I recently wrote an article for the ACES: The Society for Editing website on how to spot red flags in copy so you can most efficiently doing fact checking while editing.
One of the points is that certain things should raise red flags, such as:
- A person’s name and address
- Numbers, including dollar amounts and rankings
- Data and polls, especially data that seems to be cherrypicked; look for the science behind a poll and its completeness
- Inconsistency and repetition
- Out-of-context examples and references
- Information or visuals that don’t ring true or are meant to distract or misrepresent — in other words, something that triggers your “BS detector”
- Biased sources
- Absolutes — look for “the only,” “the best,” “the number one,” “highest,” or “worst” statements.
So when you see one of those red flags, what do you do?
Find that information yourself and see if it checks out. If you are editing something where the author links to information, check out that website and make sure it passes your credibility test. (Does the publisher seem credible? The author? Does the site look professional? Is it up to date? Is there any bias?)
Next find a second source for the same information. Very few things are only available from a primary source. But if you find a primary source (such as a public record), you will have more confidence in its credibility.
And go primary: Look for the original source of any information. Then look at the date of the original and make sure that information hasn’t changed in the interim.
My advice: check and recheck; see it twice before believing.