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SIFT: Evaluating Sources Online: Move 2: Investigate the Source

Move 2: INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE

This is the move where you answer the questions you asked in Move 1: Stop:

  • What IS this source, exactly? Is it a news article, a blog post, a government report, etc.?
  • Who wrote or created this source? 
  • Who published this source?
  • What is the purpose in publishing this source? To inform? To entertain? To make you feel feelings?

Don't worry about doing extensive research into your sources-- this is a quick check of the expertise and agenda of a source's creators, and it should only take around 1-2 minutes. 

And yet, spending even a few seconds learning about the expertise and agenda of the source of your information will help you greatly when it comes time to decide whether to use it or not!

Search Strategy: Control + F

By clicking Control and F simultaneously 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. 

Questions to Ask Yourself: Move 2

These are the questions you should ask yourself when you "just add Wikipedia" to learn about your source.

  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 a certain source looked trustworthy, like an objective news site, and it turned out to be a place that promoted conspiracy theories, you should be surprised. And then, as a result, you should trust the information from that source less. 

If you didn't really know what you were looking at, and you discover that it turns out to be a notable newspaper that's been around for decades, you will probably see the information as more trustworthy.

That said, always consider the topic that you're researching as well, and how these different organizations might be positioned differently to cover it. For instance, if the main events around a given subject are happening in New York City, you probably wouldn't consider a small-town newspaper in Ohio as the source that can best cover that story-- you'd want a source in New York City. However, the Ohio paper might be just the place to find the most reliable information about how COVID-19 is affecting rural Ohio communities, no matter how many awards a New York City source might have.

Search Strategy: Add Wikipedia

This video (3:33) talks about how to use Wikipedia to find out more about the source of your information. (Note that you are NOT using Wikipedia as a source to cite directly in your research-- you are finding out about the sources you ARE citing.)

But Should I Trust Wikipedia?

"Don't use Wikipedia as a source" is a mantra we've probably all heard at one time or another. And it's not entirely bad advice: Wikipedia--like all online sources-- should be approached carefully, particularly when the subject is something controversial or very recent. 

That said, Wikipedia can be one of the best places to go to learn about a consensus viewpoint on a topic. A consensus viewpoint is a perspective that most people who know about a subject will agree upon. 

Wikipedia has strict rules about where its community can source its facts, and it holds its authors to a neutral point of view. Therefore, Wikipedia often provides the best introduction that you'll find online to most subjects.

One of the best things about Wikipedia is its insistence that all major claims are accurately sourced. You can almost always find a footnote connected to a Wikipedia claim that will point you to that original source-- which you can then find and then potentially use as a source in your own research! 

See these tips for researching with Wikipedia.

Below is a video from the Stanford Civic Online Reasoning Project discussing how to use Wikipedia wisely when researching:

Verifying Sources is Important

This video discusses 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.

Attribution

Note: This SIFT method guide was adapted from Michael Caulfield's "Check, Please!" course. The canonical version of this course exists at http://lessons.checkplease.cc. 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.