COMM 111 Arakaki Winter 2024: Evaluate with SIFT

Introduction to SIFT

SIFT method for determining credibility

One way to figure out if a source is credible is to use the SIFT method, developed by a librarian/researcher named Mike Caulfield (see The Four Moves). When we investigate the source, we’re looking into the author and publisher for signs and markers of credibility and authority. As part of that sleuthing you may decide to find better information in a different source. It’s also helpful to trace claims made in a secondary source like a news or web article back to the original context. That could look like clicking links when sources are cited within the text, and maybe deciding to use the original source.

While there is no perfect formula you can use that will let you figure out how credible a particular claim is, if you make a practice of using SIFT, it will help you select high quality sources for your academic work.

STOP

Stop

When you begin to read, STOP and ask yourself if you know from experience if this is a reliable source. Your goal is not to track down every claim, but to see if a website is reliable. If you know the site is reliable, go ahead.  If not, go through the next steps.  You may not need to do all the steps- go as far as you need to determine reliability.

FIND better coverage

Find Better/Trusted Coverage

If you're not sure if the source you're looking at is reliable, one thing you can do is just keep looking!  We live in a world of information abundance.  If the information being provided by a site is high quality, it is mostly likely going to be available elsewhere as well.

INVESTIGATE

Investigate the Source

You want to know what you're reading before you read it. Look it up!

  • Investigate the expertise and agenda of the source to determine its importance and truthfulness. 

  • Use Wikipedia. You can add the word "wikipedia" to the base of the url or the author's name in a Google search. For example, if I wanted to figure out more information about an online news source I could type "NPR wikipedia" in the search bar to find out more information about the source outside of the source (moving beyond the "About Us" section on the website). 

  • On social media platforms like Twitter you can use what's called the hovering technique to find out more about the person or organization behind the tweet.

  • Another tip: Copy the URL up to the internet domain (.com, .org, etc.) and search for jus that part of the URL on another browser tab. This is an easy way to check up on what others are saying.

 

Evaluating Sources: Questions to Ask

Decorative image of question marksHow do you know if a source is right for your research? Below are some questions you can ask about your sources. There are no good or bad sources, but sources can be useful or not useful based on the evidence you're looking for.

  1. Who is the author? What do you know about the author’s background? (hint: Google the author). What makes the author an expert on this particular topic (remember that experience and research are markers of expertise as well as education)?
  2. What journal, magazine, organization, or website published this information? Look for an "about" page on the publisher's website (or explore their website) and also Google the name of the publication/organization/website (or look for a Wikipedia page about it) to learn more about the publisher of the information. What kind of reputation does it have? What is their purpose in sharing this information? Is it known for promoting specific points of view? 
  3. Can you tell where the information in the article came from? Do they share any information from other sources or does it seem like they’re sharing their opinion? If they used other sources, do those sources seem worth trusting?

  4. Based on your answers to these questions, would you trust this source? If not, could anything from this article still be useful? Often articles link to other useful resources or mention other authors and studies that could be helpful.

You may not get good answers from all of these questions, but still trust a source. For example, an opinion piece from a noted expert in a specific field could be a useful source, but chances are, they are not going to be citing sources. Information from the Centers for Disease Control website is trustworthy, but much of it doesn't have an author. You have to weigh each of these factors when making your decision.

TRACE CLAIMS

Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the original context.

Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. And that's often a problem- think of the old "Telephone" game. So what to do?

Get as close as you can to the original source of the information.  If a person, report, etc is quoted on a website or in an article, do a new search, can you locate the original?

By finding the original source of reporting or the photo in question you can get a more complete picture of the issue or a research finding that is more accurate. Your aim here is to get to the the point where the people doing the writing are the people verifying the facts (the original reporting source).  

  • When reading online sources, pay attention to who they quote as a source and see if you can find more information. 

  • If there are links in the source that point towards original studies or reporting, click on those to follow the chain to the original source.   

  • If there is a bibliography, open up the original reporting sources listed.  

  • Google key terms or phrases if the source has no mention of the origin.  

  • After you've found the original claim, quote, finding, or news story, ask yourself if it was fairly and accurately represented in the media that you first came across.