1. Turn to the back-title page where the Cataloguing-in-Publication details are provided. If it mentions “fiction” or “historical fiction”, immediately dismiss the work as unreliable because the author can write whatever he or she wants. Even if the author elsewhere claims that the publication is “based on fact”, it must still be considered unreliable because there is no set ratio of fact and fiction in fictionalised history. Indeed, many works that claim to be “based on fact” would be better described as “inspired by a true story”.
2. Turn to the back of the book:
a. If it does not contain a bibliography, dismiss the work as unreliable. Remember, unsubstantiated history is mythology.
b. If it contains a bibliography, look at the references themselves. If these are mainly other printed works about Thunderbolt (that is, secondary-source references), it is necessary to assess these works themselves for reliability, using the guidelines mentioned here.
c. If the bibliography contains primary-source references (that is, newspaper articles from the period itself, archival material, etc), then the work can be considered more reliable. This does not necessarily mean that it is accurate, however, just that it has a better chance of being reliable.
d. If the biography contains primary-source and secondary-source references, and the secondary-source references include works relating to the historical backdrop, then the book or article has an even better chance of being reliable.
3. Assess the proportion of dialogue contained in the publication. A high proportion means that the account is largely fictional.
I use the above guidelines as a simple rule of thumb in assessing the likely accuracy of other works relating to my topic of interest. After researching the subject using original records, I then compare the results of my research with the information contained in these publications. My detailed conclusions regarding the major Thunderbolt works is documented in the Reviews section on the website. In a future blog-post I will include a summary of these works.