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General Education

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. Pause before you share or use. What is your emotional response to the information? What biases do you have? Also, consider what you already know about the topic and the source. Do you know and trust the website or source of the information? If not, 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 recall your goal. 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 60 seconds to figure out its origin 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 topic. Has a source you consider authoritative covered the same news or topic? Has it has been fact-checked or rebutted? Scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be. Find 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. Stuff you see on the web is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. Is your original source describing it accurately or misrepresenting the original? Here's an example of how to trace this.

Additionally, a lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context. Looking for the context can help inform you of the source's reliability.

Adapted from by Mike Caulfield

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluate all sources, not just those you find online. Consider all of these criteria together; some criteria may be more important than others, depending on the context of your research. Recognize there is rarely one perfect source. Keep in mind that domain suffixes (e.g., .org, .edu) alone are NOT sufficient indicators of credibility. 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, and are those trustworthy sources?

Audience: Who is the source intended for? Scholars or experts in a field? Children? The general population? How did you come across the source, and what does that say about the audience?

Author and publisher: Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why? What's their reputation and perspective? Do a web search to learn more about who is behind the information, their reputation, and if they have any special interests. How is it funded? How did you come across the source, and what does that suggest about the author/publisher?

Currency: Is the publication up-to-date? Historic? Is it a republication of an old story? 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?

Language: Is the source's language and tone designed to elicit an emotional reaction? Or is it factual and neutral in tone? Be skeptical of sources you react to emotionally.

Objectivity: Is there an obvious bias, or does the source appear to be impartial? Is the author providing factual information or expressing an opinion? Articles labeled editorial, essay, or commentary denote an opinion, and reputable publications may include such pieces. "Sponsored Content" or "Promoted" = advertisements. Do a web search to learn more about who is behind the information and if they have any special interests or conflicts of interest.

Presentation: Is the source free from spelling and grammatical errors? Does it look professional? Many fake sites are spoofs that look legitimate. Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

Purpose: Is the source intended to inform? Persuade? Entertain? What do other sites say is the purpose of this source/publication?

The Purdue OWL has excellent guidelines for evaluating sources.

Types of Periodicals


Scholarly Journals

Trade Publications

Popular Magazines



Social Psychology Quarterly

Advertising Age


New York Times


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; Editorials; Primary source for information on recent events; Ads


Researchers, scholars, professors, etc.

Practitioners and professionals

General population

General population


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


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


Always includes references, footnotes, or bibliographies

Sometimes includes references in text or short bibliographies

References are rare

Rarely cite sources in full


Universities, scholarly presses, or academic organizations; Commercial publishers

Commercial publishers; Trade and professional organizations

Commercial publishers

Commercial publishers

Example Databases

JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts

Business Premium, Business Source Premier

Readers Guide, Academic Search Complete

Newspaper Source Plus

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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