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Evaluating Sources: SIFT your sources



SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating source credibility. SIFT (from Mike Caulfield) stands for:

  • STOP. Pause and ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim's reputation.
  • INVESTIGATE the source.
    Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Is this source worth your time? Look at what others have said about the source to help with you these questions. Use a fact checking web site to help you identify the source.  You can also use Wikipedia or Google the source to do a quick check of who is creating the information and/or funding it.
  • FIND trusted coverage.
    Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more important to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus. Do you need to find the original source to get all of the information?
  • TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
    Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). See if you can find the orginal article or tweet or image--and understand how it was originally presented.

Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Later, when you determine that the site is worth your time, you can analyze the source's content more carefully.

Use Lateral Reading to Check Your Sources

When you are evaluating a web site, don't just rely on the information from the site itself.  You can open new browser tabs and do a little background research on the site, creators of the  site, or the claims promoted on the site.  This is just meant to be a quick overview at this point.  You are looking for some supporting evidence that this is a credible source--not one that has been discredited or copied from another site.

You can run a quick search in Google or Wikipedia, for example, just to get an idea of what an organization  or individual stands for.  You can also look at the fact checking resources to see if particular claims have been researched for you.  You can use the Library's databases,  particularly news databases such as US Major Dailies or US Newsstream, for more background information.

You want to think like a fact checker:

  1. Who's behind the information?
  2. What's the evidence?
  3. What do other sources say?

SIFT Method in action

Lateral Reading: Use Click Restraint

Click restraint: a regular practice of fact checkers, through which one reviews and analyzes a list of search results before deciding on which links to click

Click restraint is an important feature of lateral reading.  You don't want to click on the very first links you find.  First, scan the links looking for information about the sites you've found. Look at the titles and descriptions to see where the information comes from.  The best site may not be the first one, or even on the first page of results.  Sites can rise to the top because of design, not actual content.

The video below, from the Stanford History Education project, shows how to use this technique.

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  • Last Updated: Oct 3, 2022 2:42 PM
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