Top 8 Tools To Fact Check Your Research

Fact checking online research information

The Internet is everyone’s main source of information. People perform online searches all the time. One disadvantage of the Internet, though, is how easy it is to publish wrong information.

With fake news getting the spotlight in the past few years, we’ve been forced to be even more vigilant about how credible the information we’re reading about or writing on actually is. However, it’s also forcing us as readers to personally take an active part in learning how to read critically and how to do proper research.

The following list of tools (in no particular order) will help you fact-check your online research, whether it be a video, an image or an article. These tools will help you tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Continue reading →Top 8 Tools To Fact Check Your Research

How To Analyze Open Data With Able2Extract, Power BI And DataHero

There is a general sense of helplessness when it comes to analyzing public data, especially as people think it involves insane amounts of statistical mastery and in-depth knowledge of complicated statistical software.

This is especially nerve wracking for data journalists, who are keen on using data to write stories that can actually influence a certain aspect of our society, such as healthcare or education. Truth be told, analyzing data and storytelling actually go hand in hand.

Since the Open Data initiative started, more and more data sets have seen the light of the day on various data-related portals. The most interesting data sets for journalists are the ones who are publicly available, simply because they are free to use and analyze. Those data sets are available on a variety of online sources, such as:,, and many more.

Open data portals contain thousands and thousands of data sets, related to various branches of government: education, business, economy, crime, justice, healthcare and more.

Once you start exploring the online data, you will see that it usually comes in 3 main formats: HTML, XML and PDF.

Common Open Dataset Formats

However, if you start investigating the data sets in more depth, you will quickly notice that there is only one format that’s present in almost every data set — the PDF. So, the logic goes that if you know how to analyze data that’s locked inside a PDF, you’ll know how to analyze any.

But what makes people want to store data in a non editable format?

First of all, when you save a data set as a PDF you are reducing its size, so it’s easier to store and upload to online databases. Secondly, since the PDF is not editable by default, you are making sure that no one tampers with your data and changes any of the ever-so-important numerical values. Remember, people spend countless hours gathering data and they are keen on protecting their hard work as much as possible.

So, once you find a PDF data set, where do you go next?

You now basically have only one option — you need to get that data into an Excel or CSV file format, while preserving source document accuracy as much as possible. After you do that, the next step would be to import that converted file into a data visualization tool of your choice, which we will cover later in this tutorial.

When it comes to exporting PDF data, the only tool in the market that has advanced enough PDF exporting capabilities is Able2Extract. That is because Able2Extract is not just a regular PDF converter. See, most (if not all) PDF converters on the market only convert PDF to Excel automatically, leaving you with a messy data set. The automatic conversion works good for one page invoices but converting a 1,000 page data set takes a lot more than that.

Able2Extract is the only converter that lets you fully customize your conversion by manually setting up row and column structure, prior to conversion. In addition it lets you preview the conversion results from within the software, which lets you export your data set as accurately as possible.

First, find your PDF data set. For this tutorial, we are going to use a practice data set containing all funded projects from Canadian Environmental Damages Fund. You can download it here.

Open the data set in Able2Extract and use custom PDF to Excel conversion to convert it to an Excel file. Set up row and column structure using the right side panel and make sure to check the “Preview conversion” box. Once satisfied, hit the convert button to send the data to Excel.

Able2Extract Custom PDF to Excel

So, we got our data from PDF and into Excel. Great job!  

The next step is to go to Excel and clean the data. This will take 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the data set, but the thing you are looking for in the end is to end up with data in the tabular format, which means there is a separate row for each record. It should look something like this:

PDF to Excel Conversion Results

Make sure you don’t have any empty rows or blank cells and that all text is formatted in the same way. If there is a row with 3 cells missing it’s best to delete the whole row because it can mess up your end result and produce inaccurate results.

Now that we have a clean and tidy data set, it’s time to give life to these numbers and visualize them. Enter data visualization.

Data visualization simply means to create interesting charts from just plain data, which makes it easier to understand and present to your readers. When it comes to visualizing data you have an option between a desktop dataviz tool and a cloud dataviz tool. We will explore one example of both.

Our recommended desktop software for visualizing complex data is Power BI. We are recommending it because of its compatibility with Excel and the fact that it’s free to use for datasets up to 1 GB. You can download it here.

Before we start with Power BI, you will need to know that analyzing data starts by asking questions and then using data to answer them. For example, you can ask questions regarding our practice data set before we even upload it to the dataviz tool:

  • What was the EDF funding per region?
  • Which group received the biggest funding?

