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Information Literacy, Level Two

Evaluating information sources - The Basics

What does the title tell you about the content?

  • Look at the title of the book, journal, article, website, or the URL.
  • A resource can have a great title but then be full of tangential ideas or not be related to your research – or vice versa – look deeper.

Can you find information about the author?

  • Is the author named?
  • Does the author have expertise on the subject?
  • What are his/her qualifications? Look for information in the resource.
  • Use Google or Google Scholar to find evidence of research on the same subject by the author.
  • Is there contact information on a website?

What is the date? Is there a date?

  • How current is the resource?
  • Is it important that the information be current?
  • Is there a date of the last update on a website?

Who is the intended audience?

  • Is the language simple or technical? Is it scholarly?
  • Use Google to find information about a publication.

How relevant is the resource?

  • What is the resource about?
    • For a book, check the table of contents and the index.
    • For an article, read the abstract, summary, and conclusion.
    • For a website, check the home page for clues.
  • Is the subject applicable to your research?

How objective is the content?

  • What is the author’s point of view?
  • Is the resource well-researched and detailed?
  • Or is it biased?
  • Is the information the author’s opinion or supported by facts?
  • Are there advertisements or items for sale?

Does the author document his or her sources?

  • Are there references, citations or related sources of information?
  • Are there footnotes?

Lateral Reading

Professional fact checkers don’t just look at the source they are reading to verify if it can be trusted. They do something known as lateral reading, which means investigating and verifying the source you are reading by:

  • Finding out information about the author and the claims within the source, and 
  • Looking at different sources on the topic to see how the information compares. 

You should do lateral reading when trying to determine if a source is valid and unbiased. You will definitely want to investigate a source before you use it in your paper or post it to your social media outlets.  

To start your investigating, begin with the source you are thinking of citing and see if you can find out about the author and the website creators. Some helpful questions to ask are:

  • Do they have a mission or vested interests that could make the information biased? 
  • Can you verify that they have authority in the subject area? 
  • Who funds or sponsors the site where the original piece was published?

You can also go to the original sources that are being cited in a work to support the arguments and research.

After you are able to answer these questions and go to the source of a claim, you can continue to read laterally to find out what other people have said about the topic. This means that you would want to pull up other credible sources by different authors on the same topic and to see if the information being provided is similar to your original source. 

In many cases, claims have already been fact-checked. Some places to look at are Wikipedia, Snopes, PolitiFact,  and NPR’s own Fact Check website. These sources are nonpartisan and nonprofit websites that try to increase public knowledge and understanding by fact checking claims to see if they are factual or inaccurate or biased. 

By doing lateral reading, you are checking whether the information in your source is confirmed or validated elsewhere and if the author has solid credibility. This form of external validation is a great complement to the ABC (authority, bias, currency) method which evaluates a source’s author and content.