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Evaluate Your Sources: Evaluate

Evaluate your Sources!

When you look at an information source --- no matter whether it's an article or an entertainment news story on ET --- you should always be evaluating its content.  An easy way to do this is to run it through the "CRAAP" test.  The CRAAP test is a list of evaluation criteria (explained below) that can help you make sure you are finding good information and using good sources.

Currency 

  • Do I need current or historical information?  Is this the most updated source I can find? Or is this source from the proper time frame to serve as a historical resource? 
  • Has this information been revised or changed since it was published?
  • Bottom line: Does this offer appropriately current or historical information?

Relevance 

  • Does this information help me accomplish the purpose of my paper/work?
  • Does this easily relate to my topic?
  • Does this information strengthen my argument or statements?
  • Bottom line: Is this a source that adds value to my work? Is it worth including?

Authority 

  • Who is the author? What expertise do they have -- knowledge, education, experience?  
  • Who is the publisher? Why have they made this information available?
  • Does the author or published have any motivation or bias for their work?
  • Bottom line:  Can you trust this author to know what they're talking about?  Is this person the best source that you can find on this topic?

Accuracy 

  • Is this information correct? Reliable?
  • Can this information be verified in other sources?
  • What methods did they use to collect this information/data? How did they draw their conclusions?
  • Do they list their sources? Are these sources academic/scholarly/credible?
  • Bottom line: Can you trust that this information is true?

Purpose

  • Why was this written? Why does this information exist? Why was it made public? 
  • What was the writer's purpose? The publisher's purpose?
  • Are there any hints of bias? Is the author up front about this bias?
  • Is this information trying to persuade or influence you?
  • Bottom line:  Understanding the purpose of the source can ensure that you do not fall prey to biased or one-sided information.

Evaluation Handouts

This is for all those who would prefer to have a paper copy of the evaluation checklist.  Just click on this document, download it, and print.

Evaluating Information for Credibility

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Work

DEFINITIONS:

Scholarly or peer-reviewed journal articles are written by scholars or professionals who are experts in their fields. In the sciences and social sciences, they often publish research results.

Substantive news articles are reliable sources of information on events and issues of public concern.

Popular articles reflect the tastes of the general public and are often meant as entertainment.

Sensational and tabloid articles intend to arouse strong curiosity, interest, or reaction. They do not follow the standards of journalistic ethics. They are not factually accurate.

Keeping these definitions in mind, and realizing that none of the lines drawn between types of journals can ever be totally clear cut, lists of more specific descriptive criteria follow on the next pages.


What to look for in a Scholarly article:

  • Scholarly journal articles often have an abstract, a descriptive summary of the article contents, before the main text of the article.
  • Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies. These bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly writings.
  • Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The affiliations of the authors are listed, usually at the bottom of the first page or at the end of the article--universities, research institutions, think tanks, and the like.
  • The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some technical background on the part of the reader.
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.
  • Many scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.

 

Video on How to Identify Scholarly Articles from Cornell University's Library

Critically Analyzing Information Sources for Annotated Bibliography Annotations

INITIAL APPRAISAL

A. Author

  1. What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation (where he or she works), educational background, past writings, or experience? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? You can often use the biographical information located in the publication itself to help determine the author's affiliation and credentials.
  2. Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.
  3. Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?

B. Date of Publication

  1. When was the source published? This date is often located on the face of the title page below the name of the publisher. If it is not there, look for the copyright date on the reverse of the title page. On Web pages, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom of the home page, sometimes every page.
  2. Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. On the other hand, topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago. At the other extreme, some news sources on the Web now note the hour and minute that articles are posted on their site.

C. Edition or Revision

Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with its intended reader's needs. Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable. If you are using a Web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?

D. Publisher

Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.

E. Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas. If you need help in distinguishing scholarly vs. non-scholarly works?  Check out the libguide, Evaluate your Sources


CONTENT ANALYSIS

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. If it is a book, read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the work. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic. Reading the article abstract and scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. Just like with books, the presence and quality of a bibliography at the end of the article may reflect the care with which the authors have prepared their work.

A. Intended Audience

What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience? Is this source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

B. Objective Reasoning

  1. Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.
  2. Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.
  3. Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic? The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize his or her ideas.
  4. Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?

C. Coverage

  1. Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
  2. Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. For example, if you were researching Konrad Adenauer's role in rebuilding West Germany after World War II, Adenauer's own writings would be one of many primary sources available on this topic. Others might include relevant government documents and contemporary German newspaper articles. Scholars use this primary material to help generate historical interpretations--a secondary source. Books, encyclopedia articles, and scholarly journal articles about Adenauer's role are considered secondary sources. In the sciences, journal articles and conference proceedings written by experimenters reporting the results of their research are primary documents. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.

D. Writing Style

Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?

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