Learning how to research — and vet your online sources properly — is especially important
in college. High quality information is out there, but in the cloudy digital landscape,
telling fact from fiction can be its own struggle.
Most publications follow AP Style, or Associated Press Style. Be wary of publications that deviate away from AP Style
too heavily without looking like reputable sources.
“If you have a computer, you can publish something,” says Lynn Klyde-Allaman, a UNC
associate professor of Journalism. As a former copy editor, she’s got a few secrets
to help students critically read and judge a piece of content — the mistakes that
BS stories, as opposed to stories that have been through careful fact-checking and
editing, make, can help you tell fact from fiction.
Watch for these tell-tale signs of unedited sources
- Make sure their sources are authentic
When someone writes “they say” or “people say," ask yourself: Who is the author referring
- Watch the pronouns
News is largely written in third person. First and second person is typically reserved
for opinion pieces. "They" is an emerging pronoun being used in the case of ambigious
or unknown genders. Not all publications use it yet, though The Washington Post has some good discussions on the topic.
- Check the quotes
Copy and paste suspicious quotes into a search engine and see if other publications
have the source quoted the same way.
- Ask if the news comes first (literally)
Most news is written in inverted pyramid style, meaning the most important information
is at the very start of the story.
- Test the headline
News headlines often follow the noun-verb style (though this can vary) and are usually
written with only the first letter capitalized.
- Check spelling and grammar
Be wary of a piece that has spelling or grammar mistakes. Has it been looked at properly
by an editor?