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Political Science

Evaluating Sources

Now that you've found some potential sources, how can you evaluate them to make sure the information they contain is accurate and reliable? If you found your sources through the library or the resources provided on this guide the good news is, chances are you can trust the source.

Unfortunately, it is still possible for fraudulent or deceptive sources to sneak through the cracks.  A perfect example of a fraudulent article that was initially published and later retracted is Andrew Wakefield's 1998 article falsely linking the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to Autism. Knowing it's possible for fraudulent and potentially damaging information to get published and disseminated in typically reputable circles, how can you ensure you are not contributing to the spread of misinformation? 

The first step is realizing that regardless of where you obtain your information, it's always a good idea to fact check and make sure the information is trustworthy.

Although there is no one way to verify information, the following strategies provide a good place to start, especially when used in conjunction with each other.

SIFT Method

prospecting sieve sifting through water to find gold nuggetsStop

Investigate the source

Find better coverage

Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context

The SIFT method was created by University of Washington Research Scientist and digital literacy expert, Mike Caulfield in 2017. The method emphasizes actions people can take, over "checklist" items, and utilized lateral reading to verify information and sources. Click through the tabs at the top of the box to learn more about "the four moves" Caulfield suggests you take when encountering information that needs to be verified.

For more detailed information on the SIFT Method check out these links:

Stop what you're doing and assess

This one is pretty self-explanatory. As you're doing research it's a good idea to stop periodically and assess the situation.

If you've come across a new piece of information, it's important to stop and ask yourself:

  • Is this information surprising?
  • Is this information credible?
  • How can confirm the veracity of this information?

If you've moved on to the other three steps to verify the credibility of a piece of information, or are even just continuing your research it's a good idea to take a moment every now and then to stop and ask yourself:

  • Have I gone down a rabbit hole?
  • Is my search strategy working? - If not, how can I change my search strategy so it works for me?
  • Am I still finding relevant information for my research?
  • Do I need to reassess my initial purpose or research question?

These are just some examples of the types of questions you might ask yourself while researching, but regardless of what you ask, it's always important to stop periodically and reevaluate your information and research situation.

Investigate the source

This action asks you to take a moment to look into the source of the information. In many cases this can easily by accomplished by a quick Google search into the author and/or publisher and reading what's said about them.

Some questions you might ask yourself while investigating the source include:

  • Who is the author or publisher of this source?
  • What is their background regarding the subject?
  • Are they well known or considered a reputable source of information?
  • What might their biases be?
  • What is their implied agenda or purpose?

The goal of this investigation is not only to help you verify the trustworthiness of a source, but also to consider how their background might influence the information they provide or the way they present it and how that impacts its overall credibility or usefulness to your research.

You may find that you're getting a lot of your information from similar sources. In these cases, it might be a good idea to look for information from people with different backgrounds or perspectives to see if or how the information differs. Doing so, will better inform your research and ultimately help make your case stronger.

Find better coverage

This action is likely to come into play when you come across a new or surprising piece of information that you want to make sure is accurate. In this case, you may be more interested in the claim being made than the source of the information (although it's still a good idea to look into the source). When you encounter a piece of information that seems significant, but you want to verify its accuracy and are unsure about the reliability of the source, it's a good idea to see if you can find the same information from other sources. 

Some questions you might ask yourself include:

  • Does this claim seem unbelievable?
  • Who is making this claim?
  • Has this claim been disproven?
  • Do other sources make the same claim or provide the same information?
  • Is there a consensus on this claim among experts?
  • Is there contention or disagreement regarding this claim?
  • How reputable are the other sources making this claim?

Again, these are just some examples of the types of questions you might consider when investigating a claim. Regardless of what you ask yourself, the goal of this action is to find other, more credible sources that make the same claim to verify its reliability. 

Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context

It's important to remember that a lot of what we see in the news or online has been taken out of context and we're just given a snapshot of the information. As such, it's a good idea to trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original source to get the full context and make sure the information was presented in a way that is consistent with the whole story or background.

