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Why Evaluate Your Sources?

Why evaluate your sources?

Evaluating your sources insures that they are appropriate for the context in which you will use them and that they are reliable, which will support your work. It allows you to be credible as you engage in research and participate in the scholarly conversation in your field. 

What makes a source reliable?

There are different methods and strategies - two are explained below - you can use to evaluate the information you find on the internet and in libraries, but there are three main questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Who is behind the information and what is their purpose and perspective?
  2. What is the evidence for their claims? Is the evidence reliable?
  3. What do other sources say about the organization/author and their claims?

You should also monitor your emotional response to sources and check out why they make you feel a certain way: are they confirming, or confronting your pre-existing worldviews? 

Lateral Reading

What is lateral reading?

Lateral reading is looking at other sources to provide context for the source you are evaluating. For a website or webpage, this means opening new tabs in your browser to search for information about it, rather than simply looking at the design, the URL, and the "About" page of the site. 

Where should you look?

To evaluate a website, webpage, video, image, or social media post, you can see what the following sources say about it:

  • Newspapers and online news 
  • Fact checking websites like, PolitiFact, The Washington Post Fact Checker, and 
  • Wikipedia - use the URL to match against Wikipedia pages and compare what the "About" page of a website says about itself and what Wikipedia says (helpful for finding out who is behind the content)
  • Reverse image searching - use your search engine's reverse image searching function or to trace an image back to its source and see if it is used out of context
  • Videos - watch out for clips taken out of their context, misrepresented, uploaded with a misleading caption, that are edited deceptively or doctored (ex: Deep Fakes), you can use The Washington Post's Fact Checker’s guide to manipulated video to learn more

Take into account that many news organizations have their own perspective and even media fact-checking involves subjective judgments, it is a best practice to look at multiple sources.


What is the SIFT method?

The SIFT method was created by Mike Caulfield to help you determine if sources are credible. It is a mnemonic device that stands for Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, Trace claims, quotes, and media back to their original context.

All SIFT information on this page is adapted from Mike Caulfield's materials with a CC BY 4.0 license.

The SIFT Method

The SIFT Method
  • Stop: When encountering content from a source you do not already trust, stop yourself from clicking on it and immediately believing it. Stop before you act (retweet, use in your work, etc.) on a strong emotional response to a headline.
  • Investigate the source: Who is behind the information and what is their purpose and perspective? What is their reputation? What do other sources say about the creator/publisher/organization?
  • Find better coverage: Is the content covered by other trusted sources? Do experts agree with the coverage?
  • Trace the claims, quotes and media to their original source: Use image reverse searching to find the original context. Watch the full videos from which extracts are taken. Take notice of the caption presented with the media; is it misrepresenting it? Follow cited sources if you can find them.