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CMJ 103: Public Speaking & Information Literacy Guide

Evaluate Sources for Credibility

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:

  • Stop
    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.

Peer Reviewed Articles

You may be asked to use peer reviewed articles to inform yourself on your speech topic, What are peer-reviewed articles (also known as "refereed" articles)?

  • Usually published in scholarly journals
  • Well-researched original articles on specialized topics written by scholars
  • Author affiliation and contact details are provided
  • There is typically an abstract at the beginning of peer-reviewed articles
  • Contain in-text citations and a list of references at the end
  • May include charts, tables, graphs, and other statistical data
  • Use subject-specific language that include technical terms unique to the field
  • Subjected to intense critiques by a team of subject specialists who are peers of the author(s)

Not sure if the journal article you've found is peer-reviewed?

  • You can search the Serials Directory for your journal title (note: not all journals are listed there).
  • You can search for the journal on the open web and see if there's an explicit mention of peer review for submissions. Communication Studies is an example. 
  • And, you can always ask a librarian for help!

Website Domains & Credibility

Are sites that end in .org credible? What about .gov? The answer is, "It depends." Check out this video to learn more.


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