Some questions you might want to ask yourself include:

  • Did the original source actually make the claim being discussed?
  • What was the full context under which the person said or did that? (What happened before and after?)
  • What parts of the recording were cut out?
  • Was the image or recording edited or doctored in any way?
  • Is there something that seems fishy or misleading about the claim?
  • Did this actually happen the way they are suggesting it did?

Again, these are just some of the questions you may want to consider, but regardless, the idea here is to consider what information may have been left out, how that impacts the way this information is received, and how accurate the claim being made is in terms of the whole story.

With the advancement of AI tools and their ability to assist in the creation of deep fakes, it is especially important to trace information back to its original context to make sure it's real and accurate.


smiling poop emojiCurrency





Among the oldest and most widely known and utilized techniques for verifying the trustworthiness of a source, the CRAAP (or TRAAP) test asks readers to consider if the source meets five criteria. Click through the tabs at the top of the box to learn more about the five criteria readers should apply when attempting to verify the trustworthiness of a source.

Currency: How Current is your source?

Consider the following when determining the currency of your source:

  • How recently was your source published?
  • Has your source been superseded by a more recent or updated publication?
  • How frequently does new information on this subject come out?
  • Does new research expand upon or replace old information for this topic?
  • Does your topic or research question require new, current information or historical information?

In general, when considering the currency of a source it's important to determine if the recency of the information is appropriate or relevant given the subject of your research.

Relevance: Is the information relevant to your research?

Some questions to consider when determining the relevance of your source include:

  • Does the information relate to your topic or help answer your research question?
  • Who is the intended audience of the source?
  • Is the language and material of the source appropriate for your audience?
  • Does the source fulfill the requirements for your assignment?
  • Have you look at other sources before deciding to use this one? What makes this source better than the others?

Basically, when considering the relevance of a source you are deciding how useful and appropriate it is and why you want to include it.

Authority: Who is the author/publisher of your source?

When considering the authority of your source you may ask yourself:

  • Who wrote or published the source?
  • What organizations are they affiliated with?
  • What if any credentials or background do they have that would make them qualified to be an expert on the topic?
  • Can you verify those credentials?
  • What biases can you see in their work or infer from their background?

Basically, when determining the authority of a source you are considering what qualifications the author and/or publisher has that makes them a credible source of information on this topic.

Remember, just because an author is qualified to be an expert in one area doesn't mean they are qualified to be an expert in another.  Their expertise and authority is highly contextual.

Accuracy: How reliable is the information?

Some questions to consider when determining the accuracy of a source include:

  • Who was the author/publisher? Are they reliable sources of information on this topic?
  • When was the source published? Is the information still current, or is it outdated and been replaced?
  • Was the source reviewed prior to being published?
  • Is the information verifiable from other sources?
  • Does the author provide evidence for their claims?
  • Is the evidence cited?
  • What other sources does the author cite?
  • Where the research methods and/or sample size adequate for the research being done?
  • Can you identify any obvious problems in the way the research was conducted, gathered, or analyzed?
  • Do you notice any obviously biased language?

Basically, when determining the accuracy of a source you consider what elements makes the source trustworthy and which one's put into question the veracity of the claims being made.

Purpose: What are the intended goals behind the publication of the source?

Some questions to consider when determining the purpose of a source include:

  • Who was the author or publisher? 
  • What do their background and/or affiliations tell you about their possible reasons or motivations for publishing this information?
    What do they have to gain from publishing this information?
  • Was the source created to inform, teach, entertain, persuade, sell, etc?
  • Is the intended purpose made obvious or is it obscured?
  • Is the information factual or opinion based?*
  • Is the information presented as fact or opinion?*
    *If these two do not match, it calls into serious question the reliability of the source.
  • Is it propaganda?
  • Are political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases expressed?

Basically, when determining the purpose of a source you are considering the reasons behind the creations and dissemination of the information to ascertain how trustworthy it is.