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COM 200 Fall 2022

for students in Professor DiDonato's two courses.

SIFT method of evaluating information sources


Free Ebook Online: Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael Caulfield.

(Be sure to click the arrow next to CONTENTS to view the table of contents)

What is SIFT?

A magnifying glass looking at a website icon, a question mark and a paper iconWhat is the SIFT method?

  • 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.
  • The steps to SIFT were created by by digital literacy expert Michael Caulfield (Washington State University Vancouver) as a way for students to practice the habits needed to verify facts and rediscover the context around information, which can be removed in our digital world. 
  • The steps can be completed in any order, other than STOP being first, and you may not even need all of the steps depending on the information and your questions about it. 

Watch the video below to learn more about how to use this evaluation method! 

How do we "Stop"?

Yellow hand held up with text that says Stop The first move is the simplest. STOP reminds you of two things:

  1. If you STOP before you start reading content, you’re able to ask yourself if you trust the website or the source of information. Don’t read it or share it until you know what it is.
  2. Further on, you may have to STOP again to remind yourself what your goal is. Adjust your strategy if it isn't working. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose.
  3. The steps can be completed in any order, other than STOP being first, and you may not even need all of the steps depending on the information and your questions about it. 

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.

STEP 3: Find Better Coverage

Yellow icon of a chart with the text Find Better CoverageIn Step 3, we're focused on whether the information is true, and less on the source itself: 

If you encounter information while reading a source that you don't know much about, you may just want to verify that the information is true without spending time verifying that source. 

Or perhaps you know it's a low quality source! So you need to find better coverage of that information elsewhere in a source that you DO trust.

How can we do that easily? 

KEYPOINT: Expert fact-checkers have a group of high-quality news source that they trust.

  • This makes verifying information easy for them. You may not have this foundation yet but you will build it as you investigate more sources! Or ask a librarian for help. 

KEYPOINTSometimes you’ll find that no one else is writing about it, which is often a warning sign. 

  • If it's a big news event, it could be a warning sign about the source and that what you're reading is fabricated/false information. Or it could be that the event is still happening.

How do we "trace claims?"

Icon of a puzzle with one piece removed and the text Trace claims, quotes and media to the original contextIn the world of reposting, retweeting and re-reporting, we need the skills to locate original writing and trace claims to a source that has verified the information.

Due to the way information is shared online, you may find info that has been stripped of context. This could be due to inaccurate or misleading re-reporting, edited sound and video, images being shared with inaccurate captions, etc.

There may be times when added analysis improves the story that you read. However, in most cases when a story circulates over and over, it can create a game of telephone where the information becomes warped and you’re presented with either a radically wrong version of an event or research. Or someone has added too much of their own opinion. This is when you investigate further and start tracing back to the original source for full context.