Just having a late night rummage through the interweb and found quite an interesting article from August 2014 Red Rocket Media blog, featuring tips for fact checking. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about the fact checking and desk research process and how to ‘teach’ someone to do it (no – it’s not just Googling your question, though in some cases that might work!) – there is far more to it than that. Laura Varley is quite right on that one. As well as some of the more obvious things, such as what to check, she also lists a few good tips such as not necessarily relying on your own knowledge, something we all do naturally and often without question. But question it you MUST! How do we know why we know what we know?!
Another tip Laura gives is to try to go back to the original resource. This might take some lateral thinking. If you find it in Wikipedia or a news resource, for instance, they might have got it wrong; innocently misquoted out of context or plainly tried to mislead because, whether it is right or not, they will have got it from somewhere else. If you are looking for global financial statistics, go to World Bank. If you are looking for the height of Mount Everest go to a reliable edited and published encyclopedia, such as Britannica; if you are looking for the number of gold medals won by Canada in London 2012, go to the Official Olympics website. The secret is to understand who ‘owns’ this information or who will report it in an unbiased and balanced manner. If in doubt, find multiple sources (the evidence) which will give you the best chance of corroborating your fact.
Later, Laura also mentions checking the date of the source of information you are using, an important issue if you are attempting to write about relevant current affairs and issues.
Finally, although you can make all of these checks, you can never be 100% sure that you have got it right. Only to do your best and limit the potential for error.
Image copyright: By Svjo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.