Skip to Main Content

Skills at Library: Checking source quality

Welcome to Skills at Library, our information literacy support for Essex students and researchers!
Skills at Library using information with image of student typing on laptop

Skills at Library home

Using information

Checking source quality

Fake news, clickbait, false advertising, and scams are all examples of misinformation. Misinformation occurs when content is created to deceive or mislead, but it often spreads unintentionally when people share facts, ideas, or claims without context and acknowledgement of the original source. As content travels rapidly and is shared and re-shared, important context gets lost along the way, much like a game of broken telephone. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable problem in the digital world, and everyone has a part to play in stopping the spread of misinformation.

You can break the cycle of misinformation by critically evaluating content before engaging with it. Never 'like,' comment, re-share, or cite a source unless you have the full context and can verify it. As an information consumer, it's important to develop fact checking and evaluating skills so you can avoid unreliable sources and build your views and arguments on solid evidence.

This section on checking sources will equip you with the knowledge and tools to critically evaluate information, and covers:

  • The difference between quality sources vs unreliable sources
  • Using the SIFT fact checking method
  • Evaluating sources using the TRAAP checklist
  • Where to find reliable sources

Click to expand presentation: Checking sources

Continue learning how to use information ethically by starting the next section on Referencing, or return to the Skills at Library homepage​ to select another lesson.

Section heading text reads 'Quick Takeaways' with image of takeaway coffee cup and bag in background

Here's some quick takeaways to help you check the quality of a source and find reliable information:

  • Create a search strategy to help you identify the best places to search for the type of information you need.
  • Always check sources before engaging with content. Never 'like,' re-share, or cite a source unless you have the full context and can verify its claims are true.
  • Your clicks and online activity informs what appears in your home feed/filter bubble and acts as a form of endorsement, so think before you click.

Skills at Library skill rating: advanced

Checking information is an advanced information literacy skill, and requires:

  1. Developed information literacy skills
  2. A good understanding of the different types of sources you will need for your research and where to look for them
  3. Organisation skills so you can keep track information and its origins.
  4.  Strong digital skills will also help you engage with information online.

If you're not confident in these areas, take a few minutes to refresh your knowledge by visiting the pages linked above. Developing these skills will give you confidence to find good quality information, be critical about your sources, and use the information you find according to our standards of academic honesty and integrity.

Quick guide to checking sources

How to check academic sources:

  • Use the TRAAP checklist to help you decide if the information is relevant to your research.
  • If the timeliness, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of the source is not obvious, follow the SIFT method to gain more context.

How to check news media and social media sources:

  • Use the SIFT method to verify and fact check the information
  • After verifying the source, use the TRAAP checklist to help you decide if it is relevant to your research.


Establishing reliability and relevance with the TRAAP checklist

The best way to avoid misinformation is by seeking out quality, credible sources, and not settling for unreliable information.

Reliable information provides context about:

  • Timeliness: When it was created
  • Relevance: Who the intended audience is, and who the information is relevant to
  • Authority: Who its original author/creator was and how to learn more about them
  • Accuracy: Evidence and clear references to support claims and arguments
  • Purpose of the content

These key details make it possible to verify information and decide if it is relevant to your research.


  • When was the information published?
  • Does the age of the information affect the accuracy?
  • Is there a more recent version that supports or refutes the original?
  • Are the links functional?



  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is it pitched at a scholarly audience?
  • Have you looked at a variety of similar sources before selecting this one?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source?



  • Where did the information come from?
  • Is the author / publisher / sponsor identified?
  • Can their credentials be verified?
  • Has the source been cited in other research?
  • Do you trust the source?



  • Can the information be verified other in other reliable sourced?
  • Does the research contain sufficient evidence to back it up?
  • Has it been through a peer-review process?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?



  • Why was this information created?
  • Does it seek to inform, provide facts, to sell, or to persuade you of something?
  • Is there evidence of political, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
  • Is the information objective and impartial?


The SIFT method

The SIFT method is a quick way to check the accuracy and bias of a source. It only takes a few minutes to do, and you can use this method before reading a full article, post, or story.

The four steps to the SIFT Method are:

  1. Stop: Before engaging with content (through likes, shares, citing/referencing) stop before you invest too much time on it. If after completing the next 3 steps, you are able to establish credibility, you can return to it.
  2. Investigate: Open a new tab and do a web search. There are various search techniques you can use for this step, but the goal is to find out what others say about the topic of the source you are investigating. See if someone else has already fact checked the information or provided more context. If investigating a source proves difficult, move on and search for verifiable information. It is better to move on from sources you are unsure about rather than basing arguments on unverifiable information.
  3. Find better coverage: If your investigation doesn't give you confidence about the quality of a source, find a better one! Look for reliable information on trusted platforms or use a credible source found through your investigations.
  4. Trace claims, quotes & media to the original context: If an unreliable source mentions studies or research, try to find the original information for yourself

SIFT method: stop, investigate, find better coverage, trace to original context

Section heading text reads 'Explore More' with navigation compass in background

Want to learn more?

  • Attend a Skills at Library open workshop. These sessions will give you an opportunity to practice skills, learn alongside your peers, and get instructor feedback.
  • If you haven't already, complete our Academic Skills Audit to assess your current information and academic skills and discover resources to support your development.
  • Click the 'Next' button below to continue learning about how to reference sources.


The TRAAP test was created by The Australian National University LibGuide on Evaluating Sources and has been adapted under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

The SIFT method was created by Mike Caulfield and his materials have been adapted under a CC BY 4.0 licence.


Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work by University of Essex Library and Cultural Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.



Skills at Library home

Find further help

Workshops & events

Let us know what you think about Skills at Library support! Share your feedback here.


Created by: Clarissa St Yves & Oona Ylinen