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?
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:
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.