So you've found a web source for your research project or paper, but how do you know if it is a credible source and you are able to use it for your assignment?
Developed by information professional Mike Caulfield, the four moves of SIFT will help you to look at a news source with a slightly more critical eye. It will keep you from falling into the trap of believing misinformation.
The steps of SIFT, are really quite simple:
This first step might seem a little ridiculous, but it is the most important one. When you come across a source that includes a new piece of information, STOP and consider the following things:
Also consider how the source might be relevant to your assignment—does it back up your claim or is a good article for you to refute with your own research? If the source is 40 years old and you're researching climate change, chances are it won't be relevant.
The key idea here is to know where the information is coming from before you read it, so that you can have a better idea of the spin a resource might have.
Consider the following two sources:
Both websites look like they provide a wealth of information, but stop and take the time to investigate the source of the information. Always take the time to look at the About page and find the true source of information.
When you look into the source of information for the second URL, you find that the information is published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which is a division of the National Institute of Health. If you go to the About page for the NIH, you learn that it is "a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives." It's safe to say that information about asthma from the NHLBI is likely to be accurate and with the aim of bettering the health of the people of the United States.
If you take the time to look into the publisher of asthma.com, you'll find that it is actually funded and developed by GSK. If you look into GSK, you'll find that they are a pharmaceutical company that (surprise, surprise) sells inhalers. You can be sure that the information provided about the treatment of asthma will be skewed to increase their sales of inhalers and other asthma medications.
When an article reaches you, you might care more about the claim that the article is making than the particular article that you are looking at, and you'll want to figure out if what they say is true or false. Another thing you'll want to know: is this claim the subject of a lot of disagreement, or is there a consensus about the topic?
If you find a claim from a source that isn't trusted, your best bet is to find a better, more trusted source to see what they say about this topic.
To find better coverage doesn't mean to find the best source, it means to find other sources: find sources that are more trusted, more in-depth, and more varied.
To do this quickly, try a popular technique with fact-checkers called lateral searching. Lateral searching means to read about the topic from a number of different sources. This does not mean that you should read 100 different accounts of the same claim. Instead, you should skim through and open several tabs from different sources.
When I am fact checking a claim, I normally use Google and CTRL + Click on a number of sources, so that I can skim through all of them to get better coverage of a topic.
This is the big one! The internet often will include a statement that has been completely stripped of its context. As a result, it might seem to imply something completely different from what actually occurred. For example, there might be a perfectly reasonable speech given by a politician, but a certain line that may seem unsavory has been divorced from the rest of the content and uploaded to YouTube. This would imply something completely different from what was actually said, because it has been taken out of context.
This is especially important when you're looking at an article that seems to make an outrageous claim or has a clickbait-y headline. Try to find the original reporting, research, or photo where it is available on the web. You'll find that a lot of articles actually are simply distilled reports made by other publishers.
If you've enjoyed learning about SIFT, and would like to know more, feel free to view this three-hour minicourse developed by the creator of SIFT, Mike Caulfield.
In the past, you may have been taught that a website's domain can be an easy way to evaluate a source, but in reality it does little to shed light onto the reliability and usefulness of a source.
Domains can give you clues to the purpose or the author of a site, but you still need complete the entire evaluation process. The domains are not a shortcut.