The 10 Basic Steps of Fact Checking

In Fact Checking, Katrina O'Brien on January 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm

This is a reprint of an article I published a while back. Enjoy!

The 10 Basic Steps of Fact Checking

We have all heard the horror stories. We all know the consequences of not having your facts straight in print. Fact checkers at their most romantic are “preservers of truth.” More realistically, she’s the gal who’s gonna make sure you don’t get sued, or at the very least, make sure you don’t look ignorant. She can also let you know if one of your writers is plagiarizing. So how does all this happen?

Step 1: Cold read without marking. This is great if you have time to get an idea of the type and density of the material or just to get a larger picture of text. Usually if time’s a factor, this is the (only) step that can be cut.

Step 2: Highlight text to be verified as you read. Use different colors for different types of information such as major sources (green) and support information (yellow), facts vs. beliefs (pink), or whatever works for you and the text. You may also need to mark if the text needs a copyedit change (blue) or more research (comment box or orange) is needed.

Step 3: Designate your sources on the page. (Personally, I like a thick right-side margin for notes.) This will help when you’re trying to put together questions for your sources whether in an email or on the phone. Don’t be surprised if your original designation doesn’t always work out – even pen can be crossed out.

Step 4: Make a list of your sources. The writer or publisher may give you a list but most likely, it won’t be a complete list. You’re gonna have to hunt down some of these yourself. You may even have to make a few follow-up phone calls or emails to get to the person you want.

(Side Step A: Have a template ready especially for inquiry emails. I even like to keep one for each project or publication since you’ll most likely send numerous emails with repeat information. You might want to have a voicemail or phone script as well just in case to make sure you cover it all.)

Step 5: Set up your source questions. Whether by phone or email, make sure you have all your ducks in a row before making that cold call or shooting off an email. Having to make a second call or another email will slow you down and drop your credibility as a professional.

Step 6: Check you sources. This comes in three parts: web, email and phone. You may like one more then another but you’ll most likely need all three to get though your content. While a google search might sound simple, a call may sometimes be the quickest. Be ready to talk to all kinds of people to get the information you need, whether a PR department, media relations, authors, business owners, agents, celebrities, or personal assistants. All of them are taking time out to help you get your job done so be personable, concise and clear.

(Side Step B: Mark the time zones on your source list. This will help you break down when to call or even email and not waste time around lunch times, end of days, etc.)

Step 7: Mark each item off that you’ve verified. You can make a check mark in pen, or change/remove the highlighter color on your electronic file. There will be big ideas and small details that will need covering. This will help make sure everything has been fact checked. And it also can keep a record in case you need to show your work later.

Step 8: Mark your changes. The use of tracking in .docs has made this a very easy system but make sure this is ok for all involved. Some publishers would rather have changes or notes put in the text using a different format. Make sure you have the proper format and follow through as designed.

Step 9: Send off your fact-checked files. You will likely only need to send a clean copy but some clients/colleagues might ask for work files, source pages, etc. Usually there are production deadlines after fact checking. A late response can delay others so make sure you get this to them on time.

Step 10: Archive your records. Publishing doesn’t always happen within 24hrs. Hopefully you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s but if someone finds an issue or needs proof of verification, you’ll need your worksheets. I would say keep papers six months past publication. Unless keeping files for other needs, electronic files (work files and emails) can usually be deleted after a year. Check with the publisher before you wipe out your files.

If you need fact checking assistance, visit my website factstofunction.com for details about how I can help make your content ready to publication.

– Katrina O’Brien

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