With so much information at your fingertips, it can be easy for academics to forget that being able to distinguish between real facts and misinformation is a skill that, just like any other, needs to be developed and refined. Given that so much research and publication also happens in academia, the need to be accurate and authentic in your writings is even more important.
So how can academics go about ensuring their essays are credible and honest, and how can you back up your facts with meaningful and detailed checks that prove their veracity? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to go about fact-checking your essays, why it’s important, and which tools can help you get the job done right.
Why Fact Check?
For many students, a fact check sounds more like just a routine step in submitting an essay, like creating a works cited page. But fact checking is rooted in the combination of technology and the spread of misinformation and disinformation, making it a necessary skill to have as you complete your studies.
Not fact checking information thoroughly can have some pretty severe consequences including:
Loss of Credibility - Presenting information that’s false, even if you had the best of intentions can cause a loss of respect from your instructors, your peers, your academic community and potentially even the industry you’re working in as a whole.
Academic Penalties - Beyond the loss of credibility, many institutions have strict policies against misinformation. Submitting essays or doing research based on inaccuracies can lead to failing grades or potentially worse academic penalties.
Spreading Falsehoods - Misinformation can spread like wildfire and at worst, it can cause potential harm. This is particularly important if you’re working in the scientific, educational or healthcare industries where topics and research can have real-world implications.
Fact-checking not only prevents these issues but it also helps you develop a vital skill as you progress through your studies: the ability to know your subject on a deeper level. You learn how to spot fakes and misinformation when they pop up and you have a deeper understanding of your topic on a fuller level.
Just like working out a muscle group over time or learning a skill like a foreign language or musical instrument, knowing how to fact-check your essays for integrity is a valuable skill that will serve you well in your studies and beyond. The more you do it, the better you become at it, and as a result, the more experienced and trusted you become as a voice in your area of specialty. Even if you’re studying engineering and you need to write an essay for your English class, the skills you learn as part of the process will still have a place even if they don’t seem directly related right now. Technology is only going to become more advanced and misinformation is only going to spread faster, so getting ahead of the curve now will continue to serve you long after you graduate.
How to Fact-Check Your Essays
The good news is that there are a variety of helpful tools out there for you to leverage as part of your fact-checking process. In addition, taking a measured approach as you write will help ensure that every essay you complete is as factual and as refined as it can be. Here are a few of the best fact-checking methods and strategies you can use to help:
Use Primary Sources Wherever Possible
Always consult primary sources when citing others and avoid secondary or tertiary sources in your writing where possible. Remember, primary sources are first-hand accounts or original data such as interviews, research studies or historical documents, while secondary sources are things such as interpretations of that information. Tertiary sources include things like guidebooks, some textbooks and even Wikipedia.
Primary sources offer the most direct evidence and aren’t as prone to being misinterpreted or distorted by others.
Cross Reference Against Other Credible Sources
Once you find information from a specific source, check it against other credible sources and make sure the facts align. If multiple sources corroborate your original source, it’s much more likely to be true.
Avoid Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is what happens when you try to look for information that backs up your original pre-existing beliefs. Confirmation bias can cloud your judgment even when relevant facts from experts are proven.
For example, if you have to write an essay on the challenges of climate change but you believe it to be a hoax, you’d actively look for articles supporting your beliefs while discrediting the idea that humans are the cause of climate change.
You might cite data that shows a long list of cold weather or snow as proof that global warming isn’t happening, in contrast to data from reliable organizations like NASA or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shows the links to rising global temperatures and CO2 emissions. This is an example of confirmation bias at work and should be something to work on avoiding as you fact-check your essays for integrity.
Stay Up-to-Date in Your Field
Many of today’s most challenging academic fields are also rapidly evolving. If you’re in a field like science and technology, what was true and valid even a short as a year ago may not be the case today. Regularly look for the latest findings and research from recent publications.
Use Credible Scholarly Research Databases
Your college or university likely offers free or low-cost access to a variety of scholarly databases including Google Scholar, PubMed or JSTOR among others. These give you access to peer-reviewed papers and journals which can reinforce the credibility of your writing beyond what’s possible with regular search engines.
Take Advantage of Helpful Online Tools
Fact-checking tools like Originality.AI’s online fact checker, AI-detection and plagiarism checker can not only help you ensure greater accuracy of your writing but also prevent plagiarism and avoid the tell-tale signs that could indicate that some of the text is AI generated. In addition to these tools, Originality.AI also lets you check the readability of your essay so that you can ensure your writing will be clearly understood by your target audience.
How Might Fact-Checking for Academics Change in the Future?
Fact-checking in the age of information (and misinformation) is changing incredibly quickly. With AI becoming more and more valuable in uncovering false information and analyzing large amounts of data quickly while lending credibility to content, you can expect more of an emphasis on AI and fact-checking tools in the future.
Beyond AI use, public awareness is also starting to shift. As a result of the COVID pandemic, many people saw firsthand the dangers of misinformation and disinformation campaigns. As we as a society become more aware of the real-world consequences, there will likely be more of an emphasis on the importance of teaching good fact-checking skills not just in terms of checking your essays but in evaluating information in everyday life.
And last but not least, you can expect platforms to continually develop as new and more refined tools are released. It’s entirely possible that in the future, collaborative platforms will emerge that allow scholars to work together to fact-check and validate content seamlessly together with AI tools, leading to real-time, thorough fact-checking and peer review.
For now, though, the core principles behind fact-checking and essay integrity aren’t going anywhere soon. By being able to understand how to go about the process (as well as the consequences of ignoring it), you can help to ensure that the information you write and publish is true, honest and authentic, both today and well into the future.