Chapter 4: Evaluating information
The first step in SIFT is also the most simple: stop reading and consider why you’re engaging with this source instead of another. What drew you to this source, and how is it applicable for your needs? Specifically, you’ll want to stop and check these two things:
Everyone brings their own expectations to their research. These expectations can affect every step of your research process, from the search terms you use to the sources you choose to cite. For example, you may have a preconceived notion of what you think the research should show, but this may not be what the research actually shows.
If a source confirms or denies what you believe to be true, you may have an emotional reaction (e.g. anger, sadness, vindication, excitement). Use your reaction as a reminder to check yourself and make sure your emotions are not affecting the sources you use and how you use them.
Make it a habit to check your emotions and ensure that they aren’t affecting the choices you make in your research or life. After you check yourself, you can move on to evaluate your source using the other steps in SIFT. Verifying the truth of a source you agree with or finding additional sources that present a different perspective (even if it may upset you or contradict your beliefs) can strengthen your case.
Checking yourself in everyday life
Checking yourself is particularly important in your everyday life as well. You’ve likely had friends or family share an article on social media and had the comments explode. How many of the commenters do you think actually read the article? It’s possible that even the person who shared it didn’t read the whole article before reacting to the headline. When you know the person sharing something, it is natural to rely on their judgment. This can lead to embarrassment if you share or react to something that isn’t saying what you thought it was.
Checking your emotions and reading beyond the headlines and summary information for an article can help you avoid sharing false or inaccurate information, whether it’s for a class project or in conversations with friends on social media.
Check that you’re on task
Stop is also a reminder to stay on task. It is easy to get lost exploring interesting tangents while researching. As soon as you find yourself getting distracted, stop and remember your original goal. For a paper or project, this means focusing on your research question and sources that are directly related to it.
Let’s say you’re looking for examples of accessible interior design for a class project. As you’re searching, you stumble upon this article: “12 Incredible Dog Houses for Your Best Friend.” From here, you might decide to start exploring more examples of dog house design, or you can stop and ask whether this article is really adding anything to your project. Yes, it’s a fun distraction, but you still need to finish your research. By cultivating a habit of checking yourself regularly, you can avoid situations where a fun distraction becomes a lost afternoon.
In addition to checking that you’re on task through what you read, you can also check that you’re on task by using the right search terms. Think about the purpose of your research and whether the keywords you are using closely align with your research question. You can use the tips you learned in Chapter 1 to make sure you’re using the best keywords for your research question.
You’ll also want to determine whether the search tool you are using can help you find the right kind of sources for your research. Do you need in-depth research articles, information on current events, or other types of sources? You may find a lot of interesting sources in a newspaper index, but if you need to use peer-reviewed journal articles for your project, you should use the article indexes and databases rather than spending a lot of time on sources you won’t be able to use, no matter how interesting they seem. You can refer back to Chapter 2 for help navigating that process.