Evaluating sources

Assessing and evaluating information sources is essential in daily life as well as for writing academic papers.

From practical (and quick!) tips to online courses, here are a few approaches to evaluating information.

SIFT method 

This fact-checking method is about quickly assessing information -- before you invest in reading or viewing a source. 

SIFT is made up of four "moves": 

  • Stop
  • Investigate the source
  • Find better coverage
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.
 Tip: Remember your purpose. It's easy to spend a lot of time on fact-checking -- but depending on your goal, quick checks may be all you need.


Before you read or share something, ask yourself:

  • Do you know the website or source of the information?
  • What is the reputation of the claim and the website?

If you don't know, use the other moves to learn more. 

 Investigate the source

Before you read or watch something, it's good to know where the information came from.

What's the creator's expertise, or agenda (or both)?

 Find better coverage

To find out if a claim is controversial or represents wide consensus, look for how the subject is covered by:

  • a trusted source, or: 
  • multiple sources, to see if experts agree.

Understanding the context and history of a claim will give you a strong foundation for further investigation (if you choose to go further!).

 Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context 

What is the context? Did the original source make the same points? 

Trace the claim, quote, or media back to the original source to get the full picture.

Additional sources for evaluating credibility

Evaluation information: SIFT (Kwantlen Polytechnic University)
Includes a quick video by SIFT creator Mike Caulfield about why quick fact-checking skills are so effective. 

Evaluating Internet Resources (Ryerson University Library and Archives)
Strategies for evaluating websites as well as journal articles and books -- featuring the The CRAAP Test.

How to spot fake news: Identifying propaganda, satire, and false information (SFU Library)
Includes a shareable graphic and quizzes to test your skills. 

How do I assess a publisher, journal, or conference?
This SFU Library guide, designed for faculty and graduate students, includes valuable tips for spotting predatory publishers and assessing the impact and importance of a journal.

Further study

Check Please!
A course in fact-checking using the SIFT method, split into 5 parts. Total course length: 2 1/2 hours.

Calling Bull: Data Reasoning in a Digital World (INFO 270 / BIOL 270, University of Washington)
Instructors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have created a university credit course, Calling Bullshit, and have made their readings and lecture videos available online. In their words, "Our world is saturated with bull. Learn to detect and defuse it." 



The brief summary here of the SIFT method was adapted from Michael Caulfield's SIFT (The Four Moves), under CC BY 4.0.