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EMS Research Guide: Evaluating Sources/SCARAB

A research and resource guide for the EMS.

Additional Resources

The resources below give you some additional tools to have you evaluate sources.

Why We Need to Know How to Evaluate Sources

from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

logo for OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab

Source Evaluation SIFT Method

What is the SIFT Method?

The SIFT Method is a series of actions you can take in order to determine the validity and reliability of claims and sources on the web. Each letter in “SIFT” corresponds to one of the “Four Moves."


1. Stop

This first step asks you to pause for a moment before automatically trusting a source and accepting it as true. Don't share it or use it for your research until you know more.

  • Why does this information exist?
  • What do you know about the author, website, or organization?
  • What do others have to say about them?

2. Investigate the Source

This step asks you to investigate the source or the claim being made. Become a fact checker and read laterally. Go outside the source to learn what other sources say about it.

Start by researching the author and the organization.

  • How are they qualified to write on the topic? What can you find out about them and their work? News media is usually written by journalists, which is appropriate for that format. Scholars usually write for academic journals. ​​​​​​ 
  • What is the purpose of the information? Information exists for many different reasons! Are they sharing information? Trying to influence you or sell you something? Sharing an opinion? 
  • Where is the author getting their information? What sources do they cite to support their work? Scholarly sources should have a list of References. Popular online sources may link to their sources throughout the text, or in some cases you might see references at the end.

Investigating a Claim

  • Can you find coverage of the claim from other sources? Can you find consensus among multiple sources?
  • Are those sources reputable? Current? Biased? This media bias chart can help you determine partisan bias.
  • Has it already been fact checked? Use the sites on our fact-checking toolbox to help you.
  • Has the information been repackaged to make it more interesting to read?
  • Has it already been fact checked? Try sites like snopes.comfactcheck.orgPolitiFactGoogle Fact Check Explorer, or Quackwatch (for medical information).

A Word About Domains

The website's domain is not an indicator of its credibility. The domain only tells you what kind of website it is: commercial, education, government, non-profit organization (possibly). Remember to evaluate the source based on the information it contains, not by the URL.

A website that ends in .gov (government website) is considered authoritative, but you should still evaluate it to make sure it meets your information need.

3. Find Better Coverage

This step asks you to find better coverage of the source or claim. It can help you determine if you have the best source for your information need.

  • When you did your fact checking in the previous step, did you find consensus among multiple reputable sources? Legitimate information should be covered by many sources and treated similarly (without extreme bias).
  • Other coverage might be more in-depth, more reputable, more varied, or more current. Evaluate the new sources you encounter.

Filter Bubbles

  • When you search Google, look beyond the first few results, which can be sponsored content or ads. Businesses can pay for their sites to float up to the top, but that doesn’t make them the best resource. 

  • Google and other internet browsers use algorithms to determine what kind of information to show you. Those algorithms look at the words you've searched in the past and the kind of content you've engaged with and is designed to show you more of that same content because they know you're more likely to engage with it.

  • This creates a filter bubble, which means you constantly see only one perspective or viewpoint and you're not being shown anything else. The information is finding you! Change your information-seeking behavior and purposely look for other information or perspectives and aim for an overall look at your topic from multiple sources and voices. 

How to Find Better Coverage:

  • Search specific domains on Google. (food safety Government sources are authoritative but they should still be evaluated to make sure you still have the right information you need.
  • Search for content that is more reliable or more in depth.
  • Consult library databases for articles, eBooks, or primary sources

4. Trace Back to the Original Source

This step asks you to trace your information back to the original source. 

Good information should link to or cite their sources, or at the very least mention sources by name. It’s not uncommon to see a news article that states, “Sources say…” or “According to a recent report…” and not mention who their sources are or where to find that recent report.

If they refer to the source they used, track it down. Was the original source accurately represented? Was it reported on fairly? This is also called framing. How is the information structured? Even the author’s word choice can affect your perception of a story.

Do you have the entire story? Was anything left out? Was it taken out of context? This is common for information that appears on social media. Because of proprietary search algorithms, the way a story is covered on your news feed might be different than how it’s covered on someone else’s. Look for the entire story. It’s so easy to take a quote out of context to misrepresent an idea.

Images, Video, and Media

These can also be altered, taken out of context, or misrepresented.

  • Do a Google reverse image search to locate the origins of photo. If you're on a computer, right-click over the image and select Search Google for Image from the pop-up menu. You'll see where that photo has been used and often find its origins.
  • Try the fact-checking sites mentioned in the Investigate step to fact check the video to see if it's been altered.