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SIFT: Stop, Investigate, Find, Trace: Investigate the Source


This is where you start to answer the questions you asked yourself at STOP: What kind of content is this? Is it a blog post, article, or statistic? Who wrote it? Who is it published by? 

Investigating the source does not require you to do in-depth research and analysis. Rather, this step is a quick check into the expertise and agenda of the online content in question.  

Taking sixty seconds to figure out where it 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.

Online Verification Skills

Here is a video (2:45) on the importance of verifying your sources. The next video is located in the Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to Their Original Context page of this guide. 

Search Strategy: Control + F

By clicking Control + F on your keyboard (Command + F for Mac) you can search for specific words or phrases within a document or webpage. 

This saves you time during the SIFT process. 

Below is a brief video (0:37) on how to carry out Control + F. 

Reputation and Expertise

Below is a video (4:41) that provides more information on reputation and expertise. 

Using Wikipedia as a Tool

Wikipedia is broadly misunderstood by faculty and students alike. While Wikipedia must be approached with caution, especially with articles that are covering contentious subjects or evolving events, it is often the best source to get a consensus viewpoint on a subject.

Because the Wikipedia community has strict rules about sourcing facts to reliable sources, and because authors must adopt a neutral point of view, its articles are often the best available introduction to a subject on the web.

The focus on sourcing all claims has another beneficial effect. If you can find a claim expressed in a Wikipedia article, you can almost always follow the footnote on the claim to a reliable source. Scholars, reporters, and students can all benefit from using Wikipedia to quickly find authoritative sources for claims.

Article: Can we trust Wikipedia? 1.4 billion people can't be wrong

Search Strategy: Just Add Wikipedia

Please note, you are not using Wikipedia for information to cite on a research paper. You are simply using Wikipedia as a tool to check the credibility and trustworthiness of the content in question. 

Below is a video (3:33) explaining the "Just add Wikipedia" strategy.

Two questions to keep in mind after you "Just add Wikipedia"

  1. Is the site or organization I am researching what I thought it was?
  2. If not, does it make it more or less trustworthy?

If you thought something was from a straight news site and it turns out to be from a conspiracy site, that should surprise you. And given your new knowledge, your initial impression of the trustworthiness should plummet. If you thought you were looking at a minor, unknown newspaper and it turns out to be a multi-award winning national newspaper of record, maybe your assessment of its trustworthiness increases. The effects on trust are of course contextual as well: a small local paper may be a great source for local news, but a lousy source for health advice or international politics.

Notebook Exercises: Initial Investigation

SIFT Prompt: Alexa-enabled toilet?
SIFT Discussion: Alexa enabled toilet?


SIFT Prompt: Alligator
SIFT Discussion: Alligator


SIFT Prompt: Volcano plane
SIFT Discussion: Volcano plane

Notebook Exercises: Further Investigation

SIFT Prompt: MH17
SIFT Discussion: MH17 (further reading: Government manipulation of online media)


SIFT Prompt: Warming claims 
SIFT Discussion: Warming claims


SIFT Prompt: Smoke-free
SIFT Discussion: Smoke-free


Note: 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, is 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.