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Lateral Reading

What is Lateral Reading?

Understanding what kinds of sources you are using in your research makes all the difference in the quality of your work, and clears up some confusion about what a source is actually trying to accomplish. This is also an important skill outside of your academic life, which will help you navigate news you read, hear, or see every day on TV or social media. 

Lateral Reading asks you to open a new tab and follow internet sources down the line for a moment to verify its origins and claims (it's okay to use Google for this!). It's basically light detective work, just look up the website/publication/company or author that published the source to and check motives behind its creation. This gives you a sense of why a source makes a claim, and if what it says is true. 

This quick search is also an opportunity to look into a topic and get a sense of the larger discussion on what you are researching. What do other sources say about it? What is the general consensus or debate?

Crash Course

Consider Your Sources: Use the SIFT Method


  •  Are your sources academic, trade, or popular? Who is the audience? Why were they written? 
  • What do you need from the source?
  • What major claims does it make? Are there any issues to verify or investigate?
  • Where does this source stand when compared to other information?
  • Be mindful of URLS. Is it a .com, .net, .org, .edu, or .gov? Use these to guide your investigation of a source. 

Investigate the Source: (Open another tab and find some answers to the questions listed below)

  • When was the article published? Is it breaking news waiting on updates? Is it recent/current? Is it old news or an outdated/retracted study?
  • Who is funding this site or publication? Is there a political, financial, or philosophical agenda? Are there any obvious biases?
  • Who is the author? Where do they work? Did they go to school or are they considered an expert in the field? What do they gain from writing this? Is it an opinion piece like a blog or letter to the editor?
  • Has a photo or video been altered or taken out of context? 
  • Is it satire? A conspiracy theory? Is a concept or statement already proven true or false by fact checkers? 

Find Other Coverage: 

  • How many articles or sources are about this topic, and what do they say?
  • Do these sources agree or disagree, and why?
  • What changes about the source in your mind or project given this new context/information?
  • Do any of these sources work better for your needs?

Trace Claims/Quotes/Media back to the Original Source:

  • Look at the original context. If a website or blog cites an academic source or study, find that original study - does that study claim what the website claims? Re-use some questions from the Investigate step, and apply them again to these claims in the original context.
  • Use a fact checking site to verify claims that still feel confusing or suspicious. (See links under Additional Resources)