WR 121 - Easby: Evaluating
The Four Moves
What people need most when confronted with a claim which may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something we have decided to call moves.
Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process. They are associated with specific tactics. Here are our four moves:
- Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
- Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
- Read laterally: Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
- Circle back: If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.
In general, you can try these moves in sequence, and at each stage if you find success your work might be done.
When you first see a claim you want to check, your first move might be to look to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim. (Check for previous work).
If you can’t find previous work on the claim, the real work begins. It starts by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, can you find the journal it appeared in? If the claim is about an event, can you find the news publication in which it was originally reported? (Go upstream).
Maybe you get lucky, and the source is something known to be reputable — some recognizable source such as the journal Science, or the newspaper The New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source you’ve ended up at. Is it trustworthy? (Read laterally).
And if at any point you fail — if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims — then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source. (Circle back).
The above is excerpted from "Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers" by Michael A. Caulfield and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask
How do you know if a source is right for your research? Below are some questions you can ask about your sources. There are no good or bad sources, but sources can be useful or not useful based on the evidence you're looking for.
- Who is the author? What do you know about the author’s background? (hint: Google the author). What makes the author an expert on this particular topic (remember that experience and research are markers of expertise as well as education)?
- What journal, magazine, organization, or website published this information? Look for an "about" page on the publisher's website (or explore their website) and also Google the name of the publication/organization/website (or look for a Wikipedia page about it) to learn more about the publisher of the information. What kind of reputation does it have? What is their purpose in sharing this information? Is it known for promoting specific points of view?
Can you tell where the information in the article came from? Do they share any information from other sources or does it seem like they’re sharing their opinion? If they used other sources, do those sources seem worth trusting?
Based on your answers to these questions, would you trust this source? If not, could anything from this article still be useful? Often articles link to other useful resources or mention other authors and studies that could be helpful.
You may not get good answers from all of these questions, but still trust a source. For example, an opinion piece from a noted expert in a specific field could be a useful source, but chances are, they are not going to be citing sources. Information from the Centers for Disease Control website is trustworthy, but much of it doesn't have an author. You have to weigh each of these factors when making your decision.
Scholarly? Professional? Popular?
When you have a research assignment, be sure to figure out what types of article sources are required or allowed. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals while others might let you use a variety of journals.
Scholarly article: Also known as peer-reviewed, academic, or refereed, these articles are written for researchers and experts and usually share the results of a research study. Scholarly articles are written by experts in the field and are reviewed by expert peers. In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals to weed out any non-scholarly content. Scholarly article example
Professional/trade article: Written for people working in a specific field. Articles can be written by experts in the field or by staff writers. The articles are only reviewed by journal editors, so they go through a less rigorous review process. Trade article example
Popular journals: Written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars, and written by journalists. Examples include The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone. Popular article example
What is Peer Review?