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LIS2004 Strategies for Online Research | Prof. Machado Dillon

This guide contains resources for students of Prof. Machado Dillon's LIS2004 course.

LIS2004 Lesson 5

Learning Outcomes

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • evaluate information sources for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose
  • differentiate between credible and noncredible sources of information

Information Literacy Competencies

You will apply and learn about information literacy competencies while completing this learning module.

  • The primary competency related to this module is Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
  • The primary knowledge practice is to define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event)
Why Evaluate Sources

Why do you need to evaluate sources? Isn’t everything on the internet correct? Not by a long shot!  

You are bombarded with information just about every moment of your day.

Media icons

How News & Information Have Changed
Evaluating Sources

How can you choose the best sources for your research?  Watch the following videos to learn more!

Evaluation Strategies

There are many ways to evaluate information and just as many acronyms to help you remember the criteria to doing so. Head to the recommended LibGuide on Acronyms for Evaluating Information to find the criteria that best fits the type of information you are evaluating. Additional resources on a selection of those criteria sets are also provided. Read on to learn more.

Acronyms for Evaluating Information LibGuide

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Evaluating Websites (using the RADAR method)

Evaluate sources with RADAR: Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Relevance

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Evaluating Websits (using the CRAAP method)

This video clarifies how to evaluate the information using the CRAAP criteria.

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Misinformation vs. Disinformation

According to Merriam-Webster, misinformation and disinformation are define as follows...

Definition of misinformation: incorrect of misleading information.

Definition of disinformation: false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.

See the Merriam-Webster definition webpages for more information, including examples of each on the web.


Disinformation, also called propaganda or fake news, refers to any form of communication that is intended to mislead. The information in the communication is purposefully false or contains a misrepresentation of the truth. Disinformation can be used by individuals, companies, media outlets, and even government agencies.

Types of Disinformation

  • Misleading content, or information and half-truths presented in such a way as to place a person or an issue in a negative light.
  • Imposter content, or information from a source that deliberately impersonates a known and trustworthy source.
  • False content, where legitimate, truthful content is mixed with intentionally false content to give credibility to the false content.
  • Fabricated content, or information that is composed completely of information the source knows to be false.
  • False connection, or information that implies something in a headline, photo, video clip, or caption that is not a fair representation of the body of the article or other content.
  • Manipulated content, or content that is intentionally altered to create a false impression. An example is photo-shopping an individual into a photo at an event where he or she was were not present.

Quoted from: Ungvarsky, J. (2020). Disinformation. In Salem Press Encyclopedia. Salem Press.

Fake News

Perhaps you have heard the terms “fake news”, “misinformation”, and “alternative facts” lately. Let’s find out more.

You need to evaluate your news sources in the same way you evaluated your research sources. To help you, I’ve included this infographic from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.  

Be wary of links that have been reposted on your Facebook or Twitter feeds, particularly the ones that have shocking headlines. Those are called “click bait” and are meant to get you to click through to a site…and sometimes it may take you to a site you don’t want to be on.

Stop and think about what you are reading. Does it agree with what you have read elsewhere or learned in class? Does it go against your core personal beliefs or strongly reinforce them?

How to Spot Fake News; Consider the Source, Read Beyond, Check the Author, Supporting Sources?, check the Date, Is it a Joke?, Check your Biases, Ask the Experts

(How To Spot Fake News by IFLA, permission to distribute)

Viewing List

How false news can spread

By Noah Tavlin

Dive into the phenomenon known as circular reporting and how it contributes to the spread of false news and misinformation.

In previous decades, most news with global reach came from several major newspapers and networks with the resources to gather information directly. The speed with which information spreads now, however, has created the ideal conditions for something called circular reporting. Noah Tavlin sheds light on this phenomenon.

Lesson by Noah Tavlin, animation by Patrick Smith.

Helping Students Identify Fake News with the Five C's of Critical Consuming

By John Spencer

With digital tools, it is easier than ever to create, edit, and publish your work to the world. But there’s a cost. It’s also easier than ever to spread misinformation. And fake news has become a real issue in recent times.

We see this with students. According to a Stanford study, only 25% of high school students were able to identify an accurate news story when also given a fake one. Students also had a hard time distinguishing between real and fake photographs as well as authentic and staged videos.

Researchers used the words “bleak” and “dismaying” to describe it. But it’s not going away anytime soon and that’s a very real problem.

So, how do we fix it?

Well, here’s a five-step process that I’ve used with students.

A word of caution. It’s not perfect and there are probably other models out there but I thought I would share it just in case you might want to use it.

We call it the 5 c’s of critical consuming.

#1: Context - Look at the context of the article. When was it written? Where does it come from? Have the events changed since then? Is there any new information that could change your perspective?

#2: Credibility - Check the credibility of the source. Does the site have a reputation for journalistic integrity? Does the author cite credible sources? Or is it satirical? Is it on a list of fake news sites? Is it actually an advertisement posing as a real news story?

#3: Construction. Analyze the construction of the article. What is the bias? Are there any loaded words? Any propaganda techniques? Any omissions that you should look out for? Can you distinguish between the facts and opinions? Or is it simply all speculation?

#4: Corroboration: Corroborate the information with other credible news sources. Make sure it’s not the only source making the claim. If it is, there’s a good chance it’s actually not true.

