By Ann Gynn published March 23, 2020 Est Read Time: 10 min

Get an A for Accuracy With This Fact-Checking Content ChecklistEst Read Time: 10 min

Let’s make this simple.

Factually wrong content is bad. Accurate content is a necessity.

Whether you’re a content creator or editor, use this checklist to help ensure that your content won’t spread misinformation and need to be debunked. And so your audience can trust your content.

Accurate #content is a necessity, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. You don’t want your brand to be associated with misinformation. #factchecking #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Fact-checking can seem like a no-brainer, but to do it well takes work – and time. Make sure to budget time for fact-checking into your project timelines and make it a specific item on the to-do list.

This list works for any type of content, from articles and blog posts to podcasts and videos. It’s divided into three parts – original sources, research-based information, and information from third-party sources.

Original sources

Go through the content and identify every original source – most will be people. (Original sources include anyone you’ve interviewed directly as well as any information that comes from your company.)

These questions help assess the person’s veracity.

Does the source exist and are their identification details accurate?

Some people falsely represent themselves or their companies. They inflate their title, what they do, or their background. Go to their company’s website to see if they’re on the team. If they’re not listed, call the company to verify.

Is the source’s name spelled correctly? Is it spelled correctly in every place?

In journalism school, you will fail the assignment if you spell a name incorrectly. I pay close attention to the first identification, but sometimes, near the end of the article, I unconsciously start spelling it incorrectly. Check every place the name appears.

In journalism school, you will fail the assignment if you spell a name incorrectly, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #factchecking #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Is the person’s title accurate?

LinkedIn and other social media profiles, and the company’s website can be good sources to use to verify titles. If a title differs from what’s included in the source’s email signature, resolve the conflicting information.

Is the company name spelled correctly?

If it uses unusual lowercase letters or spacing, note that in the file for future hands in your production process so they don’t change it.

Are the proper pronouns used?

This question is important given the elevation of gender identity. Does the person use he/him, she/her, or they/them? Don’t assume. Incorporate the preferred pronoun question when you ask them to provide their identification details.

When #factchecking, don’t make assumptions about a source’s pronouns. Ask what they prefer, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Did you get the quote or information directly from the person being cited?

Often a PR rep or other comms person may email a quote or answer to your questions. Verify it directly with the quoted source. Ask the PR person for the contact info (or to make an introduction by email so the person is more likely to respond). Verify directly by email or phone.

(Note: Verifying a quote taken from another site relates more to the publishing site’s credibility, which is covered later in this article.)

Surveys and data-based research

Statistics and studies often are great sources to help explain why a topic is important, the pervasiveness of something, rankings, or comparisons. But not all stats are created equal.

To verify statistics, you need to do a couple of things – find the original source that published the data (e.g., company, institution) and do a little math.

Is a source cited for each statistic or other data?

Every piece of data-backed information should cite the original source or it shouldn’t be used.

Every piece of data-backed information should cite the original source or it shouldn’t be used, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #CMWorld #factchecking Click To Tweet

Is the source that is cited the original source?

Way too often, the cited source is five steps removed from the native source or, worse, 10 steps removed from a bad link or source.

Don’t cite a stat cited by someone else that was cited from a mega infographic that didn’t include the original source. (Jonathan Crossfield wrote his firsthand account of this issue. In the end, he found two sources citing each other as the source though neither was responsible for it.)

Don’t continue chain of inaccuracy by including stale stats in new infographics, says @kimota via @cmicontent. #factchecking Click To Tweet

Is the population accurately represented?

This rabbit-hole fact-finding also often reveals misinterpreted data – like the child’s game of telephone. With each reuse, the information is tweaked just enough or so outdated that it’s no longer accurate.

For example, Need to Know Blogging Statistics in 2020 cites the stat that 77% of internet users read blogs. It references HubSpot as the source but includes no direct link. I dug further and found that the stat likely came from 2013 or earlier. A lot has changed in seven years. I couldn’t track down the original source.

But accurate representation mistakes aren’t limited to sloppy citations. They can happen when using the native source of the data too.

For example, an article about what salespeople do with content marketing that quotes CMI’s annual research would not be accurate. Marketers, not salespeople, take that survey. Their opinions may or may not be the same as those on the sales team.

