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Psychology Research Guide

Guidance to help students with Psychology research papers and projects.

Try the SIFT Method


Try evaluating your sources with the SIFT method.

There is a lot of competing information out there, and it's important to evaluate what we encounter. There are a variety of ways to check information:

  • learn more about the source
  • learn more about the claim
  • find the original source of the information

SIFT stands for:

  • STOP
  • INVESTIGATE the Source
  • FIND Better Coverage
  • TRACE Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to the Original Context

Check the other tabs for more information on each of these.

SIFT about getting the necessary context to read, view, or listen effectively, and doing that first. You don’t have to do all of these steps every time, and they don't need to be done in any order. After STOP, choose what is most likely to help you put the information into context.


Text Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems CC BY License


Stop sign

  • Check your emotions.
    • Whenever a source provokes a strong positive or negative feeling, that’s a sign to check the information.
    • It is easier to accept information is true without evaluating the claim if it aligns with what we already believe in.
  • In addition, if you get lost while researching, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole during your investigation, STOP.
    • 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.


Text Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems CC BY License


Magnifying glass with papers

  • Who wrote it?
    • Are they an expert on the topic, and what makes them an expert?
  • What is the purpose of the source?
    • To inform, entertain, sell a product, promote an opinion?
  • When was the information published?
    • Do you need recent information?
  • Why is this resource useful? What makes it better than other ones?
  • The key idea here is to know what you’re reading before you read it.
    • If you’re reading a piece on economics by a Nobel prize-winning economist, you should know that before you read it. Conversely, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption that was put out by the dairy industry, you probably want to know that as well. This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can’t ever be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say.
  • Read what other people say about the source, (publication, author, etc.).
    • The best way to figure out the truth about a source is to leave that source. Don’t only read what the source says about itself, instead find out how others view that source. The truth is in the network.


Text Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems CC BY License

F: FIND Better Coverage

Person looking at wall of pinned papers

  • Sometimes you don’t care about the particular article that reaches you. You care about the claim the article is making. You want to know if it is true or false.
    • Does the article represent a consensus viewpoint, or is there disagreement?
    • In this case your best strategy is to ignore the source that reached you and look for other trusted reporting or analysis on the claim.
  • Look in other sources and find the best source you can that covers the topic, or, just as importantly, scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be.
    • Find coverage that better suits your needs — more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied.
  • Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim, provided a synthesis of research, or provided coverage that gives more useful information about the claim or its context.


Text Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems CC BY License

T: TRACE Claims, Quotes, and Media (Videos/Photos) to the Original Context Footprint

A lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context.

  • Maybe there’s a video of a fight between two people. But what happened before that? Who started it? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in?
  • Maybe there’s a picture or video that seems real but the caption is dubious at best.
  • Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment supposedly based on a research paper — but you’re not certain if the paper supports it.

By tracing the claim, quote, or media back to the source, you can see it in its original context and get a sense if the version you saw was accurately presented.

  • If the claim is about research, can you find the original journal article written by the folks who actually did the research? The source may mention the names of the researchers involved, the title of the journal the work was published in, the title of the study or the year it was published.

  • If the claim is about an event, can you find the news publication in which it was originally reported?  Look at where the event took place and see if you can find a local newspaper for that area. Then search that newspaper’s site for coverage of the story.

  • If it's an image that you need to track down, try a reverse image search. Some great tools for this are:


Text Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems CC BY License