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Knight-Capron Library Orientation

Evaluating Sources

1 | Read about the differences between scholarly and popular sources

2 | Read about the SIFT method for evaluating sources

3 | Watch the Online Verification Skills video series

4 | Test your evaluation skills with the SIFT Activity

In the previous sections of this guide we've shown you how to find scholarly articles using library search tools. Your research assignments will typically require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials. However, depending on your research question, both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes. Popular sources can range from magazine articles to sensational tabloids to blogs and websites. Many popular sources are still credible. These sources may or may not be written by experts and do not go through a process like peer review. However, many magazine and newspaper publishers still employ editors and fact-checkers before publishing materials. Yet, other information sources readily available in a web search may not have gone through any level of review. That means you'll need to conduct your web searches with a critical eye. 

In this section, you'll learn how to evaluate the sites and news sources you find in your web searches to determine whether they are true and trustworthy. 

Determining if a source is credible and reliable can be challenging. Use the SIFT method to help you analyze information, especially news or other online media.


STOP | Do you know anything about the website or source of information you found? What about its reputation? It's purpose? You'll want to know these things before you read it, cite it, or share it on social media. 


INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE | It's important to know the expertise and agenda of your source. Try a Google search of the author or publisher to find out what others say about them. Open multiple tabs. 


FIND TRUSTED COVERAGE | Look for the best information on a topic or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you to investigate further.


TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, & MEDIA | Is there a study or report mentioned in the article? Find the original report to see if it was accurately reported. What about images? A reverse-image search may be necessary. 

Evaluate sources with the SIFT method

There are numerous ways to "SIFT" (as described above). These "four moves" from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers will help you "SIFT." 

When you first come across a web source, do a quick initial assessment, much like a fact-checker does. Fact-checkers don't spend too much time on a website; instead they quickly leave that site to see what others have said about it.

  • "Check for previous work.": Has someone already fact-checked the claim or analyzed the research?
    (Search the Internet for other coverage on the claim. Consider where that coverage comes from.)

  • "Go upstream to the source.": Is this the original source of the information, or is this a re-publication or an interpretation of previously published work? Are you examining the original source? If not, trace back to it.
  • "Read laterally.": What are others have saying about the original source and about its claim?
    (For example, get other information about a website from other sources by searching Google for [WEBSITE URL] site: -[WEBSITE URL]
    • newyorktimes.com site: -newyorktimes.com
    • minimumwage.com site: -minimumwage.com

  • "Circle back.": If you hit a dead end, what other search terms or strategies might lead you to the information that you need? 

(Adapted from “Four Moves,” Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Mike Caulfield)

Mike Caulfield created the SIFT method for evaluating sources. Watch him explain the importance of lateral reading. 


In this second video you'll see lateral reading in action as you learn how to Investigate the Source


In the third video Mike Caulfield takes you through an example of how to Find the Source.


In the final video Mike Caulfield offers advice on how to find information we can trust