Assessing the Quality of Supporting Material

Learning Objectives

Assess the quality of supporting material.

When looking at any source, you should ask yourself, (1) who is writing this and (2) why? Because anyone can publish something online, you need to be particularly careful and critical when evaluating sources you find on the Internet.

In short

You can’t always believe everything you read online.

You can view the transcript for “Can’t Lie On The Internet” here (opens in new window).

When looking for sources—particularly websites—think about whether or not they are reliable. You want your paper to contain sources written by unbiased and professional experts, not businessmen with commercial interests. You don’t necessarily need to go through a complicated checklist every time you encounter new information. Instead, you can evaluate information more organically by focusing on some basic guidelines and principles, as explained by the Four Moves.

The Four Moves

When you read something online and you aren’t sure whether or not it’s true, then you can employ the four moves to help you uncover the truth of a claim. Here are the moves:

Icon of the Four Moves. Appropriate alternative text for this image can be found in the surrounding text.

Figure 1. The Four Moves for investigating online sources.

  • Stop. Think critically. Avoid being too emotionally charged or looking for information that confirms your own biases. Have an open mind to consider new or controversial topics and seek to understand.
  • Investigate. Find out who the author is, why they wrote it, etc.
  • Find better coverage. Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source.
  • Trace claims. Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original source.


The first move is the simplest. Stop reminds you of two things.

First, when you first click on a page and start to read it—Stop. Ask yourself whether you know and trust the website or source of the information. If you don’t, use the other moves to get a sense of what you’re looking at. Don’t use it in your paper (and don’t share it on social media!) until you know what it is.

Second, after you begin the process and use the moves, it can be too easy to go down a rabbit hole, chasing after more and more obscure facts or getting lost in a “click cycle.” If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remind yourself what your goal is. Adjust your strategy if it isn’t working. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose.

To watch: Mike Caulfield

This short video introduces the importance of fact-checking sources we find on the web.

You can view the transcript for “Online Verification Skills- Video 1: Introductory Video” here (opens in new window).

Investigate the Source

The key idea of investigating is to know what you’re reading before you read it. This doesn’t mean you have to do a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation into a source before you engage with it. But 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. Taking sixty seconds to figure out where a source comes from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time   and, if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness.

To watch: Mike Caulfield

This video shows some really simple ways to do a quick investigation of a source.

You can view the transcript for “Online Verification Skills-Video 2: Investigate the Source” here (opens in new window).

Try It

Find trusted coverage

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. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much 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. In other words, if you receive an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, the winning strategy may be to open up a new tab and find the best source you can that covers this news, or, just as importantly, scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be. In these cases, I encourage you to “find trusted coverage” that better suits your needs—more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied. You can also use fact-checking websites such as or to confirm the truthfulness of claims you find online.

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

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 the fight? Who started it? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there’s a picture 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.

In these cases, we’ll have you trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense for if the version you saw was accurately presented.

To watch: Mike Caulfield

This video gives advice on tracking a claim back to the original source.

You can view the transcript for “Online Verification Skills- Video 3: Find the Original Source” here (opens in new window).

Try It