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ENG 101 Information Literacy Program Prof. Frank

Investigate the author/producer - Lateral Reading

Searching for information about the author or organization responsible for the website, article, or book is an excellent way of evaluating sources. This method is called lateral reading. 

  • Google the author or organization responsible for posting the information. 
  • Search the author/organization in the library's OneSearch box. 


The Civic Online Reasoning Institute at Stanford University has an excellent explanation of Lateral Reading in "Sort Fact from Fiction Online with Lateral Reading."  The video is under four minutes. The University of Louisville Libraries also has this useful handout about lateral reading.



Evaluating Sources

Carefully evaluate all information, whether from a book, article, or website, by asking the following questions:

  • Who?  Who is the author of this source?
    • Are they qualified to write/speak on the subject?
    • Do you detect any bias on the author’s part in relation to the subject?
  • What? What is the source?
    • Does it have a title?
    • Is it a primary source, such as an original document or creative work or is it a secondary source, such as a report or analysis of primary sources?
    • Is it authoritative or trustworthy?
  • How?
    • How was the source produced?
    • Who is the publisher or sponsoring organization?
  • Where did you find the source?
    • Was it through a library’s databases or through an internet search engine that may list results in a biased or weighted manner?
  • When was the source published?
    • Has it been replaced or updated?

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., The Modern Language Association, 2016, pp. 11-12.

MLA also provides a checklist for evaluating sources. 



Primary Sources

Below is a link to an article from ProQuest Historical New York Times. It is an interview with Harold Bride, a radio transmitter, who was working aboard the Titanic when it sank. Bride survived and was interviewed days after the event for this article. (You do not need to read the entire article.)

Bride, Harold. "Surviving Wireless Operator of the Titanic. Thrilling Story by Titanic's Surviving Wireless Man. Bride Tells How He and Phillips worked and How He Finished a Stoker Who Tried to Steal Phillips's Life Belt". New York Times (1857-1922), Apr 19, 1912, pp. 1. ProQuest, Accessed 7 May 2021. 

First hand accounts of events are considered primary sources of information. A secondary source would be someone else describing what Bride experienced. Primary sources are excellent to use for research papers; however, you can usually use both primary and secondary sources in your work depending on your assignment. 

While primary sources are excellent to use for research papers, sometimes personal interviews may not necessarily be an accurate description of events. Each witness may have a different perspective of the event. Our view is sometimes obscured by personal emotions, our self-identity, or community values. Consider, for example, when law enforcement officers interview witnesses at the scene of a car accident. Do all witnesses report the exact same sequence of events? Should as many personal accounts as possible be gathered in an attempt to reconstruct the accident?