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CMSD 3070: Website Evaluation for Communication Sciences (Finn): Evaluation Criteria

SIFT Method for Evaluating Sources

The top 10 items you retrieve from Google (or any search engine) will most accurately match your search terms, but should we pay attention to them? How can we get better at distinguishing fact from fiction and everything in-between? The SIFT method was designed to be 4 easy moves to help us analyze information to establish credibility of online media.


It’s about REcontextualizing. There’s a theme you'll see that runs through all of these moves: they are about reconstructing the necessary context to read, view, or listen to digital content effectively. In a vast majority of cases, these moves reestablish the context that the web so often strips away, allowing for more fruitful engagement with all digital information.

First Move: Stop


This reminds us to do two things: 

  • Are you familiar with the website or information source where you're currently reading this information?  
  • What do you know about the reputation of the website or the claim/ being made?

If you don't know, then move on the following steps to figure out if the source and/or the claim/headline/report is trustworthy and factual. Throughout this process check your emotions and cognitive bias, and if you get overwhelmed take a second to remember your original purpose.

Second Move: Investigate the Source

Investigate the Source

You want to know what you're reading before you read it. 

Investigate the expertise and agenda of the source to determine its significance and trustworthiness. Questions we might ask ourselves: 

Who are the creators?

  • What kind of content is this? 
  • Who are the creators? 
  • Who is it published by? 
  • Why did they create this?
  • Is the site or organization I am researching what I thought it was?
  • If not, does it make it more or less trustworthy?

Is the information being conveyed reliable and substantial? 

  • Does the site contain useful research-based information, or only opinions?
  • Are facts or statements footnoted where necessary?
  • If a position is taken, is it advocated in a rational, reasonable manner, providing supporting, verifiable evidence?
  • Is supporting evidence used in an accurate, unbiased manner?
  • Does the site use manipulative techniques to influence readers? If so, what are they?
  • Does the site link to other reliable, reputable sources of information?
  • If it does link to reliable sources, is it using these sources in a fair and reliable manner?
  • Can you discern the purpose of the site or webpage? 

Is the information up to date?

  • When was the webpage last updated?
  • Is the rest of the website up to date (if there are other pages on the website)?
  • Does the information appear to be current?
  • Are there any broken links?

Third Move: Find Better Coverage

Find Better Coverage

Sometimes when you investigate the source you'll find that the source is sufficient for your needs. 

  • Does your source make a questionable claim or use a direct quote?
  • What claim or quote are you trying to investigate?

Sometimes we can't determine the reliability of the source. And most of the time we don't really care about the source at all. We just want to get an accurate story on the subject from somewhere.

When the initial source you encounter is low quality and you just care about the claim your best strategy might be to find a better source altogether. 

Fourth Move: Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the Original Context

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to Their Original Context

If your original source is questionable, trace claims, fact check, and determine accuracy of claims.

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. It’s best 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. You might ask:

  • What other coverage is available on the same topic?
  • Can you find the original source?
  • Did they cite original research claims, or quotes correctly?


This content was modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.