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Source Evaluation Techniques: Lateral Reading

Lateral Reading vs. Vertical Reading

Vertical reading involves evaluating a source by examining what it says about itself, and examining characteristics such as: 

  • The author and the author's stated credentials
  • The purpose of work
  • The publication date
  • The name and goals of the publication (e.g. a newspaper or journal description)

Lateral reading puts sources into a broader context by seeing what other sources describe the specific source you are evaluating, its container, and the information it presents. Look for outside sources that describe: 

  • The author, including their credentials, reputation, affiliated organizations, and other writing. 
  • The purpose and typical accuracy of the publication.
  • Responses to this particular source. (E.g. critiques, citing works, reviews, etc.)
  • Whether the claims made in the piece are corroborated in other work. 

How to read laterally

  1. Use Google or another search engine to 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?
  2. Use Google or another search engine to 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?
  3. Can you find any other sources that corroborate the information presented on the source?
  4. 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?

(Adapted from OSU's Teaching & Learning Resource Center's "Evaluating Sources Using Lateral Reading")