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Research Strategies: Evaluation Toolkit

Evaluation Toolkit

Evaluation Exploration Toolkit

Lego Hiker

This is a toolkit for you to rummage around in, taking questions to ask and ways to think from each. No one set of questions has all the answers - it's up to you, the intrepid information explorer, to assemble your expeditionary tools, as you evaluate the information you find.

Information is created for a reason. Nothing slipped & fell and ended up on the internet, or in print, or on TV. It takes an act of human intentionality to create and publish information. This toolkit will give you a starting point to pull back the curtain on what you read, watch, listen to, or experience.

SIFT: a set of 4 Moves for Web Evaluation

SIFT four moves web evaluation technique

The "things to do"  moves from information literacy expert Mike Caulfield.

SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating source credibility. SIFT (from Mike Caulfield) stands for:

  • STOP. Pause and ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim's reputation.
    If not, use the four moves (below) to learn more. If you start getting too overwhelmed during the other moves, pause and remember your original purpose.
  • INVESTIGATE the source.
    Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Is this source worth your time? Look at what others have said about the source to help with you these questions. (See the "Four Moves" below for more on investigating sources.)
    (For example, a company that sells health food products is not the best source for information about health benefits/risks of consuming coconut oil. A research study funded by a pharmaceutical company is also suspect.)
  • FIND trusted coverage.
    Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more important to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.
    Again, use the Four Moves below.
  • TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
    Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). If needed trace the information back to the original source in order to recontextualize it. 

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

Later, when you determine that the site is worth your time, you can analyze the source's content more carefully.

Information adapted from Rowan University's Campbell Library resources on Evaluating Online Sources.

Six Questions

What type of content is this?

  • Recognize first what kind of content you’re looking at.
    • Is it a news story? Or is it an opinion piece? Is it an ad or what some people call native advertising produced by a company? Is it a reaction to someone else’s content?

Who and what are the sources cited and why should I believe them? 

  • News content usually cites sources for the information provided. These are the people quoted, or the documents or reports or data being referred to.

Evidence: What's the evidence and how was it vetted?

  • Evidence is the proof that the sources offer for what they know. It overlaps with how close someone is to an event. But even highly credentialed sources may begin to speculate sometimes. They may be guessing.
    • So, first, identify the evidence that any source is offering. Circle it. Write it down. Do it as an exercise a couple times. It becomes easy to recognize.

Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence?

  • Most media content offers a thesis, or main point, of some kind [...]  ask whether this main point makes sense, and whether the conclusions are supported by the evidence offered.

Completeness: What's missing?

  • Most content should lead to more questions. An important step in being a critical, questioning consumer is to ask yourself what you don’t understand about a subject. Look back at the piece. Did you miss something? Or was it not there?

Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need?

  • Think about what media you consumed yesterday. What did you learn about? What did you read about?