Depending on the data set, you can ask a 1000 questions and, make no mistake, you will get a 1000 answers. OK, let’s move on to more serious stuff. Power BI.

Power BI

Power BI is a Business Intelligence tool created for monitoring business performance and discovering market opportunities. Today we will use it as a data journalism tool in order to answer the two questions above.

Once you open Power BI you first click on Get Data > Excel > Connect > Your file.

Choose a sheet where data is located and press Load. Alternatively, you can press Edit if you’d like to check your data set for mistakes once again.

Once you do so, you will find a blank canvas and your data values on the right sidebar panel.

Accessing PowerBI Side Panel

These are the values we are going to slice and dice. Let’s try to answer our first question. If you remember, we wanted to know what was the EDF funding per region.

The basic data field there is EDF Funding so we’ll drag it into the “Values” box. The canvas immediately changes and it is now showing us the total EDF funding:

PowerBI EDF Funding Values

Let’s now introduce another data field. Select the “Pie chart”.

PowerBI Data Visualization Selection

Drag the “Region” field into the “Legend” box. Congrats, you made your first data visualization! We now have an overview of the funding per region and we can already start answering some questions.

EDF Funding Visualization By Region

However, if you pay close attention you can see that we still don’t know the exact funding for each region. To show the exact values of data fields, go to “Format” panel:

Accessing PowerBI Fromat Panel

Expand the “Detail Labels” category, find the Label Style and select “Both” from the drop down menu.

Selecting PowerBI Detail Labels

Our pie chart is now showing us the specific monetary values for each segment. Great, first question answered.

EDF Funding Pie Chart

OK, next up is to see which Group received the biggest funding. We’ll repeat the process but we’ll use a different chart, just to demonstrate different features of Power BI.

First, find and click on the Clustered Bar Chart.

Selecting Clustered Bar Chart

Drag the EDF Funding into the Values box and drag the Group into the Axis box. Turn on the data labels and you’ll quickly see that the University of Waterloo received the biggest funding — almost $320,000

EDF Group Values Chart

Now that you know how to ask questions and visualize public data, we will now quickly go over another tool that can help you visualize your data in the Cloud. Have in mind that the Cloud tools only support lower file sizes, which means you’re best off using them for 10-20 page data sets. Luckily, the data set from our example is actually pretty small.


DataHero is a cloud solution for Business Intelligence and data visualization. It allows you to connect files from numerous online and offline sources and it even has an integrated data cleaning tool, which is nice, but I do not recommend relying solely on it.

You can use DataHero for free, for files up to 2 MB in size. Anything larger than that, and you’ll probably have to pay a monthly subscription which is between $60 and $90. For this purpose, we are going to use a free plan.

Create an account, click on the Data tab and click on Import Data.

Importing Data With DataHero

Find your Excel file, select the sheet and upload it:

Uploading Data with Datahero

On the next screen, check formatting and proceed.

What’s cool about DataHero is that it automatically suggests data visualizations:

Suggested Visualizations From DataHero

I was originally interested in EDF Funding by project category so I’ll just create a brand new chart. DataHero uses the same drag & drop interface so it’s really easy to start using it.

First, drag the EDF Funding field onto the canvas.

PowerBI EDF Funding Values

Next, drag & drop the Project Category field.

DataHero Pie Chart Visualization

As you can see, we received our answer. Most of the funding money (35%) went into Restoration projects and the rest  was dispersed equally between other three categories.

There are other, more complex, data visualization tools but we will stick with DataHero and Power BI for the time being as they offer the most features in their free plans.

Let’s recap the entire process of analyzing public data that’s archived in PDF:

  1. Find a relevant data set
  2. Use Able2Extract’s Custom PDF to Excel feature  to convert it to Excel or CSV
  3. Clean the data in Excel and remove blank rows and cells
  4. Visualize the data using a tool like Power BI or DataHero

By now you should have a clear understanding of the entire process of analyzing public data and should be well on your way to using it to shape the future of journalism. The strategy is simple — just upload clean, high quality data and play around with it until you get what you are looking for.


How To Work With Apps For Office In MS Word 2013

How prepared are you for that first written assignment of the school year? It may still be early, but it’s always a good idea to stay one step ahead of the game.

Now we all know that writing research papers and essays is one thing, but to do it effectively is another. If you’re a student struggling with the writing aspect of your papers, then  you know what we’re talking about. This is why MS Word is as powerful as it is, offering tools that make it more than just a text editor. It strives to help you as much as possible with any task you may have.

