Skip to Main Content

SIFT-ing to Evaluate Sources

The SIFT strategy is quick, simple, and can be applied to various kinds of online content: social media posts, memes, statistics, videos, images, news articles, scholarly articles, etc.

STEP 2: Investigate

Icon of a person wearing a hat with the text "investigate the source"The next step is to Investigate the answers to the questions you asked yourself at the STOP step:  

  • What type of content is this - blog post, news article, or statistic? What is the purpose?
  • Who wrote it?  
  • Who is it published by?  


KEY POINT: Investigating the source does not require you to do in-depth searching and analysis.

  • Rather, it can be as simple as taking sixty seconds to figure out where it is from before reading which can will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthinessWatch the video below and check out the tabs at the top for a few quick strategies! 

KEY POINT: You will need to do more in-depth analysis to understand more complex issues like climate change or healthcare policy. 

  • The SIFT steps help you to create context around the author, credibility and purpose of a source. However, you are not doing in-depth research on any of these sources or topics and a more thorough process will be needed for more complex issues. 

In the previous video, Mike Caulfield explains how to use Wikipedia and a quick Google search to gather more information about a source to understand its purpose and creators. 

To do a quick evaluation of a site:

  1. Open a browser to a search engine and type the name of the website into the box. Make sure to remove the https://.
  2. Use quick sources such as Wikipedia to get basic facts about the source's ownership, methods and purpose. 
  3. Check other sites:
    • What does the web have to say about that source? Troublesome red flags?
    • Are they considered a reputable source by others? Do they have expertise in that area or reliable experience?

KEYPOINT: Wikipedia can get a bad rep sometimes because anyone can edit the pages.

  • However, the site does maintain strict editorial standards and can be a great source for understanding the basics of a topic or source. Always explore further for understanding and in's and out's of a topic.

Blue Twitter bird logoIn today's information landscape, you'll often find news and commentary sites using Tweets or other social media posts in their reporting. Or someone you know will share a post that makes you STOP. 


Applying a few quick investigative steps can help you add context back to a conversation or verify the credibility of the author: 

  1. If you're on Twitter, hover over the account name.
    • What does their bio say about them?
    • Do they have a logical number of followers for who they claim to be? Example: Are they claiming to be a reliable newspaper but have 100 followers?
  2. If you paste their handle and/or name into a Google search, what results come back? Apply the same questions from the previous tab to locate info about this source.
  3. Check the "News" tab on Google to see what articles have been written (if any) about this person/source.

Images are frequently edited or taken out of context on the internet. In a few steps, you can check to see if it has been changed or used in an incorrect way. 

  1. Do a reverse image search on Google. Right-click on the image and select "Search Google" or "Search for Image". The results will include sources where that image has also appeared. 
  2. Another option is to save the image to your computer or device, open and upload the image. 
  3. As you examine the search results, look for the original source of that image. Example: Images of past protests may be frequently recycled to create confusion and misinformation about current happenings.

Let's Try It

Let's say you're checking out the news and see an article with the headline below from Slate.

You STOP because you see a headline with some interesting and not very flattering terms but you're not familiar with this source. What kind of site would post this type of headline? 

Screenshot of article with the headline "The reason Southwest Airlines had an epic meltdown this weekend"

So you open a new tab and do a quick search or perhaps even add Wikipedia to your search:

Screenshot of Google search with in the box

Your search results should include Wikipedia entries either as the first few or on the right side of the page. 

Search results for the search wikipedia

On the Wikipedia page (below), you should note a few things that will help you get an idea of the purpose of Slate as a source and therefore whether you want to read or use the information from that article.

First, they're described as a "liberal progressive online magazine". This tells us a bit about the perspectives you will read in their articles and that it could perhaps be missing other perspectives. 

Next, you'll see that a former editor-in-chief described their purpose as "helping readers to analyze and understand and interpret the world". So they are not sharing straight, unbiased news but rather sharing the viewpoints of their authors. This can explain their headline with loaded language that you normally wouldn't see in news that upholds journalistic standards of objectivity. 

Screenshot of the Wikipedia page for Slate (magazine) with two highlighted sections

Based on these two facts from Wikipedia, you now know:

a) if the article will fit your information need. If you're looking for less biased information or a strictly factual account of the problems at Southwest Airlines in 2021, this might not be the choice. 

b) the context of the information being presented - what cultural view the authors are taking, for example.

Now you try it...

Write down your reflections on this process below in your notebook or online document.

  1. Pick a source from an assignment or search that you completed recently. 
  2. Do a web and/or Wikipedia search for that source. 
  3. Did you find out anything new about that source's background, reputation or work? 

While Twitter can be a valuable primary source of up to date information, it is also a place where emotions are high, fact-checking can be low and mis-information spreads quickly. 

Being able to quickly determine the reliability of a source is essential! Mike Caulfield's video below provides a quick demonstration of how to check sources on Twitter (and social media in general!)

So much of the information we take in online is visual including images. In addition, those images can be manipulated (Photoshopped), captioned incorrectly or used in the wrong context. In the short video below, Mike Caulfield shows some tricks for determining the real context of an image. 

Creative Commons Acknowledgement

Note: The information on this SIFT guide was adapted from "Check, Please!" (Caulfield) & the adaptation guide from Wayne State University. The canonical version of this course is available at (Links to an external site). The text and media of this site, where possible, is released into the CC-BY, and free for reuse and revision. We ask people copying this course to leave this note intact so that students and teachers can find their way back to the original (periodically updated) version if necessary. We also ask librarians and reporters to consider linking to the canonical version.

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.