What people need most when confronted with a claim which may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something we have decided to call strategies.Strategies represent intermediate goals in the fact checking process. They are associated with specific tactics. Here are our strategies:
In general, you can try these strategies in sequence, and at each stage if you find success your work might be done. When you first see a claim you want to check, your first move might be to look to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim. (Check for previous work).
If you can’t find previous work on the claim, the real work begins. It starts by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, can you find the journal it appeared in? If the claim is about an event, can you find the news publication in which it was originally reported? (Go upstream).
Maybe you get lucky, and the source is something known to be reputable — some recognizable source such as the journal Science, or the newspaper The New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source
you’ve ended up at. Is it trustworthy? (Read laterally).
And if at any point you fail—if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims — then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source. (Circle back).