Some things we know to be true. Like, statistics can be distorted to tell a specific story. Or, common sense is not really that common.

However, as professionals working in the area of environment and sustainability communications, we often come up against critics who want to undermine the overall point we’re trying to make. The ‘truth’ as we are presenting it.

That’s when checking your facts and making sure your research actually means what you think it means come in handy, as Will J Grant and Rob Lamberts reported on The Conversation in October 2014.

If your communications are publicly available, then they’re open to public scrutiny. Fact checking becomes a vital tool to increase the credibility and trustworthiness of your assertions.

A fact checking check list

  1. Use common sense. Does this look right to you? Is this from a reliable source? URLs are easy to check, but what about the sentiment. Go to the source where possible.
  2. Search Google (and other engines), and then search again. Make sure you search using the cleanest parameters (is there an applicable time frame, can you search books as reference). Learn how to use advanced search options to narrow the field where appropriate, and expand it using keyword combinations to make sure you’ve covered your bases.
  3. If your information has come from another source, ask them to verify it. And provide those references if possible. This can be done via email or phone.
  4. Use other fact checking sites – they may have crossed this path before. The US-based Snopes, truthorfiction and other mythbusting websites have a way of breaking down the urban myths and misconceptions that commonly appear. Use local sites where you can – such as the ABC’s fact check site to confirm public and political statements, although be aware of bias and/or the appearance of bias.
  5. Do a deep search. This may mean accessing content through a topic-specific site (eg, CSIRO) or subscription-based site. Many libraries will provide free access to subscription-based websites if you enter your library card details.
  6. Give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge your sources and date them.