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Evaluating Sources: The SIFT method

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What is SIFT?

SIFT is an evaluation method developed by Michael Caulfield, a digital literacy expert, from Washington State University, for assessing the credibility and reliability of online content. The SIFT methods can be used to evaluate different kinds of online information like social media, videos, images, news articles, scholarly articles, statistics, etc.










Image source: "Check, Please!" Starter Course by Michael Caulfield 




SIFT provides additional evaluation skills to build on approaches like the CRAAP and other checklist methods to evaluate online content.

Some questions you might ask using a checklist when initially looking at a web resource:

  • Does this webpage look professional?
  • Are there spelling errors?
  • Do all the links work?
  • Does it use technical/scientific language?
  • Does it provide references? 

These types of questions are not sufficient. Why?

  • Anyone can easily create a polished professional looking webpage 
  • Anyone can use spell checkers and provide working links
  • Technical/Scientific language does not always connote expertise nor reflect the agenda of the content
  • The inclusion of references does not necessarily make the content more credibile


It's about REcontextualizing

There's a theme that runs through all of these moves: it's about getting the necessary context to read, view, or listen effectively. And doing that first.

Who the speaker or publisher is, is one piece of context.  What is their expertise? What is their agenda? What is their record of fairness or accuracy? To get at these answers, we investigate the source. Just as when you hear a rumor, you want to know who the source of it is before reacting to it; when you encounter something on the web, you need the same sort of context.

When it comes to claims, a key piece of context includes whether they are broadly accepted or rejected or something in-between. By scanning for other coverage, you can see the expert consensus on a claim, learn the history around it, and ultimately land on a better source.

Finally, when evidence is presented with a certain frame — whether a quote, a video, or a scientific finding — sometimes it helps to reconstruct the original context in which the photo was taken or the research claim was made. It can look quite different in context!

In some cases, these techniques will show you claims are outright wrong, or that sources are legitimately "bad actors" who are trying to deceive you. But even when the material is not intentionally deceptive, the steps do something just as important: they reestablish the context that the web so often strips away, allowing for more fruitful engagement with all digital information.


This SIFT method guide was adapted from Michael Caulfield's "Check, Please!" course. The canonical version of this course exists at The text and media of this site, where possible, are 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.