Teaching & Learning Resource Center

Evaluating Sources Using Lateral Reading

Purpose

For this assignment, students will use lateral reading strategies1 to evaluate the credibility of one or more information sources or, see the alternative option for evaluating academic journal articles. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify multiple factors to consider as part of the source evaluation process
  • Explain the distinction between lateral reading (reading across sites) versus vertical reading (deep evaluation of a single site)
  • Use lateral reading strategies to evaluate information sources for credibility

Related Framework Concepts

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Has Value
  • Scholarship as Conversation

Learn more about the Information Literacy Core Concepts

Related Resources

Notes

  • This assignment could work as a standalone assignment/activity or as could be incorporated as part of a larger, scaffolded research project
  • Depending on your specific goals, you could provide students with one or more sources to evaluate, or students could be required to first identify their own source(s) relevant to their topic or research question
  • If you provide sources, the activity will likely work best if the sources are not ones in which the credibility or lack of credibility will be immediately obvious; instead, sources of varying levels of credibility are recommended
  • A version of this assignment could have half the class using the vertical strategy to evaluate a website and the other using the lateral strategy to evaluate the same site, then each side posting their evaluation and comparing the responses.

Follow Up

For a follow-up activity, students could be asked to use this experience to create class guidelines for evaluating sources. For subsequent assignments, they could be required to demonstrate that they applied the guidelines when selecting their sources.

Instructions

Evaluating Sources using Lateral Reading
  1. Provide students with one or more sources to evaluate. ​​Or, have students identify one or more potential sources that are relevant to their research question or topic. An alternative version of this assignment focused only on evaluating journal articles is available below. Sources could include: 
    • Websites
    • News or magazine articles
    • Journal articles
    • Videos
    • Social media sources
    • Or other relevant source types 
  2. Have students conduct an initial evaluation of their source(s), looking only at the source(s) themselves—not going outside of the source. Students should note which factors they considered as part of the evaluation process and indicate whether they consider the source to be credible and appropriate to use for their research question or topic.
    • This could be completed as a group activity in the classroom or as a written individual or group assignment.
    • Students could also be asked to provide short screencasts in which they demonstrate their evaluation process.
  3. Have students conduct a second evaluation of their source(s) using lateral reading strategies. Guidelines could include:
    • Using Google or another search engine, search for information on the author or creator of the source
      • What is their background/education/experience?
      • What else have they published/created?
      • What organizations are they affiliated with?
      • What might be their purpose or motivation for creating/sharing the source?
    • Using Google or another search engine, search for information on the publisher, journal, or organization that published or sponsored the source/site.
      • If it is a journal, what type?
      • What are the goals of the sponsoring organization?
    • Can you find any other sources that corroborate the information presented on the source?
    • Trace a few of the links provided in the original source or citations in the original article.
      • Who or what is being cited? ​​​​​​
      • Do the links lead to other sources that appear credible?
      • Do the links tend to be all internal (that is, simply linking to other parts of the same site)?
      • If the original source is a journal article, are they citing other journal articles?
  4. Ask students to compare their initial evaluation of the source(s) with the information that they learned through lateral reading. Students should note whether their determination of the credibility of the source changed and if so, why.
  5. Discuss with students the effectiveness of their original strategy in comparison with the lateral reading strategy. Be sure to highlight any commonly used evaluation strategies (checking the domain name, reading the “About Us” page) that tend to have minimal value as part of the evaluation process and explain why they are problematic.
Evaluating Journal Articles using Lateral Reading
  1. Assign students one or more journal articles to evaluate. The activity will work best if the source is of questionable quality. For example, a scholarly journal article that had been significantly challenged by others, or perhaps even retracted.
  2. Ask students to evaluate the source using a vertical reading strategy, in which they closely evaluate the article. For example, they could note:
    • The date of publication
    • Any author credentials listed
    • The name of the journal
    • Number and type of references provided
    • General appearance of the article
  3. Have students write a brief evaluation of their impression of the credibility or authority of the source/author without leaving the source.
  4. Next, have students evaluate the source following lateral reading strategies (opening multiple tabs, searching for outside information on the author, the publication, etc.). You may want to provide guiding questions. For example:
    • What other information on the author can you find? For example, a departmental website, a CV, etc.?
    • Has the author published any other articles or books you can find? If so, on what topics? In which journals or publications?
    • Has the author presented at any conferences that you find? If so, which conferences?  
    • What can you find out about the journal the article is published in? What is the journal’s impact factor? (You may need to provide guidance on what the impact factor is and how to find it)
    • Have any other scholars cited this article in their work? If so, how do they refer to the article? (You may need to provide guidance on how to determine when a source has been cited) How is this source placed as part of the ongoing conversation on the topic?
    • Has the article been retracted or challenged in any way? Students could be encouraged to review a site such as  Retraction Watch.
  5. After completing the lateral evaluation, students should return to their original evaluation and write a short response indicating whether or not their perception of the value of the source has changed based on what they found using lateral reading.

 

Based on the Lateral Reading Teaching Activity on the Citizen Literacy website, created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.