Probably, like me, you are thinking that you recognize this as part of the “Hippocratic Oath.”  

From ancient Greek medical texts, this “oath” is the earliest known account showing that physicians are expected to uphold specific ethical standards.  

In a book development meeting today with a doctor whom I am assisting, we considered some possible “famous” quotations to sprinkle throughout his book. (Readers like big blocks of text to be broken up with quotation boxes, illustrations, and other visuals.) The first rule in medicine, we thought, was beautifully expressed in the ancient text written by the early Greek physician, Hippocrates: “First, do no harm…” would fit perfectly in the context of his book. 

Except for two things: Those words are not actually in the Hippocratic Oath, and, Hippocrates did not write the text where the “oath” is found. Let’s find another great quotation, shall we? 

This experience confirmed my conviction that you really, really need to take time to verify any quotation you plan to use. 

Quotations are a useful tool, but only when used carefully and with accuracy.

Whether you’re an aspiring or published book author, blogger, journalist, content marketer, or simply a social media user who likes to share profound nuggets of wisdom, fact checking isn’t optional.

Don’t ruin your hard-earned credibility and trust of your readership. 

JUST BECAUSE IT’S ON BRAINYQUOTE (or other site that makes finding a quote on any topic super easy) DOES NOT MEAN IT’S VERIFIED. 

Did you check the wording?

Inaccurately worded quotations aren’t necessarily deliberate. Copy after copy can build small changes or omissions into a very distorted outcome.  

Did you check the attribution? 

Quotations are so often misattributed to Einstein that every time I see or hear a new one, I consider it fake until proven otherwise. Remember, Hippocrates did not write the Hippocratic Oath! Here’s a favorite meme I’ve seen: “You cannot always believe what you read on the internet.” –Abraham Lincoln

Did you read enough of the original source to check the context?

The original meaning can be distorted when we are missing context (see any TV news broadcast for examples).   

If your readers can’t be sure something as simple as a quotation is accurate, why should they trust the rest of your content?

So, what should we do? 

  • Do not assume a quotation you see is accurate for wording, attribution, or context. It may or may not be. 
  • Don’t be lazy or an opportunist and use a quote just because it suits your purposes, not caring too much about its accuracy.
  • Find the original source. (If Hemingway supposedly said it, when and where?)
  • Check a site I find very helpful:
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