But if you’re finding that despite this, MS Word’s core functionalities aren’t as advanced or intricate as you need them to be, the program will still give you powerful options with Apps for Office 365.  If you’ve been using Office 365 for the basics and haven’t explored these apps yet, here’s your chance.

Much like Google Docs and Sheets Add-ons, Apps for Office are basically mini programs that can add features that go beyond Microsoft Office programs, like MS Word. These apps are used directly right within your document. They can add a ton of extra functionality that not only helps you get your writing done faster, but helps you get it done better, as well.

To begin, you can find the app functionality through the Insert tab on the ribbon. To insert an app into a Word document,

1. Go to the Apps section of the Insert tab on the MS Word Ribbon.

2. To search and add new apps, click on Store and browse through the available apps listed by category.

Accessing Apps Store

3. Once you find an app, click on it.

4. Activate the app by clicking on Trust It in the information box.

Activating Wikipedia App

The app will then appear on the right hand side of your Word document. You can change this once you’re inside the app if you like though. To access apps you already have, simply click on My Apps and select the app you need from the list.

Selecting App From List

You’ll get a lot of extra functionality from just a few apps, making MS Word that much more powerful. To give you an idea, here’s a short roster of some pretty cool apps for MS Word that can really raise the bar for your document creation process. All of these can be found in the Office store.

TaskIt is a great app to have. It’s a to-do list that sits directly within your word document. This is perhaps one of my favourites. It helps in breaking down large writing projects, staying on track, or itemizing your thought process. You’ll always know exactly what you need to do.

Creating To Do List

Wikipedia makes this roster because, lets face it, who doesn’t check the site for background information? It’s the perfect tool for doing a quick reference check while you write. Either highlight a word in your document or simply type your search term in. The Wikipedia article is displayed right within your document.

Lucidchart, the popular data viz tool, gives you a great option for creating diagrams, mind maps and flowcharts for your document. You need to have an account or sign in with social accounts like Google or Facebook to use it, but it’s well worth it for those who are either regular users of the tool or need an indepth visualization on the spot.

The Bookmarker comes in handy if you need to reference or get back to a certain webpage or resource. You don’t have to resort to pasting ugly links in your document that skew the overall character or word count. The app will list all of your bookmarks in one panel without having to junk up your document.

Creating Bookmarks In Word

Pro Word Cloud will create a word cloud from the selected text within your document. You can adjust features like the font, colours and layout, selecting the size and number of words you want in it. This is great for creating visuals for your content or in publications like ebooks or eguides to sum up a concept or emphasize connections between ideas.

QR4Office is a neat app. It lets you insert and generate a QR code in your document. Customize your information and the QR code image itself. Then all you have to do is insert it. If you’re creating research content for a special cause or that’ll be shared publicly, this is a perfect way to help increase your sharing potential.

Creating Word QR Codes

In addition to Microsoft Word, the Office store has all kinds of different apps for other Office 365 programs like PowerPoint and Excel. There are a lot of apps to browse through, so you’re bound to find that one handy app that’ll make your written work go more smoothly–no matter what the content!

How To Turn Chrome Into A Notepad

Among the many things you do online in a single day, we bet that taking down a note or two is somewhere at the top of your list. Was it for research? Recording a reference number? Brainstorming? Whatever the reason, having a scratch pad at arm’s length is a necessity.

One trick that can solve that problem—turn your browser into a note pad. It may sound odd, but it’s entirely possible. For this tip, we tried it in Chrome, and we have to admit that this is a neat little trick everyone should have handy.

All you have to do is copy and paste this single line of code into your browser’s URL bar:

data:text/html, <html contenteditable>

Then hit enter. Click on the blank tab window that shows up and start typing away. Testing it on the latest Chrome build, it worked out great.  You can even bookmark the URL and call it up anytime for instant access.

Chrome Browser Notepad

This tip originally comes from Jose Jesus Perez Aguinaga, web engineer and Javascript developer, who shared this tip on his blog,, a few years ago. And it still works.

Right off the bat, you can get a good idea of how this can make things easier for you while you’re on the web. As a writer, student or researcher, you can use this as a distraction free writing tool or quick text editor.

You don’t have to install a plugin or open another application. And without having to worry about any formatting frills, you can get in a good chunk of writing without having to leave the browser.

The one drawback, however, is that if you close the tab, you’ll lose all your notes. If you jot down reminders or to-do lists which you don’t need afterwards, then this shouldn’t be a problem.  In fact, it may even be convenient as you can skip over the usual dialog reminding you to save the file.

