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ENGL 100-101

SIFT: 4 Moves for Investigating a Source

There are 4 easy steps you can take to verify sources and claims on the web.

1. Stop. Ask yourself whether you know and trust the website or source of the information. If you don't, use the other moves to get a sense of what you're looking at. If you find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of fact-checking STOP and take a second to remind yourself of your goal. Adjust your strategy if it isn't working. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose.

2. Investigate the Source. You can usually do this with a quick web or Wikipedia search. Taking sixty seconds to figure out where it is from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness.

3. Find Trusted Coverage. Look for other trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. In other words, if you see an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, the winning strategy may be to find the best source you can that covers this, or, to scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be. "Find trusted coverage" that better suits your needs—more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied.

4. Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to the Original Context. Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. Here's an example of how to trace this.

Additionally, A lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context. Maybe there's a video of a fight between two people. But what happened before that? Who started it? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there's a picture that seems real but the caption is dubious at best. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research paper—but you're not certain if the paper supports it. Looking for the context can help inform you of the source's reliability.

Adapted from https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/ by MIke Caulfield

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluate all sources, not just those you find online. Consider all of these criteria together, and recognize there is rarely one perfect source. Use the library's Rate My Source tool to get started, and talk to your professor if you're not sure if a source is appropriate for an assignment.

Criteria to consider:

Accuracy: Are the facts and statistics correct and verifiable? Does it tell you where the statistics came from?

Audience: Who is the source intended for? Scholars or experts in a field? Children? The general population?

Author and publisher: Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why? What's their reputation? Domain suffixes (e.g. .org, .edu) alone are NOT sufficient indicators of credibility.

Currency: Is the publication up-to-date? Historic? Does it matter?

Documentation: Do the authors or editors include references/citations/links to their sources? What is the quality of those sources? Are sources named?

Objectivity: Is there an obvious bias, or does the source appear to be objective? Is the author providing factual information or expressing an opinion? Articles labeled "editorial" or "commentary" denote an opinion, and reputable publications can include such pieces.

Presentation: Is the source free from spelling and grammatical errors? Does it look professional? Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

Purpose: Is the source intended to inform? Persuade? Entertain?

The Purdue OWL has an excellent guide to Evaluation During Reading.

Types of Periodicals

 

Scholarly Journals

Trade Journals

Popular Magazines

Newspapers

Examples

Social Psychology Quarterly

Advertising Age

Time

New York Times

Content

Primary account of original research (i.e. research papers); In-depth analyses of issues in the field; Articles often include abstract, method, discussion, tables, conclusion, and references/bibliography; May include editorials or commentaries

Current news, trends, or products in an industry or professional organization; Statistics, forecasts, employment and career information; Ads

Current events and news; General information with purpose to entertain or inform; Analyses of popular culture; Secondary account of someone else's research that may include opinion; Ads

Current events and news that may be local, regional, national or international; Ads, editorials, speeches; Primary source for information on recent events

Audience

Researchers, scholars, professors, etc.

Practitioners and professionals

General population

General population

Language

Academic, specialized jargon that uses the language of the discipline; Requires some relevant expertise

Specialized jargon or terminology of the field

Easily understandable, non-technical language

Easily understandable, non-technical language

Authors

Researchers, scholars, professors, etc.

Practitioners in the field, industry professionals, or journalists with subject expertise

Journalists or staff writers

Journalists or staff writers

Editorial Process

Volunteer editorial board and usually peer review

Paid editors

Paid editors

Paid editors; Editorial review may be minimal for breaking news

References

Always includes references, footnotes, or bibliographies

Sometimes includes references in text or short bibliographies

References are rare

Rarely cite sources in full

Publishers

Universities, scholarly presses, or academic organizations

Commercial publishers or trade and professional organizations

Commercial publishers

Commercial publishers

Example Databases

JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts

ABI Inform, Business Source Premier

Readers Guide, Academic Search Complete

LexisNexis Academic, Access NewspaperARCHIVE

What is peer-review?
The rigorous process that articles undergo before they are published. Scholars in the author's field or discipline review and evaluate the article for quality and validity. If lacking, the article may be rejected. Reviewers often offer suggestions for revision as a condition of acceptance. Watch Peer Review in 3 Minutes (NCSU) for more details.

 

This chart is adapted from Northwestern University's Evaluating Articles page.

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