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Cowles Library


FYS Toolkit: Evaluating Websites

A collection of tools to use for FYS instruction.

Lateral Reading

Lateral Reading is a strategy used by professional fact checkers to determine the reliability of online sources.

Evaluation Criteria from other Libraries

SIFT (The Four Moves)

The SIFT method involves four moves that help you reconstruct the context to read, view, or listen to digital information more effectively.


  • Before reading, ask yourself if  you know this site or source.
  • Do you know the agenda of the source or creator, or the purpose of this information?

Investigate the Source

  • Knowing the expertise and possible bias of the source before will help you better interpret their information.
  • You want to know what you're reading before you read it.

Find Better Coverage

  • See if you can find supporting information from sources you do know and trust.
  • Scanning multiple sources will help you determine if the consensus agrees or disagrees.

Trace Back to the Original Source

  • Online information is often second-hand and has been taken out of its original context.
  • Finding the original context will allow you to judge for yourself whether the information is represented accurately.

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


The CRAAP Test
for evaluating information sources
Currency – the timeliness of the information
  • When was the information published or posted?
  • When was the information last revised or updated? (online this is often found in the footer area)
  • Is the published date appropriate in relation to your research topic? Are you doing current or historical research?
  • Is this the most current information available on your topic?
  • If reviewing a web source, are the links functional or are they broken?
Relevance – the importance of the information to your topic
  • What is the depth of coverage?
  • Is the information unique? Is it available elsewhere? Does it reference another source?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the information at the appropriate level for your research or does it target a different type of audience?
  • Is it scholarly or popular material? 
  • Does it fulfill all your assignment requirements? 
Authority – consider the source
  • Who is the author, creator, or sponsor of the information?
  • What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is contact information available, such as an email address?
  • Is the source reputable? Does the author have a reputation? Google them!
  • Has the author published works in traditional formats, or only online?
  • If online, what does the domain/URL reveal about the source? Websites that end with .com are commercial websites (usually selling something). Websites with .edu are educational. Websites with .gov are official government websites. Websites with .org are organizations, commonly used for schools and non-profits. Don't accept .org websites at face value, be sure to check out the "About" section since for-profit entities also use them.
Accuracy – the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the information
  • Where does the information come from? Are there sources listed? Did the author provide a references list or bibliography?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Are the sources trustworthy and credible?
  • Can you verify the information from independent sources? Corroborate!
  • Are there spelling, grammar, factual, or other typographical errors?
Purpose – the reason the information exists
  • What is the purpose of the information? To Inform? Teach? Persuade? Sell? Entertain?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased?
  • Does the point of view appear objective, impartial, and considering multiple perspectives? This may require consulting other sources.
  • Is the information based on facts, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Does the site provide information or does it attempt to debunk other information? (Weighing positive evidence versus negative evidence)
  • Is the website free of advertising? 
  • Does the organization appear to support or sponsor the page? Is there a conflict of interest?

Adapted from

Criteria for Evaluating Websites

These criteria can be used to evaluate the quality and trustworthiness of websites, as well as any other published source (e.g., book, magazine article).


Coverage - How comprehensive is the information? Is it detailed, or does it only provide generalizations? This requires some critical thinking and usually includes examining the resource itself as well as verifying the information in other sources. May also involve evaluating Bias.

Currency - Is the information up to date? (Consider Keep in mind that this is not always a reason to rule out the information; depends on the subject.

Reliability, Completeness and Currency

Assessing the reliability, completeness and currency of various sources of information. These charts are a generalization, and regardless of the source we recommend using evaluation criteria to determine the quality of a given resource.