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Evaluating Online Sources: A Guide: Lateral Reading

What is Lateral Reading?

Lateral reading is searching for information about a source while reading it. The concept originated out of research from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) under Sam Wineburg, the founder and executive director and is used by professional fact checkers.

This video from the Stanford History Education Group explains it well.

Why Lateral Reading: Online Verification Skills

Evaluating Information Online

Credible: Trustworthy, reliable.
Credible sources are generally understood to be accurate and reliable sources of information, free from unfair bias. 

Quiz: Who do you think would be best at discovering whether or not something from the internet is credible?
  • A college student
  • A university professor
  • A professional fact-checker

In a 2017 study about evaluating online information, two researchers sought to answer this question. They found that while most college students grew up using the internet and faculty members were experts in their fields, professional fact checkers were able to analyze the credibility of an online resource with greater accuracy and more speed. That is because, unlike the students and professors, they utilized lateral reading.

Lateral Reading in Action (video):

Click Restraint

The short video from the Stanford History Education Group illustrates the importance of click restraint and why you shouldn’t assume that the first search results are necessarily the most reliable or relevant ones. 

Evaluation Criteria

Use the criteria below to help you evaluate a source. Keep in mind:

  • Each criterion should be considered in the context of your topic or information need. For instance, are you working on a current event vs. a historical topic? 
  • Weigh all four criteria when making your decision. If the information appears accurate, but the authority is suspect ,you may want to find a more authoritative site for your information.
  • When in doubt about a source, talk about it with your professor or a librarian.


  1. Currency: When was the information published or last updated? Is it current enough for your topic?
  2. Relevance: Is this the type of information you need (ex. a research study or scholarly article)? Is it related to your topic? Is it detailed enough to help you answer questions on your topic?
  3. Authority: Who is the author or creator of the information (can be an individual or an organization)? Are they an expert on your topic? Has the source been peer reviewed? Who is the publisher? Are they reputable?
  4. Accuracy: Is the information true? What information does the author cite or refer to?  Is this a research study with methods you can follow? Can you find this information anywhere else? Can you find evidence to back it up from another resource? Are studies mentioned but not cited (this would be something to check on)? Can you locate those studies?
  5. Purpose/perspective: What is the purpose of the information? Was it written to sell something or to convince you of something? Is this fact or opinion based? Is it unfairly biased?