How to write a clear fact check

Fact-checkers often have to check statements that are confusing, unsupported and unclear. The fact check addressing it should be the opposite. Focus on writing that offers context, clarity and transparency.

Context

Start by providing context to the claim you're checking. Where and when was it said? To whom? Is there a history of repetition? Is there a pronoun or reference that isn't immediately clear?

Clarity

If you use technical jargon, don't presume that readers will know what it means. At the same time, try not to overload text with definitions. Provide a succinct explanation and link to web pages that provide more detail. A regular format that includes labels can help guide readers through complicated explanations. It also can help keep the writing focused and a reasonable length.

Transparency

What resources, documents, spreadsheets and interviews were used in compiling the fact check? Gather them all together and share them with your readers, through links, info boxes or charts. To increase trust and credibility, provide the audience with access to those resources whenever possible. Other ways to make fact-checking "bulletproof" include:

  • Explaining which data is available on the statements you are fact-checking
  • Explaining why a particular statement is being fact-checked
  • Telling the audience what they should they know about the sources and why each source was selected
  • Leaving all opinions out of the fact check.

Taken from Fact-checking: How to Improve Your Skills in Accountability Journalism, a self-directed course by Alexios Mantzarlis and Jane Elizabeth at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.

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