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Master Gardener

A selection of resources available through ISU Libraries relevant to the Master Gardener's Program


Why Evaluate Information?

It has become increasingly challenging to identify quality resources in a world where new information is constantly being published. Information can be misrepresented in several ways: it can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or presented in a biased manner. For these reasons, evaluating information is an essential part of the research process. Use the SIFT (Stop, Investigate, Find, Trace) guidelines for evaluating different information resources, from research articles to social media posts.


Using SIFT for evaluating sources

Using the SIFT Method for evaluating sources


The first step in SIFT is also the most simple: stop reading and consider why you’re engaging with this specific source instead of another. What drew you to this source, and how is it applicable to your needs? Specifically, you’ll want to stop and check these two things:

  • Check yourself. Recognize your own biases, beliefs, and potential blind spots and acknowledge that they will affect your judgment. 
  • Stay on task. It is easy to get lost exploring interesting tangents while researching. If this happens, stop and remember what you actually need for your project.



Even if the sources you’ve found seem to fit your research topic well, you will still need to evaluate them in other ways. You need to understand the background of the author(s) and publisher and answer these questions:

  • Who created or shared this source? 
  • What is the author's or organization's credentials and reputation?
  • How is the information presented; are these facts or opinions?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest that might affect the way that they represent this topic?



Wikipedia can be a very useful resource to use when beginning your research! Use it to find out contextual information about your topic is encouraged, but it's not a good idea to use Wikipedia as a final source for your research paper or publication. Mike Caulfield does an excellent job of explaining the benefits of Wikipedia in the video below.



Most of the time, you won’t be able to determine the reliability of information based on how it is covered in a single source. To get a better understanding of your topic and ensure that the information you’re using is reliable, find additional sources on the topic. Even if you think your original source is good, verifying what you’ve found with additional sources will strengthen your research. Use the following questions to guide your exploration:

  • What else is out there on the topic?
  • Has anyone else written about it?
  • Do other publications provide more information about the topic?
  • Do other sources tell the same story and contain the same facts?



Context matters. Before trusting or reusing information you’ve found, make sure you understand its original context by tracing the claims, quotes, and media back to their sources. This is useful whether you’re exploring a news source, scholarly article, or social media post. Use the following questions to guide your exploration:

  • Who first wrote about the topic?
  • When was it first published?