Given that we live in the Information Age, it has become more important than ever to fact check the articles we read or the content we cite and share. The fact that anyone can publish anything online means that anyone will publish anything online and as readers, it’s up to us to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction.
With this in mind, how to fact-check an article becomes an additional skill we need to master in order to understand the world and events around us. By scrutinizing articles effectively, you’ll be able to authenticate information before it becomes fact in your mind, or before you share the wrong thing with someone else. Here’s how to make sure you get it right.
Step 1: Consider the Source
At the very core of doing an article check online is taking a moment to check the source and ensure that they’re reputable. Many major news organizations and academic journals alike have extremely high editorial standards that they adhere to in order to ensure the expertise of their sources.
If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to check the author’s bio at the end of an article or a clickable link within their name itself. Take a closer look at their background and experience in the field. Check out their affiliations – do they work at a university, a research institute or a news outlet? Or does the organization have a vested interest in the subject being covered?
In some cases, you can also see if their articles have been reviewed by their peers for accuracy. Peer-reviewed articles can give the content an extra layer of validation as you’re verifying the source’s expertise.
Step 2: Cross-Reference the Information
Don’t just rely on a single source. Check to see if multiple sources verify claims that the original article makes. However, even if you are able to find several articles with the same claims, be sure that the articles themselves are from reputable sources. Once a false statement gains traction and catches fire online, many other similar articles will take that tidbit of information and run with it, factual or not.
In many cases, unless the event is hyper-local in some way, it’s also a good idea to fact check using international sources and references as well.
Step 3: Check the Citations and References
The best articles will have academic or peer-reviewed citations backing them. Keep in mind that Wikipedia or blog posts are not considered reliable sources as they can be (and are) continually edited by anyone.
In some cases, the original source material may make a statement that is widely interpreted to slant a completely different direction. Check the original source material to make sure the information has been understood and shared with the correct interpretation and that other articles aren’t trying to skew the information to adhere to a specific agenda or cause.
Step 4: Check Cited Data and Statistics
Data should ideally come from academic studies, government statistics agencies or other reliable sources. Check to ensure that the data is presented in context, for example, 98% sounds like a large percentage, but if the sample size is very small, it’s insignificant and misleading.
Also make sure to carefully scrutinize graphs and charts that might manipulate scales or omit data intentionally in order to mislead readers.
Step 5: Check For Logistical Consistency and Bias
Does the article follow a consistent pattern of logic or does it leap to conclusions? An article or piece of information should naturally flow and follow a sensible series of steps. It’s also important to take into account the article through a cultural lens in many cases as this offers a distinct and diverse perspective where it’s needed.
Be cautious of articles that use overly emotional language or appeal to your sense of fear as these techniques are designed to persuade and panic instead of inform and educate.
Step 6: Check for Timeliness and Relevance
Make sure to double-check the date of publication. Depending on when an article was published, it might have information that’s no longer relevant or has been disproven
Step 7: Re-Examine and Re-Assess
Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and re-assessing the information. Did you miss any of the steps? Have you checked with multiple different sources? Taking a step back can give you a refreshed and renewed perspective so that you can move forward with confidence.
Why Bother Going Through All of These Steps?
With so much information out there from so many different sources all telling you what or who to believe, fact-checking, far from being a trivial process, helps us create a more responsible and more knowledgeable “information ecosystem”. With a glut of information at our fingertips on every conceivable subject and niche interest, being able to accurately fact-check and ensure authenticity helps us to:
Fight Back Against Misinformation
Misinformation can cause harm on several levels. It can create discord, fuel conspiracy theories and in some cases, it has even jeopardized public health. Fact-checking is your first line of defense against the spread of misinformation and blatant lies.
Make Better Informed Decisions
No matter what you’re doing, be it voting, making an investment or otherwise making an important decision, you often take that action with the information you have at hand. Basing your decision on information that’s incorrect or even misleading can cause you to make decisions that have real-world, lasting consequences.
Build Better Critical Thinking Skills
Fact-checking is an exercise in critical thinking. When you fact-check, you aren’t just reading information, you’re actively engaging in it, questioning sources, looking at the flow of logic and the result, and evaluating charts and graphs to determine their credibility.
For media outlets, trust is pivotal. It’s not just a good practice but crucial in a world where “fake news” has become a buzzword, trust is something that takes time to build but can easily be broken. Building and maintaining the trust of your audience doesn’t come easy, but fact-checking is worth the effort to help establish that trustworthy foundation.
Hold People Accountable
Fact-checking also applies to statements made by public leaders or those of crucial importance or leadership in well-known businesses or other agencies. When fact-checking exposes their statements as false or misleading, it holds them accountable for what they say.
Share Responsibly and Cultivate a Culture of Honesty
In the age of social media, where things can (and are) shared in just a click, fast-checking ensures that you’re not inadvertently passing on false information. It also creates an environment that tampers sensationalist journalism and puts reporting back on the track of “just the facts’.
Originality.AI’s New Fact-Checking Tool
Rather than leave fact-checking to humans, who can be biased, easily persuaded or misled, Originality.AI once again has broken the mold with their new fact-checking tool. Using machine learning, artificial intelligence and language pattern recognition, Originality.AI’s new fact checking tool leverages the latest in artificial intelligence and a wide array of databases to help you shortcut the complex and often cumbersome process of fact-checking.
We invite you to try this tool for yourself and experience the full depth and breadth of a fact-checking tool that’s always updated along with the latest advances in AI.
Our new fact-checking tool, alongside Originality.AI’s other robust free tools like our readability checker, text compare tool and our free content analyzer tool makes it easier than ever to not only ascertain the accuracy of content before you share or read it, but also helps you ensure your own content is held to the highest possible standards; free of plagiarism, AI interference or crushed under the search results pages of duplicate content. There’s no easier way to do an article check online.
The Bottom Line on Fact-Checking
Information is our most valuable and potentially our most dangerous commodity and now, more than ever, the importance of fact-checking can’t be overstated. The responsibility no longer falls on just the media, just the government or just academia. The responsibility is a shared one – both for content creators and consumers. Gone are the days when you can toss a paper to someone and say “check my article”. By fact-checking content, we not only protect ourselves but also help create a more reliable, authentic and accurate information landscape.