6 Tips for Verifying a Lot of Information in Little Time
Whether submitting your thesis or a nonfiction book proposal, one of the largest challenges that you’ll face is is making sure that the web of information you’ve accumulated is actually accurate.
Below are six tricks for cross-checking your text amid time constraints, courtesy of a Mellel-using journalist and editor who works under ‘em every day.
1) Be Your Own Editor, Reading Your Text for the First Time
Put yourself in the shoes of an editor, reading your own work anew. Sometimes we gloss over facts because they look startlingly obvious to us, but to someone else they would draw a red flag. Other times we miss simple spellings of words and names because we’re so focused on the bigger picture. Once, I edited the text of a Russian scholar who had repeatedly misspelled St. Petersburg as St. Petersberg (which happens to be an mountain in Austria, but not what she was referring to).
2) Use Wikipedia (or Google), but still Go Directly to the Source
With information immediately available on nearly every topic of importance in the world – and most unimportant ones too -it’s easy to turn to Wikipedia as your main source. Yet while this web wonder gives a great overview, don’t treat it as the be-all and end-all of information. For example, be sure to go to the footnotes on Wikipedia in order to check up the original sources (and be sure to read them to confirm that they actually contain the info!). If you know other languages, it can be useful to use them, checking out what the Wikipedia entry in an alternative language has to offer, and which original sources it uses as its references.
3) Go Deeper (in the Deep Web)
Is your Google search not giving you the information you want? Use paid databases such as LexisNexis and Jstor instead. Most of them are available free to the public at your local library. Another free, useful tool is the Wayback Machine, which allows you to to dig up older information that has been removed from the web.
There is a slew of other shortcuts to help you find hidden information. For social and political information, and well as double-checking current events, I am a fan of the following databases: Snopes, FactCheck, Hoax-Slayer, and Truth or Fiction. Wikiquote is a goldmine for checking the accuracy of quotes on pretty much any subject.
4) Ask Key Questions
So you’ve found a fact. But how trustworthy is the source? Ask a few key questions to determine if the information stays or goes.
Who is behind it? If a fact is coming from a paid advertorial or advocacy group, double check it. For example, even a well-meaning health or environmental organization may fudge a fact a bit in order to make it stand out more.
How old is it? Unless you’re writing about something that never changes (for example, the historic date of an event or a proven math theorem) the facts could have changed — or more light could have been shone on the topic — since the website/book/article where you found the fact was last updated. Double-check this too.
Could I find the same information from another reliable source? Okay, this takes some extra time, but for key facts, it’s worth checking that you can find the same information from another reputable source. Unless you’re on the trail of a top-secret investigation, you should be able to find the facts elsewhere.
5) Can’t Find a Source? There’s an Easy Answer!
Struggling to find out where a piece of information comes from? Spare yourself some time and agony and simply delete the information. More likely than not, you’ll have another fact that will allow you to prove your point.
6) Be More Mellow with Mellel
Want to guarantee that a monster 375 page bilingual document has the correct spelling? Fear not. What would normally take hours of manually switching back and forth on another word processor will only take seconds with Mellel.
Want to make it easier for your readers to fact-check your work, too? No problem. Insert however many cross-references in your document as you’d like – Mellel’s master outline gives an overview of all of them. This ensures that the reader will not need to take the tedious time to go through all of your work, finding the facts and reformatting accordingly. Those days belong in the past.