We have all noticed that there is a huge amount of false or misleading information pouring into popular media channels. All this noise can make the work of online research more difficult and time-consuming. To prepare, equip yourself with a few solid tools for evaluating information that you can apply in any situation. Keep reading this guide to get started!
SIFT: Getting at the Truth
SIFT is a method of quickly assessing the likely reliability of an information source, whether that source is a blog post, a news article, a video, or any piece of evidence.
It is not meant to be exhaustive, but to be a quick and practical tool. Use it to quickly decide if a source is worth the effort of a more thorough evaluation (such as the CRAAP Test method).
S is for Stop
The first move is the simplest. Stop and ask yourself:
Do I know and trust the source (website, magazine, author, etc.) of this information?
If you don't, stop reading and go to the next step, "Investigate the source".
Search online for information about your source. What do other sites or authors say about your source? How does Wikipedia or another general informational site describe the website, magazine, or author? Does the source have expertise in a certain area? Does it have a particular slant, agenda, or purpose?
Once you find some context, you can skip to the last step, "Trace claims back to their original context".
You don't have to do an exhaustive investigation, but you want some context before you start reading.
Check in with yourself to see if you're getting overwhelmed or spending too much time trying to investigate this source. If you are, it might be time to go on to the next step, "Find trusted coverage".
If you can't find out more about the source, or find that it's not reliable, move away from the particular source you're reading and try to find a different source that addresses the same claims from your original source.
Think about it like this: it's usually not the particular source you care about, it's the information, or the claim the source makes. You want to know, is the claim true or false? Does the claim represent a consensus viewpoint, or is it the subject of disagreement?
Start a new search, focusing on the claim of the original source. You're looking for a different, more trusted, more in-depth source that covers the topic or claim.
For example: if you find an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, you might open up a new tab in your browser and find a better source that covers this same topic, or you might scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be.
Finding a consensus doesn't mean you have to agree with it. But understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it.
T is for Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context
A lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context. Often only a part of a story is told, or a single claim is pulled from a scientific paper, making it very misleading.
In these cases, try to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense if the version you saw was accurately presented. Often there are clues in the source, such as a researcher's name, the date the original research was published, or the title of the journal where the research was published.
Ways to establish context:
Investigate the source: Who is the author, speaker or publisher? What's their expertise? What's their agenda? What's their record of fairness or accuracy?
Is the claim broadly accepted, rejected, or something in-between? By scanning for other coverage you can see the expert consensus on a claim, learn the history around it, and ultimately land on a better source.
What is the time frame of the evidence? Whether it's a quote or a video or a scientific finding -- sometimes it helps to reconstruct the original context in which the photo was taken or research claim made. It can look quite different in context!
A note about "fake news" also known as Disinformation or Misinformation:
In some cases these techniques will show you claims are outright wrong, or that sources are legitimately "bad actors" who are trying to deceive you (this is called "disinformation"). But even when material is not intentionally deceptive (this is called "misinformation") the moves do something just as important:
They reestablish the context that the web so often strips away, allowing for more fruitful engagement with all digital information.
How to ‘trade up’ to better sources when information reaches us from low-quality or unfamiliar places.
Evaluating Websites Using the CRAAP Test
Evaluating Information: Applying the CRAAP Test
from Meriam Library, CSU at Chico
When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it . . . but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.
Currency: The timeliness of the information.
When was the information published or posted?
Has the information been revised or updated?
Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
Are the links functional?
Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.
Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
Who is the intended audience?
Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?
Authority: The source of the information.
Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.
Where does the information come from?
Is the information supported by evidence?
Has the information been reviewed or referred?
Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
Purpose: The reason the information exists.
What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?