How to Fact-Check Your Latest Blog Post in 20 Minutes or Less - Quick Sprout
Posted: 30 Dec 2016 08:00 AM PST
Nobody's correct all the time. Your blog posts, on the other hand, should be correct all the time.
Why? Because if your blog gets the facts wrong, your readers won't take you seriously. Instead of being an authoritative resource, your blog will become a joke.
It's harsh but true. Assuming you're not a satire site like the Onion, you need to get your information right.
Truth be told, blogs should have similar standards for their posts as colleges have for students' papers. Colleges require students to cite their sources in detail, and the sources have to be credible.
While I don't think blogs should be required to quote only academic journals, I do think most blogs could benefit from higher standards of quality.
That means no poorly researched facts, no half-baked ideas, and no generalizations or assumptions.
It means thoroughly researched points, credible sources, and specific examples and anecdotes.
That's the standard I keep for all my blogs, and I encourage my friends and colleagues to do the same.
Best of all, it doesn't take hours to make your blog posts bulletproof.
Here's how to fact-check your latest blog post in 20 minutes or less. Let's get started.
Determine which facts to check
You don't need to be super paranoid to have a perfectly correct blog post. Not every fact needs to be double-checked.
That's why your first objective should be to comb through your post and determine which facts need checking.
An easy way of doing this is to consider whether or not the fact is common knowledge.
According to Harvard University, "Common knowledge is information generally known to an educated reader, such as widely known facts and dates, and, more rarely, ideas or language."
For example, the fact that Barack Obama won the 2012 election is common knowledge. But the fact that Obama likes basketball is not common knowledge.
How can you tell whether a fact is common knowledge?
Purdue University's Online Writing Lab says that, as a rule of thumb, if you can find the fact undocumented in at least five credible sources, chances are it's common knowledge.
If your fact is common knowledge, you don't need any source to back it up.
However, I recommend doing a quick yet thorough Google search to make sure your fact isn't a common misconception. If all looks good, move on to the next step.
Consult credible sources
There's a huge difference between an authoritative source and a credible source. Unfortunately, most people think they're one and the same.
For example, most schools don't allow students to cite Wikipedia because anyone can edit it. Even though Wikipedia is mostly well-maintained, it can't be used academically.
Wikipedia is a perfect example of a site that is an authoritative—but not credible—source. It's authoritative because it's used by millions of people, but it's not credible.
The Wall Street Journal is an example of an authoritative source that is also a credible source. Most major news publications (e.g., The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post) count as credible sources.
Besides national newspapers, some examples of sources that are credible include:
Keep in mind that while some of these sources would be considered off-limits in an academic setting, they're perfectly fine in our case. For example, using a personal site for a grad paper might be frowned upon, but it works fine for blog posts.
Some examples of sources that aren't credible include:
Ultimately, you have to use your judgment here. If you're using well-known, widely trusted sources, you're good to go.
Get help from the watchdogs
There are also plenty of sites and resources dedicated to fact checking.
One of the most popular checking sites is Snopes. It has entries on all kinds of urban legends and controversial facts.
The team of researchers at Snopes always show their research, making it easy to fact-check Snopes itself.
While Snopes has gotten some criticism for its seemingly biased political articles, it's a good resource for many other topics.
Last but not least, Google recently announced its new Fact Check tag for Google News. In a nutshell, readers will be able to check the validity of an article by clicking on the Fact Check tag.
If you're already using Google News, this will be super convenient for you. And if you're not using Google news, it's a great time to start.
Create a strategy
I've shared a lot of information so far, but don't be intimidated. As I promised, you’ll be able to use this info to fact-check a blog post in 20 minutes or less.
Let me take you through the strategy, step by step.
Step 1: Create a fact checking spreadsheet (1 minute)
Open Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, and create a new spreadsheet.
Don't worry, you're not going to make anything complicated. You'll need only three columns.
Name the first column "Fact," and enter all the facts from your blog post that need checking. (Refer back to the "Determine which facts to check" section of this article for this step.)
Name the second column "Sources." We'll use this in the next step.
Name the third column "Use." You'll use this column to determine the validity of your facts.
Step 2: Head to Google (8 minutes)
If your facts don't fall into any political, social, or mythological categories, Google will be your first step in the fact-checking process.
For example, if you wanted to write about the successful use of Facebook video ads, you'd want to find a reputable source with examples.
Head to Google, and search "Facebook video ads." One of the top results is this blog post from Social Media Examiner:
The article has lots of outbound links to support its claims, which is a great sign. There's also a lot of media to help the user follow the strategy.
This is an excellent example of a good resource. This article would definitely back up your claims about Facebook video ads being successful.
Try to find at least two quality articles, studies, or videos to back up each statement. This way, you can go through them at the end and decide which resources will be best for your article.
When you find your sources, paste the links in the "Sources" column of your spreadsheet.
Step 3: Consult other sites (optional, 5 minutes)
If you're writing about anything political, you'll most likely need to use FactCheck.org, Politifact, or Snopes. And if you need to check any facts related to society, Snopes is a good place to go.
You won't need to use these sites for every article you write, so this is an optional step. If you do need to use these sites, just run your topic keywords through the search bars.
At this point, you might be thinking, "But what if there's nothing out there to support my fact?"
A lack of support means one of two things: You either need to support the fact yourself or eliminate it from your article.
Since these are polar opposites, you'll have to use your judgment here.
For example, if you're arguing that studying the Renaissance can improve your marketing, you probably won't find much out there that connects the two. But you can probably make a strong case for why it's true.
On the other hand, if you're arguing that the Loch Ness monster's favorite color is blue, you won't find anything to support that. And you probably can't create a convincing case that backs up your statement.
Overall, if you have a hard time backing up a fact, you should leave it out. You are better off being safe than sorry when it comes to fact checking.
Step 4: Weed out the bad facts (2 minutes)
Take a final look at your spreadsheet. If you found at least one credible source for a fact, you can use that fact. Enter "Yes" in the "Use" column.
If there are any facts without sources, you're better off not including those facts in your article. As I mentioned above, if you can make a compelling case for a fact, go for it, but be careful.
You'll come across a few duds every now and then, and that's okay. When it comes to facts, always choose quality over quantity.
There you have it—a complete strategy for fact-checking your newest blog post that only takes about 17 minutes. (And in many cases, even less.)
While this is a quick-start guide, don't be afraid to spend a little more time on this process. Getting your facts straight can mean the difference between a success and a flop.
And keep in mind that the longer the blog post, the more research you'll have.
To give you an idea, my posts run anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000+ words, and I typically spend about an hour or so on research per post.
Of course, the most important part about writing a blog post is making sure the content is awesome. Write to solve your readers' problems, and be passionate about it.
Thanks to the Internet, fact-checking has never been easier. Take a few minutes to double-check everything, and you'll never have to worry about misleading your readers.
What's your favorite fact-checking tip?
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