Or consider this real-life example of misinterpreted data. A news release about a survey about Corona beer led to factually incorrect interpretations like this article from Syracuse.com: Report: 38% of Beer Drinkers Won’t Drink Corona Because of Coronavirus. What the survey actually said was 38% of American beer drinkers said they wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances.” The erroneous correlation populated social media and conversations for days.

(And that’s likely what the PR firm 5W hoped when they released the survey results without the proper context and clarification. And it’s probably why I found a 404-error page when I went to look for the survey release.)

Does the research meet professional standards?

You don’t need to be an expert in qualitative or quantitative research to weed out misinterpreted research. Review who was surveyed or what was analyzed. Look at the questions asked.

Check the sample size, which is often found in the executive summary or a paragraph in the introduction of the research.

A survey of 100 music enthusiasts is insufficient to accurately predict the opinion of a group of 10,000 music enthusiasts. The XM Blog from Qualtrics, an experience management company, offers great resources and explanations to assess research, including this sample calculator tool:

TIP: Confidence level and margin error are correlated. In the case illustrated above, a survey of 370 people accurately represents a population of 10,000 at a 95% confidence level. That means the results would be within +/- 5 percentage points of the total population of 10,000.

When data is overstated in the original content, you don’t necessarily need to delete it. Simply reframe it accurately. Take our music enthusiasts. It’s not OK to infer that they speak for a whole population, but it is OK to say, “10 out of 100 music enthusiasts surveyed said they like to attend jazz concerts.” It may lessen the impact, but it strengthens the audience’s trust.

When #data is overstated in the original #content, you don’t need to delete it. Simply reframe it accurately, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #CMWorld #research Click To Tweet

Information from first- and third-party sources

Now that you’ve verified who provided you the information and the data-based information, it’s time to look at the non-data information in your content. Whether it’s your opinion, a source’s comment or a third-party source, make sure the information is accurate. (You don’t want to perpetuate a myth or false statement even if you attribute it to another source or site.)

Is the information accurate?

Depending on the information, you can use several sources to verify it:

  • Google search: Put a quote or information in the search bar – use direct quotes to see if the same information has been published elsewhere. Then move onto Moz’s Link Explorer tool to check domain authority score (see below) to evaluate the site’s authenticity.
  • Google Scholar: This site is a great resource to verify information through scholarly journals, textbook publishing companies, etc.
  • Factcheck.org: Check public policy and politically shared claims. A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the site allows visitors to ask verification questions directly. It even created this video to help you spot bogus claims.

Use @factcheckdotorg to check public policy and politically shared claims, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #factchecking #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Is the information from reputable sources?

  • Moz Link Explorer: You might already use Moz’s domain authority score in your SEO backlink strategy. You also can use it for this process. Check a site’s domain authority score to understand how trusted and reputable it is.
  • Grammarly Plagiarism Checker: Whether it’s your author or text provided by another source, it’s important to make sure it hasn’t been copied intentionally or unintentionally from another. The free version of this tool identifies if it’s duplicate content. The paid version also highlights the sections of the article that need attribution and provides that attribution when it’s available.
Use tools such as @Moz Link Explorer to check a site’s domain authority or @Grammarly plagiarism checker to verify copy & attribution, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Don’t forget the author bio and good proofreading

Check the details in the author’s bio, too. After all, if the author isn’t accurately reflected, your audience is far less likely to trust any information provided in the content.

Now that you’ve gone through the factual and contextual accuracy checklist, your content is ready for a different accuracy checklist – editing and proofreading for spelling, grammar, style, working links, and overall understanding.

Please note: No single post can provide all relevant tools in the space. If you have a tool that isn’t listed but fits this topic, feel free to include it in the comments. 

Fact-checking is more important now than ever. What can marketers do to provide the most reliable, accurate information to their audience? Join #CMWorld’s @KMoutsos and @Brandlovellc on Tuesday, March 24 at noon EDT on Twitter — follow the #cmworld hashtag and find us at @cmicontent

Get an in-depth content marketing education with Content Marketing University’s online program. Registration for the spring semester closes at the end of the month.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Ann Gynn

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