How to Fact Check
Fact checking is an important part of writing an accurate article. Meticulous authors
do research prior to committing their thoughts to paper. Not all authors are so careful.
Editors and readers serve society and themselves well when they read with a judicious eye.
Just because a piece is written and printed does not necessarily make it true. The ability
to check facts, coupled with an openness to a possible bias on the part of an author, will
enable the discernment of truth or distortion.
Editors have a responsibility to fact check before printing an article or book. Some
editors do this very well. Others do not. If you are an editor, the tips below could help
you produce better articles thereby building a reputation as a reliable source.
Readers could benefit from these tips by being able to ascertain whether what they are
reading is actually true, elaborations on truth, or, just plain inaccurate. In these days
of information being rapidly accessed on the Internet where anyone can publish anything,
it is vital to know how to pick out what is factual information and what is not. Readers
should be aware that facts can be twisted or interpreted incorrectly also, that they can
be used as the basis to support a poorly reasoned conclusion. So the fact could be
correct, but the logic used to support a particular argument could be defective. This
article does not address how to pick out faulty logic.
The Process of Fact Checking. Here is a sequence of steps to follow in fact checking.
If you are writing for publication or academic purposes, you will want to do the final
step of recording what you find. If you are fact checking for your own edification, this
step may not be important to you.
a. Read the material.
b. Read the material a second time, marking passages for checking.
c. Write down the claims to check and list keywords and potential resources to research.
d. Do the research.
e. Record results including the source.
Who is the Author? The first thing to determine is the qualifications of the author.
Experts writing in their field may be given credit as more likely to be knowledgeable and
accurate. However, the author may harbor a bias. The use of inflammatory language is one
overt clue to bias. The use of subtle innuendo is a covert one. Check for degrees,
certifications, awards, and years of experience. Next, look for evidence of due diligence
by the author. Are sources listed for claims made? Did the author do original research?
Is the Source trustworthy? In the case of an editor or author, a "source" would be
those references used by the author to support his argument. In the case of a reader,
"source" also includes the author of the material. Sources should be reliable,
knowledgeable, and unbiased in order to be trustworthy. Ask yourself these questions.
a. Is the source reliable? Each fact used in a publication needs to come from a
reliable source. Authors who list their sources help make your research easier because you
can check the source directly and you can make a determination whether that source has
provided information in the past which turned out to be accurate. The more well-known the
institution or research agency which generated the original information, the more likely
it is that the information is reliable. Institutions and research agencies not only do
primary research, they also tend to do peer reviews of information prior to its release,
and many other interested parties carefully scrutinize their work once it has been released.