What is lateral reading? From Stanford History Education Group
The video above describes the process of lateral reading. Lateral reading is a type of verification process you can use to move beyond the specific site, object, or text you have found to see how others talk about that site/object/text, and how they talk about the credibility of the author, the authoring body, or about the topic itself.
Let's put lateral reading to the test with a nifty method for assessing the variety of information we may encounter as we prepare our speeches: SIFT. Here's what SIFT entails:
Pause for a moment, and ask yourself, Do I recognize this website or source of information? Do I know the reputation of the site or the creators of the information I’ve found? Am I familiar with their reputation for making sensible claims? If any of your answers is no, or if you’re not sure, continue with the rest of SIFT to get a sense of what you’re looking at before you actually dive into it.
- Investigate the source
Ask yourself, Where is this information coming from? What kind of credentials, expertise, or insight does the person or organization have who created this information, and what's their agenda? Taking a few minutes to figure out where information originated will help you better understand its significance and trustworthiness (and this is where Google can really help out). What do others say about the author or responsible authoring body (i.e., the website or organization)? Do others cite or link to your source, and in what context?
- Find trusted coverage
Sometimes we may not be able to readily determine the credibility of a source, or we may be unsure if what we’ve found is good information. Thus, we can look for better coverage than the original source we came across. One approach is to look around and see if we can corroborate or expand on a claim in other reliable sources, by searching in Google, a relevant library database, or your favorite search engine. We could also check to see if there's more current information (if our topic is one in which information changes rapidly).
- Trace claims to their original context
Tracing a claim, quote, image, or video back to its original source can sometimes reveal that there is more to it than we first thought, and can help us share a more complete, accurate picture of the issue we’re exploring.
A note about bias:
Having a perspective does not in and of itself mean that the information someone is conveying is unreliable; rather, it suggests a point of view within a given reality. Understanding different points of view can be valuable to learning about your topic and conveying information in your speech.
However, if a particular perspective or bias distorts reality or facts, and you choose to share that information because it aligns with your perspective or argument, that becomes dangerous to your research and to the ethical use of information.
An example: We see a variety of perspectives in political news magazines. Different magazines might report on the same incident with a different tone or position, without distorting the reality of an event. For example, an article on gun legislation published in The New Republic (a liberal/progressive publication) or The National Review (a conservative publication) might offer differing points of view but similar reporting of the facts surrounding the legislation.