Fact checking is an important skill for anyone in the field of communication. Experienced writers, journalists, and reporters are adept at citing references for the information they share with others.
This helps ensure that anything they quote can be traced back to its original source, building credibility with their audience.
Who Should Fact Check?
While fact checking is important for everyone in order to be responsible consumers of information, there are some people who should always take the time to fact check.
- a journalist reporting news;
- an author publishing a nonfiction book;
- a blogger building authority on a chosen topic;
- a student writing up a school paper;
- a leader hoping to influence others.
We’ve compiled a checklist for fact checkers across a variety of professions so you can be sure to cover all your bases.
Fact Checking as a Journalist
Of all the professionals who need fact checking skills, journalists top the list. As a journalist, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everything you report is accurate and true.
Details you need to be conscious of include:
1. Names and designations of people in your report
Whether you write your report or deliver it orally, you need to confirm the names and designations of people involved in your news.
If you’re writing, confirm the spellings; if you’re delivering an oral report, confirm the pronunciations to avoid any misunderstandings.
2. Details of events
As a journalist, readers look to you for information. Make sure you get it right by jotting down details in a notebook or recording them into a device.
For example, when you arrive at the scene of an accident, many witnesses will share their version of the story, so it’s your job to get their stories in order and deliver a story that’s coherent and adds up.
3. Captions for photos
News articles tend to be coupled with photos. Make sure you caption your photos accurately. Include details such as the date and place where the photos were taken.
If you didn’t take the photos yourself, ask permission to use them and give credit accordingly.
Fact Checking for a Blog or Website
Writing content for websites may sound easy as pie, but you need to remember that your website’s credibility is on the line.
In order to build trust between you and your readers, you must commit to fact checking every article you post.
Things you need to look out for include:
1. Details of any recent news
If you blog about recent events, make sure you get your facts straight by going to the primary source. For example, a natural disaster or a national epidemic can easily be exaggerated, so be sure to consult the most credible sources for your own articles.
When you can, interview experts or people who experienced the events you’re writing about. This requires a little extra research, but your final product will be of a higher quality and definitely more helpful to your readers.
2. Information about people you mention in your blog or website.
If you feature stories of people, make sure you get their information correct, such as their company name, job titles, or awards that they’ve achieved.
You want to present as accurate a picture as possible. For articles about real people that you know, you can ask them to help fact check your article before you publish it, and make sure you’re quick to make corrections once they point out anything.
3. Honest reviews of books or other products
If your website includes customer reviews of books and other products, be sure to offer a comprehensive view by including both positive and negative reviews.
While reviews are primarily people’s opinions, missing out on an important details or certain aspects of a product may paint your site as biased, which you probably don’t want.
Fact Checking a Nonfiction Book
If you’re a nonfiction author, you need to be meticulous in fact checking before you send your book to the publishers. The kind of information you need to fact check will likely vary depending on your topic.
Among other things, make sure you verify the following:
1. Scientific findings or reports
When you write a nonfiction book, chances are, you will use a lot of scientific findings. Be sure to confirm the accuracy of any reports you quote.
You need to understand the difference between scientific research and pseudo-science. Pseudo-science pretends to be under the banner of science but does not go through the scientific process. It may also be biased in its results.
2. Research results and conclusions
It may be easy to quote conclusions that others reached in their research. But in this case, be sure to check the methodology they used to make sure they arrived at logical conclusions.
3. Quotes from real people and information about them
Just like featuring people on websites, when you talk about real people in your book, check that the details you give out are correct.
Also, when you quote real people in your nonfiction book, make sure you do so accurately. Some quotes lose their intended meaning when taken out of context, so one tip would be to include qualifiers in cases where the words can be taken the wrong way.
Fact Checking a Fiction Book
Although critics will likely be more stringent with nonfiction books, in many cases, you also need to fact check a fiction book.
So what kind of information do you need to verify when writing fiction? The following are important things to look out for:
1. Names, demographic, environmental details of places you describe in your book
When you write a fictional account and put your characters in a real city or town, make sure you do your research on the actual place. Likewise, if you choose to place them there in a certain time period, you should take the time to study life during that era so you can make your story as realistic as possible.
Imagine that you are a reader from Southern California, and you’re reading a book that mentions a character traveling to San Diego to visit Dodger Stadium. Nothing will turn readers off faster than gaping inaccuracies in the details of your setting or other elements.
2. Dates and other information of real events in history
Although you are writing fiction, if you are referencing real events in history, be it ancient or modern, make sure you have the facts straight. An important way to confirm details is to ask: when, where, what, why, and how.
3. Job descriptions or habits of people in given professions
When writing a fictional story, you will have your characters working certain jobs. Make sure you do your research on what a typical day looks like for such a profession.
If you’re writing a medical thriller, for example, you should probably take the time to familiarize yourself with medical jargon.
This may seem tedious, but it’s the little details like this that will make all the difference in your novel.
When you write dialogue, you also need to be aware of colloquialisms (elements of speech that are particular to certain regions).
For example, you would not want to have a character who hails from the South speaking in words or phrases that a typical New Yorker would use.
If you haven’t visited the region you’re writing about, it might be beneficial to plan a visit there, if possible. Otherwise, be sure to do some thorough research—you can even contact people from that area to interview them, or have them review your book to see if it’s an accurate and realistic depiction.
How to Fact Check
Now that we’ve established the importance of fact checking and who should fact check, let’s take a look at some of the best practices for fact checking.
The following tips will help make the fact checking process as painless as possible:
1. Cite sources for everything you write.
As a writer, you must, by default, get used to adding footnotes or endnotes as you write, especially for nonfiction works. This lets your audience confirm the truth of your statements.
There are many citation generators that can help you out with this process. In most cases, all you have to do is enter the source’s information and a properly formatted citation will be created for you to copy and paste.
2. Consult multiple sources, or contact the source directly.
Sometimes, a source may sound credible—until you find contradicting information from another source. It always helps to consult several sources to make sure you have your details straight.
Thankfully, Google now makes it easy to search for sources on a given subject. As you do so, pay attention to more trusted sources such as large news channels, medical journals, and government agencies and statistics.
You can prioritize these trusted websites by typing this operator into Google: “site: [insert URL of your trusted agency] [keyword]”.
If it’s not possible to find other sources (which is highly improbable in this Information Age), don’t hesitate to contact your original source and ask for proof of what they told you.
3. Take a step back so you have fresh eyes for fact checking.
Writers too engrossed in their work tend to lose the “fresh eyes” needed to detect something amiss. One solution is to take a break: some do well with taking a two- to three-day break, others prefer at least a week. When you get back, read your work with an objective eye to check for errors.
Sometimes, taking a break will also give you ideas of additional sources to consult to verify your facts.
4. Double-check spellings and other important details for unintentional errors.
Sometimes errors can creep in in the form of typos. Whereas spelling typos are generally understandable, errors in dates, places, and other important information may be critical.
Make sure you give these details one final check before publishing your article or book.
5. Ask someone else to help you fact check.
Asking someone else to fact check something you write is helpful especially if the other person is more knowledgeable than you on the subject. One example would be asking a medical doctor to fact check a chapter in a nonfiction book where you talk about medical facts. Another would be when you have quotes from a certain person and would like him to confirm if you quoted him correctly.
Fact Checking Pays Off
When you practice these steps regularly and consistently, you will develop the habit of fact checking, an important part of media literacy.
The extra effort to verify your information will pay back tenfold, because the accuracy of your writing will earn you more trust among your readers!
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