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Doing Research

The SIFT model & the four moves

The SIFT model of evaluating web sources includes a short list of things to do when looking at a source.

Check the image below to see which are the steps of the SIFT model.

1. Stop

This is the first and easy move from which you should start when you jump into a website. 

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know the website?

If you don't know or trust the website or source of the information, don't read it or share it until you find more about it. But be careful and try not to get lost in a "click cycle". Just keep reminding yourself about the purpose of your research and the goal that you want to achieve. 

2. Investigate the source

This is the second move that you should make and which goes deeper in understanding the source.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I read before I read it?

You don’t have to do a thorough investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you’re reading an industry profile on soft drinks written by MarketLIne and not the Coca Cola Co., you should know that before you read it. This doesn’t mean the report will always provide accurate information about the soft drink industry. But knowing that the report has been put together by expert analysts and the agenda of the source is important to your interpretation of what it states. Take a few seconds to figure out where the source comes from before reading it. This will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its value and trustworthiness.

3. Find better coverage

This is the third move that you should make and which takes away from the source.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the claim of the source true or false?

You want to know if it represents a general agreement, or there are opposing viewpoints? In this case, the best strategy is to ignore the source and look for additional analysis on the claim. If you get an article that says Lynx is an endangered species from the Save the Lynx Foundation, you should better leave the source and look for multiple sources and see what the experts seems to say about this. In these cases, try to “find other coverage”, that cover the topic with in-depth information or just several sources from which you can find different perspectives. 

The lateral reading strategy

Lateral reading is a technique that good professional fact checkers have established to check their information sources. It is a technique that can help you with the third move of the SIFT model which leads you away from the original source. It includes reading for the source horizontally meaning that you move away from the source you want to check and that you visit and read additional sources which you open in different tabs. This technique will allow you to piece together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture as the truth is hidden in commentaries and links in the network.

Watch the videos below to understand how to apply the lateral reading technique and how it differs from checking a source vertically.

Lateral Reading Tips

There is a number of tips that can help you when you apply the lateral reading strategy based on the type of source you need to evaluate.

Websites checks

  • Google the title of the website.
  • Check Wikipedia.

Scholarly articles checks


News claims checks

  • Google the claim.
  • Use information in the news source to trace back to the scholarly study.

Image checks


4. Trace the original source

This is the forth move that leads you to the background of the claim.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the context behind the source?

On the web you may find sources like pictures, videos or claims that are apparently based on a research paper but you are not sure if the paper supports it. In these cases we'll have you trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context. When it comes to claims, a key piece of context includes whether they are broadly accepted or rejected or something in-between. By scanning for other coverage you can see the expert consensus on a claim, learn the history around it, and ultimately land on a better source. Finally, when evidence is presented with a certain frame — whether a quote or a video or a scientific finding — sometimes it helps to reconstruct the original context in which the photo was taken or research claim made. It can look quite different in context!