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Communication 1071: Effective Public Speaking

This guide provides resources for the concept and persuasive speech assignments

How to Critically Evaluate Online Sources: SIFT Method

One method for quickly evaluating online content is the SIFT Method (introduced by Mike Caulfield). The steps are:

STOP before you read the article 

INVESTIGATE the source

FIND trusted coverage of the topic

TRACE claims to their original context. 

Practicing these habits can help you avoid common pitfalls like confirmation bias (only looking at information that aligns with your existing viewpoint) and relying on the source itself to evaluate its trustworthiness. 

Applying the Four Moves of the SIFT Method


  • Ask yourself whether you know the website or source of the information, and what the reputation of both the claim and the website is. If you don’t have that information, use the other moves to get a sense of what you’re looking at.
  • Don’t read it or share media until you know what it is.
  1. Second, after you begin to fact-check, it can be easy to want to "keep going" or get lost clicking on result after result. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, STOP and take a second to remember your goal.
  • If you just want to repost, read an interesting story, or get a high-level explanation of a concept, it’s probably good enough to find out whether the publication is reputable (Investigate the source, then stop).
  • If you are doing deep research of your own, you may want to chase down individual claims and verify them (Do all four SIFT moves.).
Learn more
Online Verification Skills — Video 2: Investigate the Source: This video shows how to use Wikipedia to efficiently learn more about sources and claims (this video clip starts halfway through the full video)

Investigate the Source

The idea here is that you want to know what you’re reading before you read it.

Now, you don’t have to do a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation into a source before you use it. But if you’re reading an article on economics by a Nobel prize-winning economist, you should know that. On the other side, if you’re watching a video on the benefits of milk that was created by the dairy industry, you want to know that as well.

Knowing the expertise and likely bias of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say. 

Fact-Checking Sites

Find Better Coverage

If you want to know whether the claim in your it is true or false or whether it is a major point of debate, your best strategy may be to ignore the initial source and look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim

Factors that make a trustworthy news source

  • Machinery of care: the publication has a process for making sure information is accurate and makes corrections if an error is made
  • Transparency: the publication clearly differentiates between types of articles, such as opinion pieces; contains links and references; and discloses conflicts of interest
  • Expertise: the publication hires journalists and reporters who have expertise in the topics they write about, and have been well-trained in ethical journalism
  • Agenda: the publication has a primary purpose to inform readers 

National Newspapers of Record

These are considered major publications that have a large, national audience and use editorial and reporting processes that are well-regarded and authoritative.  These newspapers have characteristics that give them a reputation for accuracy and high-standards.

Find Academic Sources

Sometimes through Internet searching you find academic-looking sources that may end up not been trustworthy. The best way to find reliable academic sources is to use library databases. See also the Finding Sources Using the Library Databases page of this Guide.

Learn more

Verifying Trustworthy Academic Sources: this video provides some tips for assessing the trustworthiness of academic sources you find online. 

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

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context, and we're not sure if we're receiving all the details. In these cases, you can trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in it’s original context and get a sense if the version you saw was accurately presented.

Learn more

Online Verification Skills — Video 3: Find the Original Source


The following Guides were used in preparation of this page:

"How Do I Investigate a source (S.I.F.T)?", CMST 220 Public Speaking: Evaluating sources

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