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How do you evaluate a source?

How do you evaluate a source?

It's important to evaluate the quality of the sources you use in research.  There are plenty of sources that are a bad fit for your research purpose. For exmple, Wikipedia is a great place to start, and a horrible place to stop. Even Wikipedia says so!

So how do you evaluate a source?  Is there a difference between evaluating print and online sources? 

When evaluating a source, you will go through a similar process for both print and online. The criteria can be applied equally across print and digital sources, although the application may be a little different (journal vs. website for example).

For websites and online resources, we highly recommend incorporating the SIFT method onto your everyday life. 

You can use several different frameworks to evaluate the quality of the sources you use in research.  SDSU Library recommends students apply the ACT UP evaluation criteria:   Read through the evaluation criteria to see how to apply it to the sources you are considering choosing for your research.

SIFT 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

ACT UP Method

 Author: Who wrote the resource?

  • Who are they?
  • Background information matters.

Currency: When was this resource written?

  • When was this resource written?
  • When was it published?
  • Does this resource fit into the currency of your topic?

Truth: How accurate is this information?

  • Can you verify any of the claims in other sources?
  • Are there typos and spelling mistakes?

Unbiased: Is the information presented to sway the audience to a particular point of view?

  • Is information left out in order to adhere to a specific viewpoint?
  • Resources unless otherwise stated should be impartial.

Privilege: Check the privilege of the author(s).

  • Are they the only folks who might write or publish on this topic?
  • Who is missing in this conversation?
  • Critically evaluate the subject terms associated with each resource you found.
  • How are they described?
  • What are the inherent biases?