Introducing SIFT, a Four Moves Acronym

The Four Moves have undergone some tweaking since I first introduced them in early 2017. The language has shifted, been refined. We’ve come to see that lateral reading is more of a principle underlying at least two of the moves (maybe three). We’ve removed a reference to “go upstream” which was a bit geeky. All in all, though, the moves have remained constant, partially because so many people have found them useful.

Today, we’re introducing an acronym that can be used to remember the moves: SIFT.

  • (S)TOP
  • (I)nvestigate the Source
  • (F)ind better coverage
  • (T)race claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

If you’ve followed the moves as they have developed over the past two years, these won’t surprise you, but there are a couple changes to the wording and the order.

The most notable is we’ve combined our habit (originally “check your emotions”) with the move (“circle back”) because these turn out to be the same thing. Basically — stop reading, stop reacting, figure out what you need to know and reapproach. In the beginning, this means to not read before you orient yourself. When researching, this means if you are getting sucked into an increasingly confusing maze of pages, STOP AND BACK UP.

The other moves are the same as the most recent iteration, with the change that “Find better coverage” replaces “other coverage” to emphasize the idea you are looking for other coverage, but ideally coverage that is slightly better on at least one dimension. What those dimensions are may be contextual, but often students have some half-decent intuitions here that can be refined over time.

We’ve also broadened out “Find the original” to its replacement which stresses that the point is not just finding the original for its own sake, but finding the original context. The original may be better — original reporting from the NYT or a fact-checked Atlantic article. But it could be worse — a claim that is sourced to a junk journal, or simply began as an unsubstantiated tweet. In the case of photos or videos, the original context is often mitigating, where media or quotes are presented with a false, inflammatory frame.

But the main introduction here is the acronym, a direct answer to CRAAP. (“Don’t CRAAP, SIFT?”).

Final note — some people might look at the acronym and think — “Isn’t this just more CRAAP? Another checklist?”

I deal with this extensively on this blog and in the textbook, but the problem with CRAAP has never been the acronym. In fact, the history of CRAAP as a web infolit device begins eight years (at least) before the acronym. The difference has always been the difference between a narrow list of things to do (SIFT) and a broad list of things to consider and rate (CRAAP). I’ve detailed at length why that makes such a difference in terms of cognitive load and other factors, so I won’t repeat it here. But my point is that a bad methodology got a lot of lift with a clever acronym that served as a convenient shorthand and a student mnemonic — it’s probably time the better methodology gets an acronym as well.

39 thoughts on “Introducing SIFT, a Four Moves Acronym

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  2. Nice ! it would be great if you could give us some example of the use of SIFT on actual (fake)news in your following posts. Thank you for your work, it is very interesting and very appreciated.

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