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Research Tips and Tricks

This Tips and Tricks research guide provides information on how to perform a search, ranging from how to choose what type of search to make, how to string key words together, and what to do with texts once you've found them.

SIFT: Stop

Take a moment while reading and after reading an article to go through the following steps, especially if the article elicits an emotional response from you. Pause, breathe, and proceed.

Before you share an article, stop. Before you act on a news item, stop. We can't always stop before we have an emotional response, but we can control how we act on that response.  

Force yourself to stop for just a moment and think. Do you know this publisher/source? What’s its reputation? For example, is a piece coming from Buzzfeed, the New York Times, or some website you’ve never heard of? Take a few minutes to use the other steps in this method to think critically about what you’ve found to avoid falling into traps of fake news.

SIFT: Investigate Sources

What expertise does the source have? What agenda does the source have? Is the source known to have a certain bias? 

You’ve probably heard not to use Wikipedia for academic or serious purposes. Well, Wikipedia has a time and place, and investigating a source is one occasion when Wikipedia works really well, as does searching the name of a website, paper, magazine, or blog in Google or another search engine. What’s the source’s agenda? Do fact checking websites have anything to say about the website housing this article?

The AllSides Media Bias Chart provides a well-researched overview of many popular news outlets to identify which are central, left-leaning, left, right-leaning, and right in their political bias. 

SIFT: Find Trusted Coverage

See what else you can find on the topic. If only one article makes a claim, it’s probably not true. Find the consensus on a topic/event. If 10 articles report on book sales in the United States and 9 articles argue that print books are in high demand and have not been made obsolete by ebooks, the 1 arguing the opposite is likely the false article. 

Additional reporting on a recognized issue or event can give a wider perspective and help determine the consensus. Remember, articles and videos have bias. That bias impacts how the source presents information and the conclusions it draws. Even if you agree with the initial article that started this whole process, look for other viewpoints on the topic. Even if you don’t agree with the majority, and you won’t always, thinking about the majority consensus will help you critically consider what you’re reading or watching.

SIFT: Trace to the Original

Okay, this is probably the hardest step. It requires a little more digging. If an article provides a video clip, find the original video and watch the whole thing. Think about what happens before and after the clip to see if the article’s reporting using the clip is an accurate representation of the intent of the original video. Do the same for research papers, news coverage, or other resources mentioned in articles. Remember, you’re trying to judge the accuracy of the representation of the original resource in the article or video you’re SIFTing.

Fake news (and misleading academic articles) often incorporate snippets of other media taken out of context. Find the sources of included media, quotes, and claims to get that context. Fake news will use small pieces of videos, audio recordings, quotes, official statements, etc. to make a specific point that is not accurate to the original piece of evidence. If I provide a hypothetical statement about a situation with which I disagree in a larger speech about my actual beliefs, fake news can take my hypothetical out of context and present it as my beliefs.

For example...

(For context, this clip comes from the beginning of the 2004 film Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. After a failed attempt to stop a museum robbery, the Mystery Inc. gang are confronted by a reporter. This clip comes from Fred's conversation with said journalist about the gang's failure.)