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A Research Guide for Agricultural & Food Systems 401

Methods for Determining the Credibility of Resources

There are many different tests used for evaluating an article or website that you've found online. I think SIFT, developed by WSU Vancouver's Mike Caulfield is the best for it's simplicity and usefulness. 

The key to SIFT is reconstructing the necessary context to so as to read, view, or listen to digital content effectively.



The following information was taken from Mike Caulfield's Sift - The Four Moves




When you first arrive at a webpage, article, etc. 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 "lateral moves" to get a sense of what you’re looking at. This means doing exploration, perhaps in another browser window, before you read the resource that you found.

Don’t read it or share media until you know what it is.

If you are doing scholarly research, you will probably want to chase down individual claims in an article and independently verify them. 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.

Please keep in mind that both sorts of investigations are equally useful. Quick and shallow investigations will form most of what we do on the web. We get quicker with the simple stuff in part so we can spend more time on the stuff that matters to us. But in either case, stopping periodically and reevaluating our reaction or search strategy is key.

Tip 1:  After you begin to use the lateral moves it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole, going off on tangents only distantly related to your original task. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remember your purpose.

Tip 2: Want to learn more about "lateral reading" as it relates to media literacy. Take a look at WSU Vancouver's Mike Caulfield's short book "Web literacy for student fact-checkers (and other people who care about facts."


investigate_the_source Investigate the Source

The key idea here is to know what you're reading *before* you read it.

This doesn't mean you have to do a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you're reading a piece on economics by a Nobel prize-winning economist, you should know that before you read it. Conversely, if you're watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption that was put out by the dairy industry, you probably want to know that as well. All of this will assist you in contextualizing the information that you're reading.

This doesn't mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry shouldn't be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say. 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.


find better coverage Find Better 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. If you get an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, 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. In lesson two we’ll show you some techniques to do this sort of thing very quickly.

Do you have to agree with the consensus once you find it? Absolutely not! But understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it and form a starting point for future investigation.


trace claims Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding — but you’re not certain if the cited research paper really said that.

In these cases you have to 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.


Caulfield, M. (2019, October 19). SIFT (The Four Moves).

Lateral Reading & Navigating Digital Content

Definition: Media literacy "provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy ("

Media literacy is an ongoing process of learning, critical examination, and refinement of skills. 

A large part of 21st Century media literacy is navigating digital information

For more information regarding navigating digital information, check out this 13:51 video from CrashCourse

Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating a Resource

Here are a few simple questions that you can ask yourself hen you are reviewing a resource to determine if it is biased and/or misleading:


Who created this message?

Was this resource created by an independent outlet? Is it scholarly? Is it an industry publication? Did a government agency create this message? What authority comes from the disseminator? 


Who is the target audience?

Message producers often direct their message to specific groups. So who is the target? How does the target audience effect the message? Furthermore, how might different groups understand the message?

What values and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

All media messages contain embedded values and points of view. What are they? Are there point of views that are omitted? Why is that? What is value system of the sender?

Why was this message sent?

What's the purpose of this message? Is it an advertisement? Is it meant to be informative or news? Is it meant to influence behaviors? Who stands to benefit from the dissemination of that message?

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