Facts. It seems that there is a scarcity of facts these days. As ironic as it is, in the age where anything and everything is within the reach of our fingertips, we are swimming in a world of misinformation. Opinions are being peddled as truths while facts are being twisted. Misinformation is so pervasive that we witnessed world leaders question the credibility of science.
As students who are still learning about the world and have just started to delve into a specific field, you are quite vulnerable to misinformation. This is why research is integral in your college education. Critical thinking skills is the key to avoid falling into the traps of misinformation. But fact checking is the first line of defense.
Do students need to fact check?
Absolutely. Fact checking is not just for journalists. Everyone should, in fact, but even more so for students. Although you are still learners, college expects more sophisticated thinking and work ethics from you. This means that aside from citing your sources, you need to find credible sources and make sure that all that you include and believe in your essays are factual.
What is at stake here is, first and foremost, the quality of your paper. If any component of your paper, for instance the basis of your argument in an argumentative essay, is false, then your whole paper will be questionable for your reader. No argument, no matter how strong, can survive an incorrect piece of information. Your professor will likely give you a low grade, as a result. Don’t let your hard work go to waste because of incorrect information you could have fact checked in 3 minutes.
Before you start pulling your hair out about the extra step you now need to do when writing essays, let me stop you there. With the right skills in your arsenal, fact checking does not have to be a burden in your essay writing process.
How to fact check
- Primary sources are your best friend. The most prevalent type of source used today by students is secondary sources. These are easily accessible on the Internet—a contrast to primary sources which often come in the form of books, or at times through interviews.
What you need to do before citing a secondary source in your essay is to verify if the primary source really stated what your secondary source says it did. Check for inconsistencies in interpretation, or in the worst cases, watch out for someone twisting another author’s words.
Tip: Verify quickly by referring to your source’s citation. That should include the page number or chapter where you will find the piece of information. You don’t need to read the entire book or chapter, simply go to that page. Read that section or, if you have time, the entire chapter, so you can get a more nuanced understanding of the statement.
- Verify through other credible sources. If you can’t find the primary source, you can look to other sources, provided that these are credible ones, to check if something is true. If other researchers or an organization publish the same set of data or statements, then you are in the clear. However, if your source does not match one, you will need to further fact-check your essay.
Tip: Make use of our tips on how to evaluate the credibility of sources. An even faster way is to take note of the sources that you know you can rely on. For instance, you can verify data from UNICEF, UN, Pew Research, and the CIA World Fact Book, to name a few. These are the websites that researchers and journalists alike utilize. You may also opt to find the authorities in your specific field. For example, for Psychology, students may check the American Psychological Association.
- Go to the Deep Web. Don’t be intimidated by the term. The Deep Web simply refers to “areas” of the Internet that don’t come up to the front pages of search engines. These are often databases where you need subscription to gain access. Even if you don’t have subscription to these databases, you can get a preview of some articles, or you can look elsewhere once you have the title and author name of your target article. These are great areas to find sources for fact checking.
Tip: Familiarize yourself with techniques to search more effectively on Google to get more targeted results. Some examples of techniques include entering “site: .gov” after keywords to narrow down the set of websites that will be shown in the results.
- Fact-check every thing. Just because something is widely circulated or believed does not guarantee that it is true. Even the most trivial things are better off fact-checked. Getting trivial facts incorrect would be a major embarrassment. Likewise, verify opinions—first, if the opinion of the person cited is accurately presented in your source, and second, if the facts they mentioned (based their opinion on) are correct. In other words, you need to verify the credibility and truth even of other people’s opinions.
- Differentiate between fact and opinion. Both types of information can be equally useful in a research paper or essay. However, each one entails a different fact-checking process. For instance, a fact simply needs to be double-checked whereas an opinion needs to be checked for accuracy, context, and credibility.
Tip: Whenever you encounter a fact or an opinion, always ask for the evidence. Don’t simply accept something, even if it is from a source that you trust. Be wary of confirmation bias as it may lead you to believe preposterous claims just because they support your beliefs.
- Be vigilant for suspicious images or text. The good thing about conducting a research is that you have to read through numerous materials about the same topics. As a result, you become familiar with the content. Be wary of websites or articles that have been plagiarized. Similarly, watch out for images that have been re-purposed. These are signs that the potential source is not reliable.
Tip: There are ways to check if a text or an image is original. For texts, simply copy a phrase or sentence and paste it on the search bar and enclose it in quotation marks. The search engine will show you websites that also published the said phrase or sentence. For images, you can use the reverse image search in Google or use tools like tinyeye.com.
- If you can’t find a source, remove it. There are times when you swear you know something for a fact but after thorough search, you can’t find any source that supports it, then that only means that it is not true. Don’t risk your paper’s credibility by including a piece of information that you’re only 50% sure of.
What all these tell you is that you should never rely on just one source or person. Yes, in other words, don’t trust anyone. You need to check things for yourself first.
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