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ENG 151 - SIFT Method for Evaluating Sources

This guide explains how to use the SIFT Method for evaluating sources. SIFT stands for Stop, Investigate the claim, Find better coverage, and Trace back to the original source.

Getting Started with Formats

Before you set out to evaluate a source and decide if it's useful for your research needs, you need to know what kind of source you have. Knowing more about your source can help you evaluate it. Is it a popular source with background information meant for the general public? Or is it a scholarly source that was written by an expert on the subject and published by a peer-reviewed journal?

Watch the video below to learn about sources of information, how to identify them, and the different formats they take. 

 

The SIFT Method is useful for popular sources when you need to investigate the author and their credentials and the origins of the information, or possibly find a better source.

Scholarly sources may not require the same evaluation process as popular sources but scholarly sources should still be evaluated. Consider the following when evaluating a scholarly source:

  • Authority: Are the author's credentials directly related to the topic of the scholarly article? Scholarly sources usually provide that information for you, especially if you found the source in a library database. 
  • Currency: When was the source published? Your instructor may require you to find scholarly articles that are current or in a specific date range.
  • Relevancy: Is the article is relevant to your research needs? You found a scholarly article, but is it the right scholarly article for your specific research question? 
  • Bias: What is the purpose of the scholarly article? Is it primarily fact based? Does it share original research? Scholars may also write commentary and editorials. Language should be free from emotion and the author should provide evidence for their argument.

Popular sources, like magazines and newspapers, are usually written by journalists or someone who had to research the topic before writing about it. They may not have credentials that are directly related to the topic. The source may not list the author's credentials. The source may not name an author at all! That's when the steps of the SIFT Method will be helpful. The SIFT Method teaches you how to "read laterally," or go beyond your source to research the author, their background, the publication and its background, and relevance of the source for your research needs. Reading laterally can also help you locate a better source for your research, and track down original studies and primary sources.

The next few sections describe some characteristics of scholarly and popular sources (with examples), so you can identify your source and determine what level of evaluation it requires.