For good reason, such as the Amelia Bedelia Wikipedia hoax, professional writers (or writers’ editors) are required to fact-check sources. There are “good” and “bad” sources, and different ways to check validity, relevance, and credibility.
- An easy online indicator that the source might not be as professional as it could or should be would be to check if it is a .com as opposed to .edu, .org, or .gov. The difference in website type may indicate the type of support the writing had when it was developed.
- Check the source’s sources. Are those cited works from professional-quality journals? Journals just starting out do not have professional presence unless they are new publications by a well-known source. Journals gain reputation over time, which also influences credibility.
- Consider the author. Is the author well-known and trusted, or has the author appeared in the news with dings to credibility? Obviously, don’t cite authors that are not supported in the research… unless you have reason to be supporting the research on the other side of the fence, too.
- Check the publication date. If the piece is older than 3 to 5 years, then the information might not be current. Currency applies to most subjects, but I would especially emphasize its applicability to scientific, technological, and health topics.
- An easy way to cross-reference information is to put in a few phrases in a search engine (i.e., Google) and see what matches. Matches indicate higher probabilities of the work being plagiarized. Putting phrases into Google is an easy way to get to websites and other documents that feature the official names of things if, for example, the spelling for a place or monument is in question.
- You can cross-reference cited works by putting the author name and title into a search engine (i.e., Google Scholar). Whatever results come up is where that author or title has been used. If the cite has only appeared once, then that appearance better be in an original study, or there is the chance it is unsupported information.
- If a piece has been cited directly, then check the source for correctness (that it is written as it appeared), and that the cited information is correct (author, title, date, etc.). If a piece is paraphrased, cited in part, etc., make sure the cite meets those standards, instead. Basically, the original source information is important for checking relevancy, and you also need to be sure that the piece cited is done the way it should be for that citation type.
- Extensive knowledge of a topic helps separate less relevant information from the information you need. Content recognition helps process of elimination.
I’m sure there are more ways to check sources and information, but these are ones off the top of my head that I use as needed.