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Choosing the Best Web Source: Evaluating Sources

Learn to recognize open and hidden web resources; determine if a site on the open web is reliable; & analyze resources on the open web.

Web Sites

It's common for students to consider all sources found online as "websites." However, a website can be many thing, including an ebook, a news source, a popular magazine, a scholarly journal, a library search tool, and more.

When an instructor or librarian talks about a "website" they usually mean a general purpose information site, such as one for a company, organization, or product or a general search site such as Wikipedia. These types of websites have a place in college-level research.

Information Need / Uses

  • Background information

  • Government information, data and statistics 

  • News / Current events 

  • Alternative points of view; Opinion / Analysis 

Intended Audience

General audience to members' only


  • Credibility and accuracy cannot always be assured  

  • High bias potential (author, publisher, etc.) 

  • Sources not always cited 

  • May be driven by advertising revenue 



Is It Credible?

Who created the information? Affiliations, qualifications/credentials, reputation, contact info, etc. Who published it? Who paid for it? Does the creator or publisher have a bias or a point-of-view that might affect the information?

What is the evidence? Do the claims make sense? Can claims be fact-checked? Are stories, hearsay, or innuendo used as “proof?” Do the facts given logically lead to the conclusions made?

When was the article published? When was it revised or updated? Is timeliness important for the topic or not?

Where is it published – popular magazine, academic journal, blog, news, website, etc.? If it’s a website, what kind? Newspapers, magazines, and some journals web publish. Was the information edited, reviewed, or refereed? By whom? Where did the author get their information? Are they citing sources? If so, are those sources credible? 

Why was the information created? How is it meant to affect its audience? Why are they telling me this? To inform, teach, sell, entertain, persuade, or something else?

Who or what is missing that might change the interpretation or understanding of the information?

These  4 moves developed by Mike Caulfield will help you evaluate any web source.

STOP - Do you know this website or the source of the information, and what the reputation of both the claim and the site? If not, to to the next move.

INVESTIGATE the source - you want to know what you’re reading before you read it.

FIND better coverage - When you care about the claim the article is making, ignore the source itself, and look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim.

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.

Currency: How timely is the information?

Relevance: How closely does the information meet your needs?

Authority: Who or what is the source of the information?

Accuracy: How reliable, truthful, and correct is the content?

Purpose: Why does the information exist?

Source: Who is providing the information?

Motivation: Why are they telling me this?

Evidence. What evidence is provided for generalizations?

Logic: Do the facts logically compel the conclusions?

Left Out: What’s missing that might change our interpretation of the information?

Find out more about the SMELL Test.

Infographic - Don't forget to SIFT

SIFT infographich

The SIFT method was developed by Michael Caulfield and is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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