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EN 470: Theory & Practice of Writing: Find & Evaluate Websites

Professor Sacks

Four Moves for Fact Checking

Four Moves for Fact Checking

Use these tactics to help you decide if 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.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • 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 these 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 see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim (Check for previous work).

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 it appeared in. If the claim is about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported (Go upstream).

Maybe you get lucky and the source is something known to be reputable, such as the journal Science or the newspaper the New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source you’ve ended up at and asking whether it is trustworthy (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.

Unsure about a Given Web Site?

Cultivate an attitude of skepticism when it comes to web-based content.  If you have any doubt whatsoever about the reliability of any given website, clear it with your instructor or check with a librarian before you use it in your paper.

Useful Links

If you want to "play it safe," you  should check with your instructor or a librarian about any website you plan to use for your paper.  There is not much out there on the WWW in terms of reputable sources to use for this research project.  A few that seem relatively useful and reliable are listed below: