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Fullerton College Library

Research 101: Evaluating Information

Getting Started With Research at Fullerton College Library

How to Know What to Trust

decorative To effectively evaluate a claim meant to influence our thoughts, opinions, or behavior, take a critical thinking approach. One useful technique is called lateral reading, which involves looking for information outside of the original source to verify a claim. To practice lateral reading, ask the following four questions and conduct separate searches for each: 1) Who says? 2) How do they know? 3) Could they be wrong? 4) Is there another interpretation or explanation? By exploring each question in separate tabs and seeking answers from a variety of sources, you will better understand the claim to make informed decisions.

An overview of the four guiding questions is presented below. Click on a question for further information. (You will be taken to a different guide.)

 

Evaluating Claims with Four Questions & Lateral Reading: Text

Who says?

Identify the source of the claim then search the web to see what others have to say about the source. 

Investigate the author and source
  • Short on time? Search: [ source website wikipedia ], e.g., [ yougov.com wikipedia ] to get a crowd-sourced description of the source. How long has the group been around? Are there any controversies that impact the trustworthiness of the source?
  • Want to dig deeper? Search: [ source name -site:source website ], e.g., [ yougov america -site:yougov.com ]
Follow-up questions
  • What types of information is the author known for writing and the source known for publishing? 
  • Is the site or organization what they seemed to be?
  • Does their reputation make the source more or less trustworthy?

How do they know?  

Identify the evidence and reasoning used to support the claim, then track down referenced sources in new tabs.

Look for supporting sources
  • Links: Click to make sure they work and go where they should.
  • Citations: Search the web for article titles.
  • Description of Source: Search the web using descriptive words from the text.
  • No Evidence: Search the web to independently verify the claim
Follow-up questions
  • Am I familiar with the referenced sources? If not, go back to the first question and check the source.
  • If you can't locate the source but would like to track it down, ask a librarian.

Could they be wrong? 

Take a closer look at supporting sources to verify information wasn't manipulated or made up.

Ctrl+F It
  • Open the referenced source in a new tab and use Ctrl+F to search the document for key terms in the claim.
Follow-up questions
  • Did the author quote or paraphrase the referenced source without changing the original meaning?
  • Can the claim be independently verified? In other words, can you find this same claim in different sources?

Take a closer look at the reasoning to check for logical fallacies.

Common errors in reasoning
  • False Cause (correlation ≠ causation): Mistaking what is happening with why it is happening
  • Single Cause (oversimplification): Attributing a single cause when multiple causes are in play
  • Hasty Generalization (jumping to conclusions): Drawing conclusions on too small a sample size

Is there another interpretation or explanation? 

Check our assumptions and biases by seeking out what's missing.

Look for additional information
  • Search for information that will expand your perspective.
  • Look for factors or perspectives that weren't considered by the author.
  • Challenge your confirmation bias by seeking disconfirming information. 
Follow-up question
  • Does this additional information lead you to draw a different conclusion?
 

Evaluating Claims with Four Questions & Lateral Reading: Slides

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