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How to Evaluate Your Sources

Strategies for evaluating the information you encounter in academic research and everyday life.

In This Guide

In this Guide, you'll find:

warning iconContext Matters

What are you going to do with the information you've encountered? Read it for your own interest, repost on social media, or use it in a paper for class?

How important it is for a source to be reputable and how deeply you investigate a source both depend on your own context and purpose.

Four Moves

infographic explaining SIFT strategies

STOP

When you encounter a piece of information, especially if it causes a strong reaction ("This will be perfect for my paper!" "I can't believe X did that to Y!"), stop and ask yourself what you know about the source of the information or about the claim itself.

  • Are you familiar with the author or the publication? What's their reputation?
  • What do you already know or believe about the topic?
  • What are you going to do with the information in the source? Use it in a class project, or just share with friends?

 

INVESTIGATE the source

Take some time to learn about the source before you read it--especially if you're unfamiliar with the publication or the author. This can be as quick as a Google search of the title of the website or journal you're reading. Ask yourself:

  • What's this source's purpose or agenda?
  • What do other people or publications say about this source?

quote bubble icon"Knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say."

-from "SIFT (The Four Moves)"

 

FIND better coverage

Find better--or even just other--coverage of the information you're evaluating to place it within the context of the larger conversation happening about the topic. No information exists within a vacuum, so it's a good idea to think about:

  • Who else is writing about your topic? What do other sources say on the subject?
  • Can you verify facts through Wikipedia or fact-checking sites like Snopes or Politifact?
  • Does the information in front of you represent a consensus opinion, or is it controversial?

 

TRACE claims, quotes & media to their original context

It's easy to share an image or a quote and totally remove its original context and meaning. Sometimes even full news stories are not original to the publication you're reading them in. See if you can trace quotes, images, and strong claims back to their original context.

magnifying glass iconIn other words? Dig into your source's sources.

Make use of formal citations in scholarly writing, and look for links in internet-based writing like news sites and blogs. Where did the source you're reading get their information from?

 

 

Credits

The strategies in this Guide were developed out of research on misinformation done by Mike Caulfield at Washington State University. Originally published in Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, the strategies in their latest form are explained on Caulfield's blog and on a COVID pandemic-inspired website promoting these strategies as a way to combat misinformation.

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