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Resources for Research Assistants

How to Approach a Substance Check

  1. Go through the book chapter/article/paper sentence by sentence.
  2. Most sentences should have a citation (the exception: sentences that are the author’s new and original idea and expression of that idea)
  3. If the author has provided a citation, locate the actual source. This means finding the book, article, letter, speech, etc. that the author has cited as support for a given statement, and then making sure that it actually says the author says it says. If you are having trouble locating the source, consult a librarian!
    1. Note: finding the source will mean a) for print sources, locating the print version or an exact electronic reproduction (e.g., a PDF of a law review article on HeinOnline); and b) for electronic sources, locating the most stable and accurate electronic version of the source that the author is relying upon in his or her work.
    2. Note: search for the source in the library catalog--not on Google! Many books and journals are available in electronic format through subscription databases to which the library subscribes. To access, search for the title of the book, article, or journal title in the catalog; if it is available online, there will be a link to the resource through BC’s proxy server. If working from off-campus, users will be prompted to input BC credentials.
  4. Once the source is located, find the portion of the source that the author has cited. This is relatively simple if the author has provided a pincite, i.e., a citation to the exact page(s) or paragraphs that s/he is referencing.  Confirm that the pincite is to the correct page(s).  
  5. If the author did not provide a pincite, scan the source for location of the language cited, and make note of the correct page(s). This clearly will be easier if there is an electronic version to search.
  6. Once the quotation or idea that the author has cited has been identified, confirm that the author has correctly represented the content of the source. This is the true substance of substance-checking.
    1. For direct quotations: be sure that the author has accurately quoted every single word and punctuation mark included in the original source. Confirm page number(s).  
    2. For paraphrasing: be sure that the author’s paraphrase of the source content is accurate and fair. If it is sufficiently close to the original language, indicate that a direct quotation might be more appropriate. Confirm page number(s).  
  7. If there is a sentence that does not have a citation, make a reasonable effort to figure out the source of the information before asking the author.
    1. Potential tactics: check the sources in surrounding footnotes; search relevant subject-matter databases; search Google to see if it leads to a respectable source similar to the other types of sources cited in the work.  
    2. Don’t spin your wheels for ages: if these basic tactics do not lead to a credible source, check with the author or journal editor, as appropriate.
    3. Note: In some writing projects, obvious factual assertions may not need citations. In a law review article, most factual statements need a source. If in doubt, supply a citation; it can always be removed.
  8. If charged with cite-checking for style in addition to substance checking, go ahead and format the citation pursuant to the style guide being used. This is quicker and easier while the source is at hand. At the very least, jot down the basic elements required by the style guide so that the source does not have to be tracked down again later.  
  9. Move to the next sentence. Repeat.