Evaluate Sources

Learn the "Four Moves"

From Mike Caulfield, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

  • Check for previous work: 
    • Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research. In academic contexts: figure out what a source's topic is and do a new search to see if you can find a better, more general, source on that topic. (E.g. look up your source in HOLLIS or a library database, then click on the subject headings associated with that source to see what else we have.)
  • Go upstream to the source: 
    • Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information. In academic contexts: follow the footnotes.
  • Read laterally:
    • Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network. In academic contexts: try to figure out who cites this source or author. Try looking the source up in Google Scholar and clicked on the "cited by" number. (Note: the number is wildly inaccurate; it's mostly valuable for the list of other sources you get when you click on it.)
  • Circle back: 
    • If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

Understand Source Types

Traditional academic publications

These formats are the backbone of scholarship in most fields.

  • Journals
    • Look for a peer-review policy, intended audience, editorial board
  • Monographs and edited collections (i.e. academic books)
  • Conference proceedings
    • More common in the sciences and social sciences than in literary studies. Try to assess the quality of the conference by searching around for what other people say about it. Look up the authors to assess their prominence in the field, or to find their journal/book publications on the same topic.

Other kinds of sources

Often very useful, but check with your instructor about how best to use them.