Determining Accuracy

Just the facts, please!

Unless you're a firsthand witness to an event, you must rely on the reports and observations of others to figure out what happened. Considering that witnesses to the same event often report conflicting stories (due to their own perceptions, vantage points and interpretations), discerning accuracy is no easy task.

Your best bet is to consult sources that have established a reputation for credibility. For example, you're usually better off relying on information published in the Encyclopedia Britannica than Wikipedia*.

Here are three strategies for finding evidence to confirm or refute the facts:

  • Look for outside articles in journals and reference sources (like encyclopedias or handbooks) on the topic at hand.
  • If several sources disagree with one another, you'll have to try to get to the bottom of the matter yourself. You may be able to find firsthand accounts, called primary sources, to inform your inquiry. Primary documents include correspondence, diary entries, email messages, eyewitness newspaper articles, interviews, vital records (such as birth certificates).
  • Examine the sources listed in the resource that you are evaluating (look for a list of cited references or a bibliography) to ensure that there are no false citations or wrongly attributed ideas.

 

* While it is true that Wikipedia offers incredible breadth and multiple perspectives, one should use it with caution. For example, members of Congress, not to mention other contributors, have been discovered making false entries in it.

 

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