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OCLS Tutorials: Evaluating Resources

 

 


EVALUATING SOURCES

 


 

The checklist provides five basic aspects of a source that should be evaluated before the information is used for academic purposes.

 

The CRAAP Test Infographic

 

Currency - Timeliness of the information

  • When was it published?
  • Has it been revised or updated?
  • Do you need current or historical information?

 

Relevance - Importance of the information

  • Does it relate to your topic?
  • Does it answer your question?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your final project?

 

Authority - Source of the information 

  • Who is the author?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Is there contact or publisher information available? 

 

Accuracy - Reliability and truthfulness of the information

  • Where does it come from?
  • Is it supported by evidence?
  • Can you verify any information in another source?
  • Are there any errors (grammar, spelling, etc.)?

 

Purpose

  • What is its purpose?
  • Do the authors make their intentions clear?
  • Is the point of view objective and impartial?
  • Is it biased? 

 


 

EVALUATING INFORMATION

 


 

The old adage, "Don't believe everything you read" holds true in every form of publication. Just because something is published in a book or on a sharp webpage does not necessarily mean it's true and accurate. Being able to assess the truth of information is a necessary skill.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32, New International Version).

 

 

Print Publishing

 

The investment required to print and distribute books once limited print publication to works funded and marketed by commercial publishers.  Publishers faced expensive lawsuits if they distributed false or slanderous information.  

 

Therefore, publishers served as gatekeepers, refusing to publish books or articles that did not meet editorial standards for accuracy. Publishing houses established rigorous editorial or review processes to keep authors honest and accurate. As a consequence, it was an accomplishment when an author had a book or article published.

 

To this day the publishing industry does a fairly good job of regulating itself.   Even so, caution should be exercised when evaluating information from printed sources. There are publishers who have built a reputation for printing "sensational" novels, conspiracy theories, or supermarket tabloids. And vanity publishing (also known as "self-publishing") has become cheap enough that a person can print a book for a few hundred dollars. The following seven questions allow a reader to determine if a printed source is likely to be useful in an academic environment:

 

  1. Do references and citations give credit to prior research?
    An academic work derives its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or thinkers.
  2. Is the book or journal title common in university libraries?
    If academic libraries purchase the book and public libraries do not, this indicates it is written for an academic audience.
  3. Is the book or journal indexed in library databases?
    While this does not validate the content, the appearance of book reviews or article indexing in academic databases implies that the material is scholarly.
  4. Is the book or article written by an expert whose work is referenced in textbooks or other articles?
    Scholarly books and articles normally list an author's academic credentials and any academic affiliation.
  5. When was the book or article published?
    In technology fields such as nursing, a five-year-old book may be obsolete, while literary criticism may be valid for generations.
  6. Is the publisher known for academic publications?
    If a publisher has expertise in editing and distributing to a specialized market, they probably stand behind the accuracy of anything they publish on the subject.
  7. Do research methods and evidence used by the author seem consistent with other reading you have done?
    If the book contradicts your other readings, suspect the information within it.

 

 

Webpages

 

In the United States, there is very little governmental editing or censorship of what is posted on the web. In the absence of regulation, pages that are outdated, unsupported, or pranks abound on the Internet. Individuals promoting conspiracy theories and illicit commercial ventures generally have a website.   For these reasons, webpage content should be assessed to verify it's suitability for academic use.

 

The following ten questions have been prepared to determine if a Web site may be used in a university environment. If any questions on this list cannot be answered to your satisfaction, or cannot be answered at all, you may want to avoid using the page as a source of information.

 

  1. Does the webpage provide references and citations which give credit to the sources of information that were consulted?
    An academic work derives its credibility by building upon the work of earlier experts or thinkers.
  2. Is there an organization or individual author who is responsible for the webpage? If there is an individual author, does this person have credentials or an affiliation with a recognized institution?
    Either an organization or a scholar affiliated with a university or major corporation will take great pains to only publish truthful work, as their reputation for knowledge and accuracy is fundamental to their success.
  3. Does the web address have a suffix (domain) of .gov or .edu?
    These two domain file extensions are limited to United States governmental bodies and higher education institutions, and information posted on such sites is almost always accurate. Webpages for organizational and company sites (.org and .com) are open to almost any special interest and must be evaluated based on the reputation of the organization or company.
  4. When was the site created or last updated?
    Many reputable webpages do not provide dates, or only provide the range of dates when the pages were created. However, if you require current information, look for pages displaying an appropriate edit or creation date.
  5. Can you determine whether the purpose of the page is: (1) to provide information; (2) to promote beliefs or a community; (3) to sell a product or service, or (4) to entertain?
    Only the first category is likely to be committed to truth, acknowledging differing viewpoints and examining foundational assumptions.
  6. Do the methods and evidence cited by the author seem consistent with other reading you have done?
    If the research method or results are unusual, the information may be bogus.
  7. Is the website internally accurate, or is it marred by errors in spelling, grammar, or math?
    If the Web site is going to be used to support your academic paper, the Web site should show the attention to detail that marks an educated person.
  8. Can the audience of the page be readily determined?
    Pages for high school students are easy to understand, but should not be cited in an academic paper.
  9. Do many other webpages refer to this webpage for support?
    While links do not validate the content, if a tool such as 
    Alexa.com shows hundreds of links to a site, it indicates other webpage creators have found the page noteworthy.
  10. Does the content appear to be plagiarized?
    There are many Web sites that copy entire articles from Wikipedia or other webpages without providing any credit to the original source.

 

 

References

Beck, S. E. (2009). Evaluation criteria. Retrieved from New Mexico State University Library website: http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/evalcrit.html

Branham, C. (1998). A student's guide to WWW research: Web searching, Web page evaluation, and research strategies. Retrieved from Saint Louis University, Department of English website: http://www.slu.edu/colleges/AS/ENG/cai/research

Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2010). Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age (Project Information Literacy Progress Report). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED535166.pdf

Purdue University. (2010). Evaluating information sources. Retrieved from http://gemini.lib.purdue.edu/core/files/evaluating4.html

Virginia Tech University Libraries. (2013). Evaluating Internet information. Evaluating webpages for research. Retrieved from http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/evaluate


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