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Journalism & Media Studies

SIFT (Four Moves and a Habit) Website Evaluation

1. Stop

First, when you first hit a page or post and start to read it — STOP. Ask yourself whether you know the website or source of the information, and what the reputation of both the claim and the website is. 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.

2. Investigate the source

You want to know what you’re reading before you read it. Knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say. Taking sixty seconds to figure out where media is from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness.

3. Find trusted coverage

Sometimes you don’t care about the particular article or video that reaches you. You care about the claim the article is making. You want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement. In this case, your best strategy may be to ignore the source that reached you, and look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. Your best bet might not be to investigate the source, but to go out and find the best source you can on this topic, or, just as importantly, to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be. In these cases we encourage you to “find other coverage” that better suits your needs — more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied.

4. Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. 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.

*Credit for SIFT goes to Mike Caulfield and is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

SIFT (The Four Moves)

Steps you should take every time they come across an unfamiliar claim or source.

Check, Please! Starter Course

Using Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

5W + 1H = Confidence

How to evaluate the credibility and quality of your sources.



Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Who wrote the page?  
  • What are their qualifications or credentials?
  • Is contact information available?
    • Name (individual, company, organization), Email, Phone, Mail address?
  • Who owns the domain name?


  • Who collected the data? 
  • Do they have an interest in the results?

To establish identity and credentials, check for the following:

Tip: When searching for names, use a variety of combinations.

firstname lastname
“Firstname lastname”
“first name * lastname”


Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Statement of mission, purpose, target audience?
  • Are sources/information documented?
  • Evidence of a point of view/bias?
  • Agenda of a political, religious, social group or institution?
  • If advertising, is it clearly differentiated from the content?
  • Part of a larger publication/site?  If so, what is it and what is the mission/purpose of that publication?


  • Do the statistics show any bias?
  • Is the coverage complete?  What was the size of the sample for study?
  • Has the data been repackaged?
  • Is the data from a primary source?  If a secondary source, has it been documented so you can find it?

Use information and links found on the pages:

  • Check About Us, Sponsors, Philosophy, Background, but verify self-reported information using the tools in the Who section above.
  • Truncate the url through each forward slash "/" to see the context of the page you are reading.



Questions to Ask Tools to Use

Copyright, Content, Update

  • Is there a date--copyright or content?
  • When was the file modified--update?
  • Is it updated and timely enough to be useful
  • Was it previously published?  If so, is there a cite/reference?
  • Is it “stale” or “dusty” information on a time-sensitive or evolving topic?


  • Are the data timely?
  • Are the data undated?

Use the metadata (hidden data that describes what you are viewing) to determine dates.

Static Web pages ending in .htm or .html

  • Copy/paste the following script into the search box on the page.
    • Note: if using Chrome you will need to manually type the search string.
  • Firefox: Right click on page > View Page Info > Last modified date
  • Internet Explorer: Right click on page > Properties > Created and Modified dates

Dynamic Web pages and time stamps

  • Some servers will include a time stamp for updates (modifications).

Page properties for files (.pdf, .doc)

  • PDF:  Select File > Properties
  • DOC: Select File > Info



Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Who is hosting the page (publisher)? 
  • How reputable is the publisher?
  • Is it what you would expect?
  • Can the information be found elsewhere?

Metrics about the site or blog


All-in-one social media



Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Type of domain?
    ◻com ◻org ◻gov ◻mil ◻net ◻~personal ◻US ◻non-Us
  • What is the page designed to do?
    ◻sell  ◻advocate  ◻inform  ◻vent/rant ◻other
  • Why would you use this information over other information available?
  • Does it fit with your research goals?


How well

Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Are there significant spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Is the site well organized and do the links work?
  • Are the facts correct and can they be verified?
  • Are there data or external sources to support opinions or conclusions?
  • Do the conclusions follow from the facts?
  • Is there “quality” information?
  • Documented with links or footnotes?
  • Links to other well chosen resources?
  • If copied/reproduced information, are there permissions listed?
A close reading of the page will provide the answers to these questions.


Final Judgement

Questions to Ask Tools to Use
  • Is it good enough?  
  • Is there another source?

Creating Web sites is easy, cheap (sometimes free), unregulated, and unmonitored.

The burden is on the reader to establish authorship, validity, timeliness, and integrity.

Caveat lector!  Let the reader beware!