- Corroborate and trace claims in order to determine the validity of sources
A lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context. Maybe there’s a video of a fight between two people. But what happened before that? Who started it? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption is dubious at best. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment supposedly based on a research paper — but you’re not certain if the paper supports it.
By going to the original reporting or research source (or finding a high-quality secondary source that did the hard work of verification) you can get a story that is more complete or a research finding that is more accurate.
This two-minute video shows you how going to the source can be as easy as clicking through a link.
Using Wikipedia footnotes to trace the source
If you can find a claim expressed in a Wikipedia article, you can almost always follow the footnote on the claim to a reliable source. Scholars, reporters, and students can all benefit from using Wikipedia to quickly find authoritative sources for claims.
Recent statistics show that there are few Black farmers and only a small percentage of rural land is owned by Black farmers in the United States. Many sources make claims related to this, such as this new article from the Associated Press or this article from The Guardian. Using one of those, or a similar article about the same topic, trace one of the claims made in the article back to the original source. For example, if the article claims that there are a certain percentage of Black farmers, try to find where those numbers came from. Who conducted that original research? Can you find other sources that confirm this information?
This is an open-ended exercise, but you can use the spaces below to jot down your ideas.
1. What is a statement, or claim, made in the news article? (Include the claim and the link to the news article.)
2. Where did this information originate? (Include a link to the original website.)
3. What does the original source say about this statement?
4. What, if anything, about the original source makes it more trustworthy?
Tracing the origins of a quote
The Wikipedia method works for quotes as well. If you are searching for evidence in a primary source, try Wikiquotes, which is part of Wikipedia. Only quotes properly sourced to an original work or a reputable secondary publication should appear in Wikiquote pages.
The location in the wikiquote entry may vary depending on the source. See the example below:
To trace a quote, first search Wikiquote for the text, author, or name of the publication
Check to see if they are included in “Quotes”, “Attributed”, “Misattributed” or “Unsourced” categories.
- Quotes– sourced to an original speech, book, interview, film, or other work. These are listed first on the page.
- Attributed– found in a reputable secondary source. Listed under attributed.
- Misattributed– widely associated with an author or work but sourced to another author or work. Listed under misattributed.
- Unsourced– widely attributed to the author or work but not sourced to an original work or reputable secondary publication.
In summary, remember to STOP, INVESTIGATE, FIND BETTER COVERAGE, and TRACE CLAIMS when you encounter new information. Doing so will make you a better digital citizen as well as a better historian. If you follow these steps, you’ll be an excellent fact-checker and will be well-equipped to think critically about both modern and historical sources.