Evaluating Websites

When researching online, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available and simply use the first few pages that superficially seem official and relevant. However, with these simple tips, you can SIFT through the sources you find to determine which ones really are best, regardless of what PageRank, social media likes, or anyone else says.


SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating source credibility. SIFT stands for:

  • STOP. Pause.
    Ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim’s reputation. If not, use the moves below to learn more.
  • INVESTIGATE the source.
    Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator’s expertise and agenda. This identification and evaluation process is called Lateral Reading and is a key component of being a savvy information consumer. Is this source worth your time? Don’t simply take what the site says about itself at face value. Try Googling the author, organization, or website to see what others are saying about it.
    A company that sells health food products is not the best source for information about health benefits/risks of consuming coconut oil. A research study funded by a pharmaceutical company is also suspect.)
  • FIND trusted coverage.
    Sometimes it’s less important to know about the source and more importance to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.
  • TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
    Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). If needed trace the information back to the original source in order to recontextualize it.

Modified from Mike Caulfield’s SIFT (Four Moves) and Rowan University’s Evaluating Online Sources LibGuide

Later, when you determine that the site is worth your time, you can analyze the source’s content more carefully.


Why Lateral Reading?

Online Verification Skills – Video 1 (Newswise)

Lateral Reading in Action!

Online Verification Skills – Video 2: Investigate the Source (Newswise)