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WRT 101/102 - M. Young : Be a Lateral Reader

Vertical vs Lateral Reading Website Evaluation

By the University of Louisville Libraries



Searching for sources online requires more investigation because you have to find out whether your source is credible or not. Using the library's databases, like MegaSearch, finding sources is easier in terms of credibility. However, you want a diverse set of sources. Plus searching the Internet is more fun. 

Lateral Reading vs Vertical Reading


"The historians and students read vertically -- staying within the original website in question to evaluate its reliability." (Spector)

Vertical readers are often duped by unreliable indicators such as:

  •  a professional-looking name and logo
  •  scholarly or reputable references (example in activity/quiz)
  •  a .org URL ( and
    some .org sites are non-partisan and reliable while others are partisan and contain wild conspiracy theories.

  • some .com site are reliable such and have advertisements such as and
  •  a polished "About Us" page claiming a nonprofit status
    Sites won't directly indicate this article was written by some random citizen without any real expertise or that there is a hidden agenda behind this site - Stay alert for biased information



"The fact checkers read laterally -- quickly scanning the website in question but then opening a series of additional browser tabs, seeking context and perspective from other sites." (Spector)

Lateral readers exercise habits that lead to more thorough and efficient evaluation of information/sources such as:

  • research what other sites say about the source by...
  • leaving the site for fact-checking purposes - Wikipedia can be useful!
  • searching the web for the owner or publisher of the site - copy and paste their names into Google
  • follow references back to any original sources
  • watching out for bias - the purpose for information should be just to be informative - not to persuade you
    (We all fall for it once and a while when a topic really interests us or the topic is something we really care about, but wait and check your sources before sharing!)



Lateral reading: Instead of staying with one website or article, you might need to jump around a bit. Open multiple tabs in your browser to follow links found within the source and do supplemental searches on names, organizations or topics you find. These additional perspectives will help you to evaluate the original article and can end up saving you time.

Things to remember:

  • The top result on Google is not always the best. Take a moment to scan the results and skim the snippets beneath the links.
  • Just because a website looks professional or credible doesn't mean that it is.
  • Sometimes you can find out more about a website by leaving the site itself.
  • You can use the Ctrl+F (for Windows) or Command+F (for Macs) keyboard shortcut to search within an article for a name, group, or word.
  • Right-click on a link to open in a new tab.
  • Erase anything after the domain and add wikipedia (example wikipedia)


Wineburg, Sam and McGrew, Sarah. Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information (October 6, 2017). Stanford History Education Group Working Paper No. 2017-A1. Available at SSRN: