Skip to Main Content
My Library Accounts

How To Do Research

The SIFT Method for Online Sources

The SIFT method outlines four moves that you can use to quickly check the reliability of information. While the focus is on online resources, it can be applied to any information that you want to verify. Rather than being a checklist of things to look for, it focuses on habits that you can use to save your energy for digging deeper. The goal is to understand the information's context so that you can evaluate it effectively.

StopSTOP

When you encounter new information or a new resource, stop and take your bearings. Ask yourself: Do I know and trust this website? If not, use the other moves to learn more about it before you read or share.

You also want to stop periodically while you work through the moves to make sure you haven't gone down a rabbit hole. Remember, these strategies are meant to be fairly quick. If it's taking you a long time, check your strategy and make sure it's working.

 

INVESTIGATE the SourceInvestigate

Find information about the source from other sources. Ask questions like:

  • Is this a reputable publisher?
  • What is the author's expertise on this topic?
  • Who funded the publication?

Investigating a source can help you contextualize the information and uncover hidden biases. You want to know if the economics article you're reading was written by a Nobel laureate economist. You also want to know if the video you're watching about the health benefits of milk was put out by the dairy industry. It isn't because the Nobel prize winner is always right about everything or because you can never trust the dairy industry, but knowing that context impacts how you are going to approach the information.

FIND Trusted CoverageFind

Sometimes the article or video you found doesn't matter as much as the claim it's making. In that case, choose some keywords to search. If it's a current event, try using the news filter on your search engine.

  • Can you find at least one, but preferably more, trusted source that's reporting on the claim?
  • Do all the sources seem to agree on the claim?
  • Is there controversy around it, with different sources making conflicting arguments?

Knowing whether a claim is widely accepted or still hotly debated provides more context for you to use as you evaluate it.

TRACE Claims Back to the Original ContextTrace

Track the facts or data back to the original source to make sure they weren't taken out of context. Some things to consider:

  • A video shows two people fighting. Is there a longer version? Was part of the video deleted? What happened before filming started?
  • News articles reporting on new research may, intentionally or unintentionally, misinterpret the research. Find the article and read it yourself.
  • A photograph may be real, but may be presented with a falsified caption. Do a reverse image search to see where it really came from. 

The context in which something happened or information was created influences its meaning, but many things online are taken out of context for a variety of reasons. Understanding that original context will help you evaluate your information effectively.

Lateral Reading

When you investigate a source, you don't want to rely only on what they tell you about themselves. You want to know what other sources say about them before you continue. Professional fact-checkers use a simple strategy called lateral reading quickly and accurately determine the reliability of a source in just a few steps:

  1. Open a new tab
  2. Do a search for the website's title or publisher or the article's author
  3. Look through the results that you get and choose a few to click on for more information

Doing this helps you determine who is really behind the information you've found, which is key to evaluating and analyzing it.

Acknowledgement

The SIFT Method portion of this guide was adapted from "Check, Please!" (Caulfield). The canonical version of Check, Please! exists at http://lessons.checkplease.cc and licensed under CC-BY . As the authors of the original version have not reviewed any other copy's modifications, the text of any site not arrived at through the above link should not be sourced to the original authors.