One of the most important parts of editing is fact-checking. If you write something, and not everything in it ends up being totally accurate, people will notice and you will be called out on it. It’s an easy way to damage your reputation and stop readers from coming to your site. So, in order to prevent this, you need to learn how to fact-check.
There’s far more to fact checking than just Googling something to double-check it’s right though, so here’s a journalist’s guide on how to verify your content is correct.
Know what needs to be fact-checked
When reading through and editing someone’s article, there are a number of things you should look out for to double-check. Dates are an important one, whether you’re talking about what year the Great War began or when an upcoming family event is taking place. It will only take a quick search to confirm whether the date of a big, important event is correct, but for smaller events you’ll need to check the original source. Another thing to get right is periods of time. You don’t want to mention a certain date and then claim it was the Victorian period, when it was in fact the Edwardian.
People’s names are vital to get right. Imagine if someone got your name wrong, you’d be pretty annoyed, and if you’re a journalist, it can cost you an important contact – so get it right. Many names are shared between the sexes, so it can be easy to refer to someone as “he” when actually, they’re a “she”. It doesn’t take two minutes to look this up, so make sure you check before hitting publish.
Make sure you get brand names right too, especially in terms of capitalisation. For example, the Sony brand PlayStation needs an uppercase ‘s’, not a lowercase one. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but a gaming website would look very unprofessional if they got such a thing wrong. Brands can be very particular about the way their names are spelled, spaced and capitalised, and getting it wrong might cause some upset, as well as make you look foolish.
With quotes, you need to ensure that no words are missing, or the quote hasn’t been cut to change its original meaning. Mis-quoting someone will not only anger them, it can also potentially become a legal issue.
All facts, figures, percentages, and monetary amounts also need to be verified by you, the editor. It’s all too easy to accidentally add a zero to seven and therefore change an entire news story.
Lastly, if the article mentions “the late Joe Bloggs”, make sure Mr Bloggs has actually passed away. At the same time, if someone is talking about someone as if they are alive, but you suspect they are not, trust your instincts and look it up.
Double-check everything, even if you think it’s right
Although it’s good to think like a journalist and trust your instincts, you shouldn’t rely on them completely. You might think you know how to spell a certain actor’s name, but you should always double-check just in case you’ve got it wrong. Spending a couple of minutes looking something up is going to be far easier than dealing with angry phone calls and emails when you get something wrong. Even if you didn’t write the original piece, the editor holds just as much responsibility for whatever’s published, so bear that in mind.
Fact-checking news stories
When fact-checking news stories, the best way to begin is to find the original sources used by the journalist or writer. Double-check to see if all the dates, names, facts and figures stated match up across all the sources. If they don’t, you need to find out which version is correct. For this reason, it’s always best to find the original source of the story, if possible. For example, if the story is about a VisitEngland study, you should be able to find the original source by visiting its website or social media page.
Not every company or organisation puts press releases on its own website though, and if no original can be found, it’s best to contact them directly.
Fact-checking longer-form content
When reading through a piece of long-form for spelling and grammar errors, establish what the ‘facts’ are too. Once you’ve read over the piece, go back and double-check all the ‘facts’ you highlighted. Even if the journalist or writer has hyperlinked a source within the piece, click-through the link to ensure they’ve cited the original source and its the correct link.
Fact-checking a long-form piece is a lot like editing a news story, except it is much more in-depth and therefore takes longer. If, for example, you’re editing a piece about cars, you’ll need to check every single car specification quoted, such as model name, top speed, number of cars sold, etc. When verifying statistics and numbers, ensure the writer has used the most up-to-date example. If the research is dated from five years ago, it’s not very accurate and you might be able to snoop out a better, more recent example.
Sites to help you fact-check
Snopes.com is a great site for helping you separate fact from fiction. The internet is home to many urban legends, as unfortunately it is all too easy to spread around false information. So, if a writer makes a statement, doesn’t source it and it sounds a bit fishy to you, search for it on Snopes. Including a common misconception in an article can make you look foolish, especially if you’re supposed to be the expert on a particular field.
The Trooclick app, which can be installed in your browser, can help you detect inaccuracies within a source. It works in real-time and is ideal if you have several sources quoting difference figures or numbers. At the moment it’s only available for Firefox browsers, but it’s coming to Chrome soon.