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Speech Communication: Fact Checking and Lateral Reading

Checking Your Facts Overview

How do you know if your source is reliable?  Complete?  Are there things you can try to do even if you aren't an expert?  How do you find information about information? How do you evaluate an expert's opinion?

These are all questions that we face every time we use information:  from buying toothpaste to making major decisions in our lives.


Lateral Reading Techniques

When you are evaluating a web site, don't just rely on the information from the site itself.  You can open new browser tabs and do a little background research on the site, creators of the  site, or the claims promoted on the site.  This is just meant to be a quick overview at this point.  You are looking for some supporting evidence that this is a credible source--not one that has been discredited or copied from another site.

You can run a quick search in Google or Wikipedia, for example, just to get an idea of what an organization  or individual stands for.  You can also look at the fact checking resources to see if particular claims have been researched for you.  You can use the Library's databases,  particularly news databases such as US Major Dailies or US Newsstream, for more background information.

So, you want to think like a fact checker:

  1. Who's behind the information?
  2. What's the evidence?
  3. What do other sources say?

Lateral Reading Video

Stanford History Education Group

Click Restraint

Click restraint: a regular practice of fact checkers, through which one reviews and analyzes a list of search results before deciding on which links to click

Click restraint is an important feature of lateral reading.  You don't want to click on the very first links you find.  First, scan the links looking for information about the sites you've found. Look at the titles and descriptions to see where the information comes from.  The best site may not be the first one, or even on the first page of results.  Sites can rise to the top because of design, not actual content.

The video below, from the Stanford History Education project, shows this technique in action.

Practice Your Skills

Try your skills at evaluating content on the web.  The sites below have interactive videos which will help you practice using tools to spot dubious information.


This guide draws largely on research from the Stanford History Education Group and on teaching materials from Mike Caulfield's SIFT approach and his Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

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  • Last Updated: Apr 3, 2024 9:29 AM
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