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Sustainability: Evaluating Sources

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.

What do you know about the author, website, or organization? Are they reputable? What do others have to say about them? Read on to learn about the next three steps of the SIFT Method, which teach you how to find out.

2. Investigate the Source

This steps asks you to investigate the source or the claim being made.

Become a fact checker! What do other sources say about the source of your information (such as the author, the website, or the organization) or the claim being made?

To investigate the author or their affiliations, start by Googling their name.

  • Can you find their credentials?
  • What else have they written? One place to check is Google Scholar.
  • Where were those article published?
  • What do others have to say about them?
  • What organization(s) do they work for or support?
  • Are their affiliations biased in some way or do they promote an agenda?
  • Can you find a Wikipedia entry for them? If so, cross-check the information you find there.
  • If they have social media accounts, have those accounts been formally verified by the social media platform?

To investigate a claim, start by Googling it.

3. Find Better Coverage

This step asks you to find better coverage of the source or claim. It's about determining 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).

While you’re looking for better coverage or trying to determine some kind of consensus and you come across sources you’re not familiar with, go back a step and investigate those new sources.

Other coverage might be more in-depth, more reputable, more varied, or more current. For example, an article about U.S. airline policies and COVID-19 from a popular magazine might be fine for personal purposes, but if you're writing a research paper about that topic, a better source might be the CDC or even information directly from a specific airline's website.

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.

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.
  • Fact check the video to see if it's been altered. One example of a video being altered shows Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur her words during a speech and claims were made that she was intoxicated. Google the words "Nancy Pelosi drunk video" and you'll find that many reputable news sources fact checked the video and determined that it had been manipulated.