It may seem like you can find anything on the Internet, but know that you need to use a different resource if you are doing college research and need to find reputable web resources.
Once you have sources in hand and are working to use them to build an effective, persuasive argument that will be accepted by not only your professor but also by the scholarly community, you also need to devote time to evaluate the sources you are using to make sure they meet the standard needed in an academic paper. Being able to accurately evaluate the information you find while doing research is a useful skill to have. Academic libraries and the Internet are both large sources of information with extensive resources. Both, libraries and the internet, develop their resources differently and evaluating what is there and available is not always easy.
An easy tool to use to help you evaluate the sources you are using is to remember a short list of things to do when looking at a source. Simply remember S.I.F.T and apply the principles to any source you have:
S - Stop: Anytime you hit a source, stop to consider a few things. Ask yourself if you know the source and trust the information it is imparting to you. This is vital especially for websites where some information is less credible than other places.
I - Investigate: Know what you are 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.
This doesn't mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can't ever 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.
F - Find trusted coverage: Everything that you will read for this - and all of your - projects are making claims. They are trying to impart information to you in a manner to persuade you that they and their interpretation is right. In order to judge this, you need to ignore the first source that reached you and look for other trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. In other words, if you receive an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, the winning strategy may be to open up a new tab or find a new book and find the best source you can that covers this, or, just as importantly, scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be. In these cases we encourage you to "find trusted coverage" that better suits your needs — more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied. We'll show you some techniques to do this sort of thing quickly.
Do you have to agree with the consensus? Absolutely not! But understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it.
T - Trace claims, quotes, and other information back to the original context: A lot of times, in any kind of source you find, the context of a quote or video has been stripped away. This is done because the creator has chosen to not include some information, either due to space/time constraints, or has willfully left out information that does not agree with their point of view. For example, maybe there's a video of a fight between two people. But what happened before that? Who started it? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there's a picture that seems real but the caption is dubious at best. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment supposedly based on a research paper — but you're not certain 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 and get a sense if the version you saw was accurately presented.
By employing these moves in your evaluation, you will be able to recontexutalize your sources to make sure they meet your need and will help you to effectively - and properly - make your argument and defend your claim as you work through the project.
*Courtesy of LaTrobe University Library