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ENGL 201 - Rhodes - Fall 2021: Evaluating Sources

Evaulating Online Sources

Believe it or not, a Google search does not always give you reliable, accurate information. Will you eat anything that someone hands you? Probably not! You would want to know what it is made of, is it something you want, and will it be good for you. The same goes for websites; it is up to you to determine whether a website is reliable, and contains information that you need.

This page details two strategies for evaluating online sources: SIFT and CRAAP. While SIFT is a newer, more efficient method of weeding out online disinformation, the CRAAP test contains a series of relevant questions for determining if a source is current, relevant, authoritative, accurate, and purposeful. 

Using SIFT to Evaluate Online Sources

SIFT is an online evaluation strategy, developed by digital literacy expert Michael Caulfield (Washington State University Vancouver), to help you judge whether or not online content can be trusted for credible and reliable information. SIFT is quick and simple 4-step process, and can be applied to all types of online content.

SIFT stands for:

STOP

INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE

FIND BETTER COVERAGE

TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, AND MEDIA BACK TO THEIR ORIGINAL CONTEXT

Watch the following introduction video, then click on the tabs above to learn more about the 4 steps of SIFT. For more information on how to use SIFT, check out the Evaluating Online Sources research guide (including classroom activities and online tools) at: https://libguides.riohondo.edu/evaluatingsources

STOP

The first move of SIFT is the simplest. STOP reminds you of two things:

  1. When you find online content and start reading --- STOP. Ask yourself if you know and trust the website or source of information. If you don't, use SIFT to learn more about the source you are looking at. Don't read or share it until you know what it is and where it comes from.
  2. When using SIFT to investigate sources, it's easy to go down a rabbit hole and end up feeling overwhelmed. If this happens, STOP to remind yourself of the original goal and re-adjust your fact-checking strategy.

Here are some quick evaluation questions to ask at STOP:

  • What type of content is this? (Is it news, opinion, or entertainment? Is it biased?)
  • Who wrote/created and published it? (Who is the author or organization -- are they trustworthy?)
  • Why was it created? (To inform or to pursuade?)
  • When was it published? (Is the information current or outdated?)

If your answer to any of these questions is "I don't know," then, it's time to move onto the next step of SIFT--Investigate.

INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE

This step is where you start to answer the questions you asked yourself at STOP: What type of content is this? Who wrote and published it? Does the information appear to be reliable and appropriate?

Investigating the source does not require in-depth research and analysis. Rather, this step is a quick check into the expertise and agenda of the online content in question.  

This involves a method called "lateral reading," which suggests that users "get off the page" to investigate a source through other websites (such as Wikipedia). It only takes about a minute or two, and enables you to learn about what others have written about your source (rather than solely relying on the source itself). 

Please watch the following short video [2:44] to learn more this effective strategy: 

FIND BETTER COVERAGE

If the quality of your source is low or questionable, it's time to find better coverage

This involves searching for other, more reliable sources whenever you need to verify a claim or information.

The first video [1:34] introduces the concept of finding better coverage, while the second video [4:28] explains this process in more detail:

TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, AND MEDIA BACK TO THEIR ORIGINAL CONTEXT

A lot of things you encounter online have been stripped of context. This includes: false, attention-grabbing headlines; inaccurate or misleading reporting and re-reporting; manipulated, edited sound and video; memes and images being shared with inaccurate captions, etc.

In most cases, the more a story circulates, the more it becomes warped and you may end up with a false version of an event or piece of research. This is when you need to investigate further and trace information (claims, quotes, media) back to the original source for full context.

The below video [4:10] discusses the use of fact-checking sites, along with tips on how to trace claims and stories to their original source.

Why use SIFT?

SIFT is a quicker, more effective way to evaluate online content than traditional “checklist” approaches (such as "the CRAAP Test").

Some checklist questions you might ask yourself when initially arriving at a webpage:

  • Does this look professional?
  • Are there spelling errors?
  • Is it a .com or a .org?
  • Is there scientific language?

In today’s world, asking yourself these kinds of questions is no longer enough. Why?

  • Anyone can easily design a professional looking webpage and use spellcheck
  • .com or .org does not always reflect the credibility of the content
  • Scientific language does not always reflect expertise or agenda of the content

Additionally, checklist methods often require students to evaluate too many different types of criteria, and can take dozens of steps (and too much time) to check a single source. 

Evaluating Websites

Check out this short video about evaluating websites for credibility.