The search for truth has always been a challenge online. But with the sheer volume of content and information available at your fingertips, these days it can feel more like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The good news is that discerning the skills you need in order to be able to find out what’s true and accurate and what’s just plain misinformation is now easier than ever. Being able to master fact-finding for text isn’t just a skill that’s nice to have for writers, journalists or content creators – it’s a skill that everyone should strive to cultivate and master. Here’s how to do it:
What is Fact Finding and Why Does It Matter?
With so much information available, inaccuracies, misinformation and blatant disinformation begin to crop up. We saw the effects of this first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some outlandish treatment or purported study would suddenly pop up and begin to spread like wildfire, taking on a life of its own. Many people pointed the finger at social media, but the problem was starting to occur well before social networks became more commonplace.
As digital platforms and social networks started to grow, misinformation became more of a hallmark and the ease with which it spread meant that fact-finding needed to become the responsibility of both the platforms and the people who used them. An informed and educated public is a skeptical and discerning public, and it’s no longer enough just to sit back and hope that technology will do all the work.
Beyond these reasons, with terms like “fake news” and “deepfake” entering our everyday vocabulary, being able to make sure that information is true and accurate is a surefire way to build trust and establish a relationship with your audience. No matter what type of content you create, fact-finding in text is a must. Here’s how to get it right:
Fact Finding Strategies
Finding facts in a text – easier said than done, right? The good news is that there are several fact-finding strategies you can use to check the accuracy of your text, including:
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary sources offer firsthand information, such as eyewitness accounts, original documents and interviews. Secondary sources interpret or analyze those primary sources, like articles or books. Primary sources are the best fact finding source if you can get them, as they often provide more direct evidence about the topic being covered.
Cross-referencing facts with multiple reliable sources helps make sure that the information stands up to being scrutinized. If you only see a specific news story on one site and nowhere else, it’s more likely to be false than if you see it across several different media sources.
Check the Credibility of the Source
Reputable journals, well-established news agencies, scholarly articles and recognized experts in a given field usually pride themselves on their strict and rigorous fact-checking processes. If in checking the credibility of the author or source, you don’t see much that lends itself toward their expertise, it may be better to look elsewhere.
Innate Human Bias
All of us are biased in some form or another, and every text we write is born from a particular perspective. Being aware of your own innate biases, whether those are political, cultural or personal in nature, can help you be a more balanced consumer of digital information and a writer who values fresh perspectives in your content.
Online Tools for Text Understanding
When working with text, you have a variety of tools at your disposal to make it easier than ever for you to fact-check documents. These include:
Websites like FactCheck.org and Politifact can be helpful, especially when it comes to the U.S. political scene. Beyond politics, websites like Snopes and MBFC check everything from urban legends and viral stories to the level of bias in the media.
Digital Libraries and Archives
Online databases like Google Scholar, JSTOR and other institutional libraries can provide access to both primary and peer-reviewed secondary sources to enhance the quality of your writing.
Semantic Analysis Tools
Software tools that analyze the meaning behind words can help find inconsistencies in text or areas where they contradict each other. For example, Word2Vec, which tackles word similarity tasks and serves as the model for many deep-learning applications, and Stanford's CoreNLP which provides linguistic annotations across multiple languages.
What are Some of the Challenges with Fact Finding?
Unfortunately, you can’t just copy and paste a claim into something akin to a search engine, press a button and find out if it’s true or not. First, there’s a lot of information out there. The sheer amount of data makes it necessary for both humans and AI to work together to tackle the problem. Machines are great at separating the wheat from the chaff but humans are needed to do the detailed work of uncovering nuance, bias, subtlety and other contradictions which can give away a text as being fake or manipulated in some way.
Beyond the inherent bias in human reporting, there’s also bias rooted in the texts that AI is trained on (which are human-written, after all). We as humans also tend to seek out information that aligns with our beliefs, so confirmation bias in fact finding is a major hurdle to be aware of and try to handle more objectively.
Add to that the fact that as more information emerges, the understanding of an event or topic can change and as a result, so too can your content. Being adaptive is vital in a situation where the facts can change hour by hour, minute by minute.
How Do You Cultivate a Fact-Finding Mindset?
Up until this point we’ve spent a lot of time talking about why fact finding is important and which tools to use for best results, but how do you go about cultivating a fact finding mindset for yourself? The first step is to always be learning. Technology and the science of fact finding itself is always changing and with it, new tools are emerging to help researchers, journalists, teachers and the public as a whole stay abreast of changes and shifts in the landscape.
Organizations, the media and technology companies as a whole can do a great deal to help encourage greater trust and credibility from the public by being open and transparent as well as being ethical in their reporting and communications, but as a content consumer, you owe it to yourself to be skeptical and adopt a critical thinking mindset before accepting the information that’s presented to you.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean being cynical but rather evaluating information with a critical eye and always taking extra steps to find out the truth in the text if you need to. By taking these steps, we’ll all be better stewards of our various communication channels and continue to create an environment where truth and accuracy are prized above all else.
We invite you to try Originality.AI’s fact checking tool for yourself to help you improve your own writing. Use it alongside our detailed plagiarism checker and AI detector or use it as a standalone fact checking tool alongside our readability, keyword density and other tools to make your writing and content as clear, concise and accurate as possible.