UNST Sustainability - Perkins: Website Critique

Lateral Reading Video

Watch this 3-minute video about the importance of lateral reading when evaluating a website or checking the accuracy of ChatGPT. The key message is to move throughout the Web to assess the website in question or the response from ChatGPT. Do not rely solely on the content or links of the website or ChatGPT.

Creative Commons License CC by NC 4.0

Citizen Literacy was created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Tips for Website Evaluation

1. Is there a parent website? Who pays for the website?

2. What does .org or .com have to do with it? Domains do not determine reliability. Many reliable resources use .com domains like the five U.S. major dailies; New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and Washington Post. 

3. Is the About page really the spin page? How do you corroborate what you have read on the About page? Lateral reading is a way to use the entire Web as a way to evaluate the credibility of a website.

4. Even if a link on a website leads to a reliable resource, be sure to read the content in order to see if it supports the premise of the website or not. 

5. Don't judge a website by its cover! A website may look professional; yet it is easy to manufacture respectability, so browse laterally!

6. Check Wikipedia, especially the entry's references for your topic. Note the Wikipedia "Talk" webpage for entries. This is where experts refute the content.

These website evaluation tips are from this 2020 report:

Wineburg, Sam, Breakstone, Joel, Ziv, Nadav, and Smith, Mark. (October 21, 2020). Educating for Misunderstanding. Stanford History Education Group. Retrieved from https://cor.stanford.edu/research/educating-for-misunderstanding/

S.I.F.T. Method of Evaluation

Because anyone can make a website and publish information on the open web without it being fact checked, it’s extra important to critically evaluate what you find before you include it in your academic research.  The S.I.F.T. method lays out 4 moves, or steps you can take, as you investigate each source.

SIFT: Stop. Investigate the source.  Find better coverage.  Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.

S.I.F.T. Step 1: STOP

The first move is the simplest. STOP reminds you of two things:

  1. When you first hit a page and start to read it — STOP. Do you know and trust the website or source of the information? If you don't, use the other moves to get a sense of what you're looking at. Don't read it or share it until you know what it is.
  2. After you begin the process it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole, chasing after more and more obscure facts. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remind yourself what your goal is. Adjust your strategy if it isn't working. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose.

S.I.F.T. Step 2: Investigate the Source

The key idea is to know what you're reading before you read it. 

  • Look OUTSIDE of the website to investigate the SOURCE of the information. Wikipedia is great for this (most English language publications will have a wikipedia page) or use Google (domain name + wikipedia video tutorial)
  • Authors: Look up a person's name in Google News. Search for their name in Google Scholar (video)  Is there level of expertise reflected in any of these searches?
  • On social media, investigate the individual or organization that posted the information. Even quickly using the "hover" technique will help you better understand the source. 

S.I.F.T. Step 3: Find Trusted Coverage

When you come across information, or a claim, you will want to know if it is true or false. Does it represent a consensus viewpoint, or is it the subject of disagreement? Sometimes you don't care about the particular article, you care whether the claim the article is making is true or false. In this case your best strategy is to ignore the source that reached you and look for other trusted reporting or analysis on the claim.

  • Open up a new tab and find the best source you can that covers the claim, or, just as importantly, scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be.
  • Scan search results strategically. Try and find the particular result that combines trustworthiness with relevance before you click. Visit the second page of results to scan as well. 
  • Modify your search when needed. Try adding the term “fact-check” to your search.
  • Find the best reporting on the topic, particularly for click bait style articles that get recycled by popular media. 

S.I.F.T. Step 4: Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to the Original Source

Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting, but is re-reporting, sometimes with added commentary.  Oftentimes it has been stripped of its original context and references. This is particularly true in social media which tends to sensationalize stories for clicks. Locating the original story, or research, will give you a more complete and accurate version of the information.

  • If the article refers to an original study or news article, click through to follow links to claims
  • Look at the original context. Was the claim, quote, or media fairly represented?


SIFT text and graphics adapted from “SIFT (The Four Moves)” by Mike Caulfield, licensed under CC BY 4.0