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CO 502-50: Research Methods for Professionals

This guide is designed to help you locate resources for topics discussed in CO 502, Research Methods for Professionals.

Fact Checking in Four Steps (Caulfield)

Use these tactics to help you decide whether information is true:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research conducted.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Since most web content is not original, you should backtrack to the original source of the assertion to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim (book, article, photo, etc.), read what trusted sources say about it. Look for consensus amongst these sources.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

In general, you can try the above moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

When you encounter a claim you want to check, your first move might be to check sites like Politifact, Snopes, or even Wikipedia to see if they have researched the claim (Check for previous work). You can also do a quick search like [claim] + "hoax."

If you can’t find previous work on the claim, start by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, try to find the journal in which it appeared. If the claim is about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported (Go upstream).

If you find that the source of the claim is not reliable, read across reliable sources to assess further. (Read laterally).

And if at any point you fail–if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims–then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source (Circle back).

For more information on fact-checking strategies see Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

Adapted from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Michael A. Caulfield and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Be a Critical Thinker

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