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COMM 2381: Oral Communication

This research guide is built to assist all sections of COMM 2381 with their topics.

Using & Evaluating Research

Is it credible?

You've searched the library or done a web search, and you found some possible sources to use. But should you use them? And how should you? This section will help you answer those questions. 

Starting on this page, we will look at how to identify if the information you found is credible or trustworthy. You should also look at what type of source you found  and think about how you will use it when evaluating it. 

Overview of Evaluating for Credibility Video

The 5 Ws of Evaluating a Source for Credibility

Whenever you begin to examine a source, be asking yourself five questions about it: Who? What? When? Where? Why?


  • Who is the author of the source? Make sure there is an identifiable author (or authors) taking credit for the work. People who stand behind their work usually sign their work.


  • What is the author's background and authority? How is this person qualified to speak about this topic?
  • If it is an academic source, what are their credentials (degrees) or background in publishing other books and articles on this or a related topic?
  • If it is a more popular media source (general audience book, newspaper, or magazine) what else have then written about or where else have they published? What is their "authority" to speak on the topic?


  • How long ago was this information published? Has it been revised since it was originally published? 
  • How recent of information are you looking for? Are you looking for an overview of the basic facts of your topic that probably don't change very fast? Are you looking for the most up-to-date research on your topic? 
  • What might have changed about your topic since this information was published? 


  • Where is the source published? What journal is it in? Who publishes the journal or book? What is that publisher's track record? What else do they publish?
  • There are many predatory journals and vanity presses in existence, to say nothing of the open web. And while some research published this way might be of good quality, all of them mostly lack any sort of rigorous peer review process to verify the research and conclusions.


  • Why was this published? Was it written mainly to inform an audience about the topic (i.e., to provide them with information on new research and/or publish conclusions)? Or was it written to persuade an audience to one side of an argument (introducing bias)?
  • Just because a source might be biased does not mean you cannot use it, but it does mean that you must read it with a more skeptical eye and use the information critically and cautiously.

With these five questions in mind, you can approach each new source you find with an eye towards evaluating it for use and inclusion in your academic research at U of M!

SIFTing for Credible Information

SIFT: Stop; Investigate the source; find better coverage; trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.

Image from Mike Caulfield used via CC BY 4.0 license.

Another method for verifying information's credibility is SIFT. SIFT is a way to quickly check about the trustworthiness of a source and find alternative sources of information. This is an especially good method for identifying misinformation on the web. For more details on how to use SIFT to evaluate sources, use the Check, Please! Starter Course.


  • First thing to do is just stop and ask yourself a few questions.
  • Are you familiar with the source of this information, such as the author(s), the journal, the website, etc.?
  • Do you know if the source has a good reputation? Do you trust that reputation? 
  • If you don't know their reputation and trust them, it's time to look into more detail about the source. 

Investigate the Source

  • If you aren't familiar with a source, you'll need to learn more about to see if you should trust its credibility. 
  • Search for information from other sources to learn about the reputation of your source.
    • So, if you are looking up an author, don't just look at their personal page, and if you are looking up a website, don't just look at their "About" page. You want to see their reputation with others, not how they want to promote themselves.
    • You can do this for websites by using a negative site search, where instead of searching just a website you search everything except that website. So, to learn about the page on Google without looking at that page, you could search ""
  • If you still don't know if you trust the source, then see if you can verify the information from a source you do trust. 

Find Better Coverage

  • If you aren't sure whether to trust a source, or just need reliable information from any source, then try to find a more credible source covering the same information.
  • You should expect a topic to be covered by a number sources. Doing another search and checking multiple sources of coverage should help. If you see at lot of coverage saying the same thing, it's probably true. If there isn't other reporting, it's likely false. And if you find a lot of coverage, but it disagrees, you can presume this is a disputed topic. 
  • When finding better coverage, it can be helpful if you can find the original source of a piece of information. 

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context

  • A lot of times online you find information disconnected from its original context: quotes without information from where it was said, images without information on where it was taken and who took it, and arguments without any evidence.
  • The further information gets from its original source, the more it changes (like the telephone game). Getting back to the original context will help you evaluate credibility.
  • If there are links back to where a source found their information, follow those links to see if you want find the original and evaluate that.
  • If there are no links to the original source, there are a few different ways to try to find the original context.
    • Try to find better coverage of the same topic. See if someone has already debunked or confirmed this information. 
    • Long quotes can be searched in Google using quotation marks.
    • You can find where else an image has been used online using Google reverse image search