#5: Compare: Compare it to other news sources to get different perspectives. Find other credible sources from other areas of the ideological or political spectrum to provide nuance and get a bigger picture of what’s actually happening.

See, when we teach students media literacy, and they learn how to consume critically, they learn how to think critically. And critical thinking citizens are good for democracy. And that’s good for everyone.

How to Spot Fake News


This video provides specific steps you take to evaluate the credibility of a source.

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers - Four Moves

What people need most when confronted with a claim that may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something I have decided to call “moves.”

Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process.  They are associated with specific tactics. Here are the four moves this guide will hinge on:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

In general, you can try these moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

When you encounter a claim you want to check, your first move might be to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim (Check for previous work).

If you can’t find previous work on the claim, start by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, try to find the journal it appeared in. If the claim is about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported (Go upstream).

Maybe you get lucky and the source is something known to be reputable, such as the journal Science or the newspaper the New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source you’ve ended up at and asking whether it is trustworthy (Read laterally).

And if at any point you fail–if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims–then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source (Circle back).

From Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael A. Caufield, Chapter 2: Four Moves

What "Reading Laterally" Means

Time for our third move: good fact-checkers read “laterally,” across many connected sites instead of digging deep into the site at hand.

When you start to read a book, a journal article, or a physical newspaper in the “real world,” you already know quite a bit about your source. You’ve subscribed to the newspaper, or picked it up from a newsstand because you’ve heard of it. You’ve ordered the book from Amazon or purchased it from a local bookstore because it was a book you were interested in reading. You’ve chosen a journal article either because of the quality of the journal article or because someone whose expertise and background you know cited it. In other words, when you get to the document you need to evaluate, the process of getting there has already given you some initial bearings.

Compared to these intellectual journeys, web reading is a bit more like teleportation. Even after following a source upstream, you arrive at a page, site, and author that are often all unknown to you. How do you analyze the author’s qualifications or the trustworthiness of the site?

Researchers have found that most people go about this the wrong way. When confronted with a new site, they poke around the site and try to find out what the site says about itself by going to the “about page,” clicking around in onsite author biographies, or scrolling up and down the page. This is a faulty strategy for two reasons. First, if the site is untrustworthy, then what the site says about itself is most likely untrustworthy, as well. And, even if the site is generally trustworthy, it is inclined to paint the most favorable picture of its expertise and credibility possible.

The solution to this is, in the words of Sam Wineburg’s Stanford research team, to “read laterally.” Lateral readers don’t spend time on the page or site until they’ve first gotten their bearings by looking at what other sites and resources say about the source at which they are looking.

For example, when presented with a new site that needs to be evaluated, professional fact-checkers don’t spend much time on the site itself. Instead they get off the page and see what other authoritative sources have said about the site. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the site they’re investigating. Many of the questions they ask are the same as the vertical readers scrolling up and down the pages of the source they are evaluating. But unlike those readers, they realize that the truth is more likely to be found in the network of links to (and commentaries about) the site than in the site itself.

Only when they’ve gotten their bearings from the rest of the network do they re-engage with the content. Lateral readers gain a better understanding as to whether to trust the facts and analysis presented to them.

You can tell lateral readers at work: they have multiple tabs open and they perform web searches on the author of the piece and the ownership of the site. They also look at pages linking to the site, not just pages coming from it.

Lateral reading helps the reader understand both the perspective from which the site’s analyses come and if the site has an editorial process or expert reputation that would allow one to accept the truth of a site’s facts.

We’re going to deal with the latter issue of factual reliability, while noting that lateral reading is just as important for the first issue.

From Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael A. Caufield, Chapter 16: What "Reading Laterally" Means

Media Literacy Games
  • Spot the Troll

    An online quiz where students examine images of real social media content and decide whether it's from a legitimate account or an internet troll. From Clemson University Media Forensics Hub.

  • Get Bad News

    From fake news to chaos! How bad are you? Get as many followers as you can.

  • FakeOut

    Your social media feed has been infected by false information. Your job is to learn the skills of verification, so you can sort fact from fiction — in the game, and in real life.

Originally posted in the San José State University Library Fake News LibGuide

Why We Fall For It

Logical Fallacies

A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Strong arguments are void of logical fallacies, whilst arguments that are weak tend to use fallacies in place of cogent logic. They're like tricks or illusions of thought, and they're often very sneakily used by politicians, the media, and others to fool people. Don't be fooled! This poster has been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly , incoherent head. If you see someone committing a logical fallacy online, link them to the relevant fallacy to school them in thinkiness.

School of Thought - Logical Fallacies

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases make our judgements irrational. We have evolved to use shortcuts in our thinking, which are often useful, but a cognitive bias means there's a kind of misfiring going on causing us to lose objectivity. This poster has been designed to help you identify some of the most common biases and how to avoid falling victim to them.

School of Thought - Your Bias Is

Additional Resources


Understanding & Identifying Fake News LibGuide

Websites and Worksheets

Take on Fake

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Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers...and other people who care about facts.

Author: Mike Caulfield


In this module, you have learned how to:

  1. Evaluate information sources for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose
  2. Differentiate between credible and noncredible sources of information