, then you have failed as a writer. Be bold! Be clear! Be accurate! Use the right word for the right situation, and a new world of truth will be revealed to you.