6. Feb. 2017

posted Feb 17, 2017, 12:53 PM by Frank Steele   [ updated Apr 5, 2017, 4:38 PM ]

February 17, 2017

I finally finished fact-checking a book that I had been working on. I received it in portions, between October 2016 and January 2017, and I spent 131 hours checking facts, figures, and quotes. Those were the billable hours at least. I probably put in another 15 to 20 hours off the books to pursue facts I couldn’t find, to study background information to help me with my queries, and to take care of record keeping and correspondence with the client. It was often fascinating work, as well as intense when there were short deadlines. The month of January had some of those short deadlines, which is why I haven’t updated my blog recently. I hope I can post a few updates this month.

The importance of using the right search terms

One thing I found during my book work was how important it was to do fact-checking with a clear mind. If I do long stretches of fact-checking without a break, or when my mind is full of other concerns, or when I’m tired, it goes much slower. I use poor search terms, get caught up in fruitless searches, and spend unnecessary time. I eventually find what I’m looking for, but it takes longer and is more frustrating.

The best work cycle for me seems to be about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half of concentrated work, followed by a brief break. If I’m going back to fact-checking, I might spend 10 minutes or so on the break, to give myself a little mental distance. If I need to switch to other work for a while, the break might be shorter, since the work is different.

That schedule seems to help me formulate good search terms, which makes all the difference in fact-checking. Using the best words in the best order is vital, and if my mind is fuzzy, I just don’t seem to do it as well. Sometimes after I take a break I find things right away that I’d spent a lot of time looking for earlier. Maybe it just involved using a different word, putting the search words in a different order, or using different search operators.

It pays to work with a fresh mind, and it pays to really think about your search query before you begin, rather than leaping right in. The words you choose determine the results you get. If you’re interested, there’s a basic guide on selecting search terms here, and Daniel Russell’s posts at the Search ReSearch blog generally have good advice (and examples) on how to best word queries. Here’s a recent one on not overthinking terms, because sometimes simple is best. Who would have known “oreo cow” was a good search term?


February 24, 2017

366 links to understand fact-checking in 2016

I missed this post from Poynter back in December, and it’s a great article by Alexios Mantzarlis, chock-full of links. It’s basically the year (2016) in fact-checking. Most of it is political fact-checking rather than editorial fact-checking, but there’s still a lot to like. I thought this section near the end was helpful:

Tip sheets and training resources. Africa Check’s five step guide to fact-checking [335]. Tips from Les Observateurs and Google News Lab for image verification [336, 337]. A free online course by API and Poynter [338]. Plenty of resources by First Draft News starting from their social media verification guide [339, 340].

Seven things to consider before getting into fact-checking [341]. 5 tips for fact-checking claims about health [342]. Making your fact-checking better [343]. Learning from fact checkers' failures [344]. Tips for fact-checking a debate, and for fact-checking live events [345, 346].

I’m still going through the links, but I wanted to recommend the free online course by API and Poynter (#338 above). I took it last year and found it useful, and it’s just an hour or two.



Speaking of helpful, I don’t think I’ve mentioned dtSearch, which is a great program for searching masses of information in a variety of formats to find just what you need. I use version 7, which is probably a decade old, but I plan to upgrade eventually.

I use the version (now called dtSearch Desktop with Spider) that’s set up for internal use (on a PC rather than on the internet). If you have files (in a wide variety of formats, including text, rtf, doc, docx, pdf, html, and more), you can store them in a subdirectory and tell dtSearch to index them. Then, when you need to find a word or phrase (or words close to each other), you can search that subdirectory and find the answer quickly. You can sort on documents that have the most occurrences of the search term, the most recent, and much more. It’s a great program and I use it frequently. It’s not technically in the realm of fact-checking, but for finding facts on my computer, it’s the best program I’ve seen.