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Fake news, fact-checking, and bias: Tips for analyzing sources

Resources and tips for how to evaluate news sources -- in other words, how to tell the fake news from the real news.

Finding reliable news sources at the TCC Library -- try newspaper databases!

With so much news (or "news") floating around online and on social media, how do you know what are reliable or trustworthy sources to use? Below are some guidelines to help you evaluate sources. You can also find reliable news sources via the library's article databases (linked below).

Tips for Analyzing...

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).

  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources  

  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.

  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.

  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.

  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs). 

  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.

  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources. 

  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue. 

  • If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news. 

  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources. 


Source: "'False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources" by Melissa Zimdars, professor of communications, Merrimack College, is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Step 1:  Title/Domain Analysis

If “.wordpress” “.com.co” appear in the title -- or any slight variation on a well known website-- this is usually a sign there is a problem. Also see the "Limit your domains!" content box to the right.

Step 2: "About Us" Analysis

Look at the “About Us” section to learn about the mission/background of the site. Then Google names or organizations if anyone has previously reported on the website (Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, etc.) or whether it has a Wikipedia page or something similar detailing its background. This is useful for identifying and correctly categorizing lesser known and/or new websites that may be on the up-and-up, such as satirical sources or websites that are explicit about their political orientation.

Look for information about the credentials and backgrounds of affiliated writers, editors, publishers, and domain owners (who.is etc.).

Step 3: Source Analysis

Does the website mention/link to a study or source? Look up the source/study. Do you think it’s being accurately reflected and reported? Are officials being cited? Can you confirm their quotes elsewhere? Some media literacy and critical scholars call this triangulation: Verify details, facts, quotes, etc. with multiple sources.

Step 4: Writing Style Analysis

Does the website follow Associated Press Style Guide (a style used by credible newspapers)? Typically, lack of style guide use signifies questionable, more opinion-oriented practices, and may indicate an overall lack of editing or fact-checking process. Does it frequently use ALL CAPS in headlines and/or body text? Does the headline or body of the text use words like WOW!, SLAUGHTER!, DESTROY!? This stylistic practice and these types of hyperbolic word choices are often used to create emotional responses with readers that is avoided in more traditional journalism and isn’t something that would be permitted or encouraged by the AP Style Guide.

Step 5:  Aesthetic Analysis

Like the style-guide, many fake and questionable news sites utilize very bad design. This is kind of a “I know it when I see it” type thing, but usually the screens are cluttered, and they use heavy-handed photoshopping or "born digital" images.

Step 6: Social Media Analysis

Look up the website on Facebook or Twitter, if they have social media accounts. Do the headlines and posts rely on sensational or provocative language -- aka "clickbait" -- in order to attract attention and encourage likes, click-throughs, and shares? Do the headlines and social media descriptions match or accurately reflect the content of the linked article? 


Adapted from:  "'False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources" by Melissa Zimdars, professor of communications, Merrimack College, is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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Finding more reliable websites -- limit your domains!

URL domains can be clues to a site's reliability and ownership. 

Common URL domains:

  • .com = commercial (ads & pop-ups)
  • .gov = U.S. government (official agencies)
  • .mil = U.S. military
  • .edu = educational (colleges & universities)
  • .org = organization (could be non-profit or for-profit, can be informative but often biased)
  • .net = network (could be almost anything, including personal websites)
  • .info = information (generic domain, no criteria needed for companies or individuals to use)
  • .biz = business (an alternative to .com)

You can also limit your searches, like through a Google search, by using the "site:" search shortcut. 

"Site searching" examples:

sample site search limiting the domain to educational websites

  • "politics in art" site:.edu (would find educational resources on this topic)
  • "politics in art" site:.gov (would find U.S. government resources on this topic)
  • Note that there are NO spaces before or after the colon after the word "site"

Now you try!

Red flags when evaluating sources

Be on the alert for red flags if ...

  • X there are no authors, creators, publishers, or organizations listed
  • there is no way to contact anyone
  • there is no mission statement, goal, or background info
  • there are no dates or copyright
  • there are broken links or images (for online sources)
  • major spelling and grammar errors
  • the title doesn't seem to match the content (especially for online media or websites)
  • there are bad production values (static, no sound, shaky camera work, etc.). Professional videos in particular should look professional. If you see a video that looks unprofessional, then it was probably uploaded illegally!

CC BY SA license

Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.

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