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WR 1011: Writing About Science & Technology: Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources: SIFT

Figure 1. Infographic of the SIFT method for evaluating sources (by Mike Caulfiend, 2019, CC BY 4.0.


SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating sources for credibility. The SIFT method was developed by Mike Caulfield

1. STOP. When you find an information source, pause and ask yourself if you are familiar with the website or publication. What is the reputation of the website or the publication?

2. INVESTIGATE. What is the author's expertise? What is the goal of the publication or organization behind the source? Go beyond the source to see what others have said about the author, publication, organization, etc. 

3. FIND additional coverage. Compare information across sources. Where do experts agree? Where do they disagree? Looking at multiple perspectives on a topic will strengthen your understanding of that topic and will help you form your argument. 

4. TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context. Sometimes the information we find is missing crucial context. Trace claims back to the original source. Look for citations to see the authors have cited credible sources to back up their claims. Follow the citations to see what the original sources said. 

Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


The SIFT strategy is part of a technique called lateral reading - the practice of doing a quick initial evaluation of a source by spending a little time looking at the source and more time reading what others have to says about the source or the topic. 

Click restraint is an important part of lateral reading. To practice click restraint, don’t immediately click on the first search results. Instead, scan a search results page, looking at things like the title and source description, before deciding what sources to examine. This helps you to get a fuller picture of the coverage available on a topic, and it helps you take some time to think about which search results might be most appropriate for the type of research you are doing. 

Modified from Evaluating Online Sources: A Toolkit by Rowan University's Campbell Library. 

Evaluation is a Process

When you find a source that you are considering using for your research, use the following questions to help you judge the suitability and credibility of the source: 

The 5 Ws The Surface-Level Questions The Deeper Questions



Who is the author, editor, or creator? Is the author qualified to write about this topic? 

What makes them qualified? First-hand experience? An advanced degree?



What type of document is it? For example, is it a newspaper article? A blog? A government website? A scholarly article? A book?  

What is it about?

Is the source appropriate for the type of research you are doing?

Is it relevant to your research?



When was this source published? 

Is the publication date appropriate for the type of research you are doing?



Where did the authors get their information from? Are citations provided?

Did the authors cite sources that are credible? 



What was the goal of the author or publisher?

Who is the intended audience?

Is there bias? Bias does not necessarily negate credibility. We all have biases. The question then becomes: are those biases disclosed? Do they impact the quality of the information?

Was this source created for a scholarly audience or a more general audience?


Do your best to find the answers to these questions. Use these questions to help answer the broader question: Is this source appropriate to use for the research that I am conducting?

Evaluating sources is an ongoing activity you will do throughout your research, and it includes evaluation of your own search process. As you search, pay attention to the keywords and phrases you are using. Are you looking for information that will only confirm what you already suspect? Or are you looking for possibly contradictory or opposing information as well? Do you have any 'go-to' sources that you use to find information? Or are you using a variety of search tools and looking for different points of view? 

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Here is a short video on source evaluation from the N.C. State librarians: