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ENGL 2 (Hart): Evaluating Online Information - SIFT

Research guide for English 2. Diane Hart's class.

What is SIFT?

SIFT is a simple method to use to quickly evaluate online content. SIFT provides you with a short list of things to consider before diving into the content of the online source to make quick, educated guesses about the reliability of a source. It stands for Stop, Investigate, Find, and Trace. While you will always start with Stop, you can execute the other steps in any order. Read below to find out about each step in the SIFT method.
We also have a full research guide on Evaluating Media in the Age of Fake News



The first step in the SIFT method is STOP. When you come to an online source, before you begin to fact-check, watch the video, analyze, pick apart, compare/contrast, ANYTHING, you should stop and ask yourself a few simple questions: Do I know enough about this source to trust the content? Do I know who is giving me the information? Is this a news organization, advocacy group, research center, etc.? What are their experiences or qualifications on the subject? The crux of this step is asking yourself, do you know enough about the source to move forward listening or reading their content. If the answer is no, the following steps will help answer some of these questions.


If the answer to the questions you asked in the first step (Stop) were that you didn't know much about the source, your next step should be to spend 1-3 minutes finding out about the source. This step is not asking you to become an investigative journalist, but just to find enough information about the source to determine whether you should spend any time reading or watching their content. Below are a few things to consider:

  • Use Wikipedia: Look up the organization, author, news source, etc. in Wikipedia. You can do this by typing the name and adding Wikipedia to the search bar. Example: American Institute of Physics Wikipedia. A Wikipedia page will show you a few key things to note about the reliability of a person, organization, or news source. 

Google Search

  • If it's a news source, it will list any journalistic awards, how wide the readership is, and how long they have been producing news. A newspaper with thousands of subscribers that has been around a while is a clue that it is reliable. Look at the snapshot below from Wikipedia. Example: Looking at how long the organization has been around, how many members there are, how large their budget is, and I can also do another quick search of the CEO, I can make an educated guess that this organization and its publications are reliable.

AIP Snapshot

  • Look for a controversy section in Wikipedia. This will let you know if the source has been involved in any issues that may lead you to believe they are unreliable.
  • Lastly, look for anything that mentions the bias of the source. For example: "...views align with conservative principles."
A note about bias vs. agenda. Bias should be considered when reading content but it shouldn't automatically exclude a source. We all carry our own biases. However, the agenda of the organization, news source, author, etc. is an even greater factor for determining the reliability of the source. An agenda is explicitly trying to persuade the reader. 


In order to find trusted coverage (the "F" in SIFT), there are three key components to think about and tricks to employ. 

Find Consensus

When you come across a claim either in your own social media feed or when doing research. You can copy and paste that claim into a browser search and determine if there are more sources making the same claim. You are trying to find out, did this event take place and is the even being described in the same way across many media forms, this is called consensus. For example: A story comes across your feed that says "Man Graffitis "Bird God" on Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Arch. You can copy and paste "Man Graffitis Bird God" into a browser and get the following results. You can see that the coverage of the incident is found in a variety of sources and is described in the same manner. You don't even need to open any of the links to come to this conclusion, it is apparent by reading the titles and snippets. 

search results

Find a Better Article

After you determine the consensus of a claim to be reliable and you want to share, make sure you are using a good article. For example: you come across a claim from your local news channel that Greenland is melting faster than ever. You have already copy and pasted that claim into your browser and in that search you find the same information from a NASA website. The better article to share is from NASA. In finding the better article, you have determined consensus and found a more widely known reliable source.

local news NASA

Start developing your own list of trusted sources and fact-checking websites

This last tool asks students to be proactive about future research. As you are doing academic research or as you are evaluating claims in your own social media feeds take note of the sources of information that you determine to be reliable. It will make it easier and faster in the future to determine consensus and to find better articles. Someone who does research quite a bit can look at page 1 of a Google search and know quickly which websites should be ignored because they have already built a list of sources to trust and not to trust. 


In order to give context to the materials you find online, you want to trace the material back to its original source. Photos are often misrepresented, videos can be clipped and edited, soundbites can be edited, statistics can be cherry picked to fit a narrative, and articles can be summarized by a third party that may include biased commentary. All of these reasons are why finding the original source of the materials you find are a good habit to get into. There are three types of materials below and tools for how to trace them back to their origination. 

Trace an Image 

Look for clues that tell you that the image is as it is described. For instance, if it is from a certain country, is there geography, flags, language, or signs that confirm this (many generic protest images get repurposed in misleading ways). If you want to find the original context for an image or video, you can either right click and choose search image with Google Lens, or you can save a screenshot from a video and upload it to Google's reverse image search. Google Lens will let you see where else the image can be found in other publications (hopefully one of your trusted coverage publication). It can also translate text if there is text in the image, which is great for finding clues. There are also many other reverse image search websites, feel free to experiment and choose your favorite. 

Google Lens


Tracing a Statistic

There are a few key tricks that you can use to determine the context of a statistic that you come across on social media. First, if there is a link to the original statistic, click the link. I know this seems obvious and it is, its just that we aren't all doing it even though we know we should. In the case below. There are a few things I can look up to know if this statistic is reliable. After clicking the link I can look up in Wikipedia the Office for National Statistics for England & Wales. I can learn from there whether they are an independent organization or if they have an agenda. I can also look up the author of the tweet to find out their credentials and if they are reliable. After all that, then we can look more deeply into the claims of the statistic in the tweet. 

Tracing an Academic Article

Many times you will come across the third party reporting of an academic article. When you see something that sounds like this: "According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association..." if there is a link to the actual article from the journal, again, you should click the link. You can read the abstract or summary of the article at the beginning and find out if the third party reporting is accurate or if they are mischaracterizing the academic article. If there is no link to an academic article for the claims being made, you can research to find that claim in another article.

In the example below, I find a claim that says watching cat videos will boost my mental health. When I open the article, there is no link to the original study. Therefore, I can copy and paste their claim into a new search to find an article that does have the link. Here I found a Wall Street Journal article making the same claims with a link to the original study. 

Video Series from Mike Caulfield

The video series below from digital literacy expert and educator, Mike Caulfield, outlines the simple steps of SIFT and provides examples of how to put them into practice.