But if you do need those notes, then you can easily save them before closing the tab.  To do so, just use Chrome’s “Save page as…” function from the menu and save it as an HTML webpage. You should then be able to access the file in any browser.

If you hated the hassle of opening up a second app just to copy-paste or record something, try this out. This little trick will help simplify the process and speed things up.


Developing Digital Learning Strategies In A Time of Technological Distraction

Learning Digital Strategies

Nowadays, we’re constantly in a state of distraction. From texting and checking emails to posting on Facebook and watching YouTube, technology has made it all too easy for us.

Overall, unwinding with a few Facebook updates can be harmless.  However, in your academic career the digital distraction can have a negative impact on your success.  Procrastination and distractions lurk in every corner.

Yet as the world of education changes and institutions invest heavily in educational technology, your approach to learning and studying will need to change.

The question is, can you develop an effective digital learning strategy when technological distraction is everywhere? The answer is yes.

Use The Age Of Distraction To Your Advantage

Sure, it can be tough to switch gears online and focus on the task at hand, but the trick is to work with the distraction, not to try and beat it. The digital habits you practice every day is where you can start developing solid digital learning strategies that’ll stand you in good stead.

And there’s no time like the present to start prepping yourself for next year. Currently, students have and will continue to see major changes in how learning will occur in 2015 and onwards. Aurion Learning, a company dedicated to helping organizations develop online learning solutions, got an overview of the latest trends.

15 E-Learning statistics you need to know for 2015 from Aurion Learning


And the statistics paint a clear picture: the world of education is not only focused on digitizing your learning style, but your academic lifestyle as well. So what can you do to turn your daily distractions into a learning tool? Here are a few suggested strategies.

When You Browse, Browse Creatively

Think about it. You search for something on the web all the time. But chances are, your usual search habits aren’t producing results.  Most of us only use Google for basic keyword searches, but not much else.  But there’s so more to Google than just search.

In fact, there’s more to searching the web than just Google, too. You can easily refine your research skills for projects by finding other creative ways to search the web.  All you need to do is to look differently at the internet: what searches you can perform without Google?  Where else can you find answers? In a nutshell, make the time you spend web surfing count.

Post, Upload And Interact With Content On Social Media

Believe it or not, posting links and uploading files and images on social networks can boost the digital learning process. The skills you use to interact on social media are essentially the same skills needed to participate in and work with digital learning environments. Thus, you need all the basic tech skills you can acquire.

Some examples of where you’ll need basic skills:

  • Creating PowerPoint presentations, mock business plans, or ebook study guides.
  • Voicing your opinion in class forums or e-bulletin boards.
  • Following people & networks related to your field of study as learning-related resources.
  • Curating content and tutorial sites to keep you on top of your niche and related skills.
  • Staying organized with files and group members by using a document management system.

Use social media check-ins as a way to practice your digital interaction skills, but don’t get carried away. Remember—social media is a means to an end, not an end in itself. 

Pay Attention To The Headlines In Your Feed

As much as we say we’re digitally connected, not many of us will know automatically how to accomplish something specific online.  The simple strategy to improve that is to get familiar with web tools.  You read about online tools constantly. Not a blog post in a feed goes by without some mention of Dropbox or tips on Google Docs. All it takes is actually clicking through to read about them.

So start creating your own personal toolbox.  Try one tool at a time to get yourself familiar with ones like Evernote or IFTTT. Ask yourself things like: Which would be the best for publishing my work? How can I send that large file of an essay? Can I annotate a peer’s digital paper? Discover popular tools with the aim of fitting them into your academic routine. 

Get Connected Visually

While having online courses makes it easy for you to participate in class from anywhere, distance and online learning itself, isn’t easy. You need support, peer discussion, and feedback from people who may not be physically there. You have to adapt to a new communication system without the all-important human factor.

Here, collaborative tech will be key. If you’re constantly online, then you know all about chatting, IMs and video conferencing. Tools like these will help you make the human connections needed throughout the learning process.  This is especially true of video conferencing. A single video chat or G+ Hangout can give you that extra learning boost which avatars and textual IMs can’t.

Some tool strategies to help with the actual work:

  • Use project management tools to keep everyone on track.
  • Collaborate with video and e-conferencing and chat tools like Skype.
  • Use Wikis and whiteboards for major group research and presentations.
  • To stay in touch with class mates, create Facebook groups, Google+ circles or Twitter lists.

The ability to develop transferrable digital skills is more important than ever. Tapping into your daily distractions can be one effective way to get immersed in your digital learning experience.  But what other strategies can you think of?