Strategies like click restraint and SIFT (Four Moves), described on this guide's first page, are great for initially evaluating online source credibility. Once you establish that a source is overall credible and useful for your work, you'll often want to read and evaluate the source more closely.
On this page, we combine lateral reading with additional strategies for evaluating sources and their credibility. Used together, these techniques complement and strengthen one another. Combining lateral reading with other critical evaluation techniques is especially helpful when you can’t find much information written about a specific source, or when you’re unsure whether the additional sources that you’ve found are themselves credible or fair in their reporting and assessment.
Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers suggests paying close attention to three key aspects of a source: process, expertise, and aim. These criteria are based on Wikipedia's guidelines for evaluating source reliability.
(Remember to use SIFT (Four Moves) before doing this closer evaluation! If a source isn't credible, is may not be worth your time.)
While some sources are primarily informative and others are more opinion-driven, almost all sources reflect a certain perspective (and along with it some degree of bias). This perspective influences what information the creator includes or excludes and how they present that information.
Rather than looking for sources that are completely free of any bias, recognize that most sources have some degree of bias. This is not necessarily a bad thing: people's personal experiences and viewpoints often provide important insights into an issue. Consider what the source creator's perspective is, what expertise they have on the topic, and what evidence they use to support their claims or arguments. Verify evidence by reading laterally and looking at other sources, including ones that may present a different perspective that is still well supported by evidence.
The Human Brain & Confirmation Bias
Our brains are wired to believe things that fit with our preexisting views and to disbelieve those things that challenge our views. This phenomenon is called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias plays a powerful role in how we evaluate and use information. It's a major reason that misinformation easily spreads online. Learn more from this video about how confirmation bias influences us and we can counteract it.
Investigating Your Own Biases
Confirmation bias illustrates that we all have have our own perspectives and biases, which are influenced by own unique backgrounds and experiences. Being aware of your own biases can help you evaluate sources, arguments, and your own ideas more critically. Consider the strategies for minimizing bias that the journalists in this video share:
Academic texts can be especially challenging to read because they're written for experts in an area that is unfamiliar to most people. These strategies can help you navigate academic texts.
First, remember that reading and writing are social. The author has something to add to a larger conversation. As you read, you are learning about that conversation, and you may later want to become part of the discussion. With the understanding that reading and writing are social, apply rhetorical reading strategies. Ask questions like these:
Author's purpose and audience: Who is the author? To whom are they speaking and why?
Clues into this include:
Your purpose: What do you want to gain from reading this source? This will likely influence how you read, such as whether you focus on certain sections more than others, if you take notes of certain things, etc.
Pre-reading: Before reading too closely, get a general understanding of what the source is about. Focus on areas such as the title, the abstract or summary (if available), section headings, and introduction.
Also reflect on how the source relates to your research interest. Identify important terms or concepts that are unclear and look them up if needed. With a general understanding of the source, you will be better able to comprehend it and to determine which areas on which to focus.
Active reading: Active reading strategies will help you better understand the source. Try:
Reading strategies from students (UCLA Library)