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Research Guides

WRIT 231D: Writing the Wave: Women Writing the 21st Century Essay

Critically Evaluate Your Sources

Here are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing and using both print and online sources:

  • Accuracy - What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced? Does the author cite their sources and are the sources legitimate?
  • Authority - Who wrote the source? Is the author credible? What are the author's credentials (educational background, past writing, experience) in this area? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Who published the source? Is the publisher scholarly (university press, scholarly associations)? Commercial? Government agency? Is the source self-published (“vanity”press)? For online information, check the domain of the document — what institution publishes this document?
  • Objectivity - Does the author have a bias, political or commercial or persuasive?
  • Currency - Is this information new or based on outdated sources? Can you tell how current it is? How up-to-date are the links (if any)?
  • Audience - Who is the information written for: a specific readership, level of expertise, or age/grade level? Is the audience focus appropriate for a research paper?


Unsure about a source? I'm happy to help!

Using the SIFT Method to Evaluate Sources

Mike Caulfield (Director of Blended & Networked Learning at Washington State University) developed this short list of things to do when looking at an information source, drawing on the habits of professional fact checkers.

the steps of SIFT: Stop, investigate the source, find trusted coverage, trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.

Infographic for SIFT by Mike Caulfield from Check, Please! Starter Course, used under CC-BY license. 

Read about these "four moves", and watch the short videos below to learn more about these techniques.

Online Verification Skills

These short videos by Mike Caulfield provide a good introduction to the S.I.F.T. method. (These were made before he coined the acronym, so the order is slightly different, but the basic ideas are the same.)

Video 1: Introductory Video [3min 13sec]

This video illustrates the importance of evaluating sources through something called “lateral reading” (when evaluating a website, looking at what others have said about that page, rather than relying primarily on what the site says about itself).

Video 2: Investigate the Source [2min 44sec]

This video introduces the technique of looking up a source in Wikipedia as a first step towards learning more about a site or organization.

For more detailed instructions for investigating a source you find online, go to Investigating the Source on this guide.

Video 3: Find the Original Source [1min 33sec]

You may often find a claim or piece of information online that isn't coming directly from the individual or organization who made it. Here are some tips on to going "upstream" to find the source.

Video 4: Look for Trusted Work [4min 10sec]

Professional fact checkers seek out coverage of an issue from reliable sources.

A reliable source for facts should have:
  • "a process in place for encouraging accuracy, verifying facts, and correcting mistakes"
  • expertise in the relevant area
  • a strong incentive to get things right, regardless of their overall agenda or aim.

Adapted from Mike Caulfield, "Evaluating a Website or Publication's Authority", Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, used under a CC-BY 4.0 license.

Investigating a Source with Wikipedia

Open a new tab and enter the [organization's name / website] wikipedia into the search box. What do other sources say about the organization's reputation, funding, and bias?

Why Wikipedia? Wikipedia has guidelines for determining the reliability of publications that are designed to help "people with diametrically opposed positions argue in rational ways [...] using common criteria" (Caulfield, 2017). Not all Wikipedia articles are of equal quality. More established (longer and/or older) articles are more likely to be of higher quality, as they are more likely to have been reviewed and edited by multiple editors.

Reviewing an article's references can help you evaluate the article's quality. Wikipedia often will let you know if there are potential problems with an article's sources by including messages like this:
This article needs additional citations for verification. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Google Advanced Operators

Another alternative is to use Google's advanced operators to find references to an organization that aren't coming from the organization's own site. (It may still find social media pages or related sites run by the organization.)

Use -site:[domain] to eliminate search results from the domain you specify.

For example: "American Immigration Council"

What is Peer Review?

Many databases allow you to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles. Learn about peer review in this short video (from the University of Kansas Libraries).