Critically Evaluating Information
In addition to the information retrieved from library databases and the Web sites listed above, the free Internet can be a valuable source of information, too. However, as is the case with all resources you use, remember to think critically about the authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage of the information you find.
Evaluating Library Resources
Books and database articles should be evaluated to determine their credibility and relevance to your topic before selecting them for a research assignment. Use the CRAAP test below to help you evaluate whether a source is right for your research.
Use this CRAAP test worksheet to evaluate your sources.
- What is the publication date of the book or database article?
- How up-to-date are the citations in the bibliography?
- How current does the information need to be for your topic or your assignment?
- Does the information relate directly to your topic or answer your question?
- Who is the audience for the publication (scholarly or general)?
- Is the information primary or secondary in nature?
- Does it provide general background information or in-depth information on a specific topic? Which do you need?
Who created the information?
- What are the qualifications of the author, publisher, or organization responsible for the content of the resource?
- What are the author's education and/or experience?
- Look for the author's biography or information about the publisher or responsible organization either within the publication or use the sources below to find out more about authors, publishers, and organizations:
Information on Authors:
- Biography Index 1984 - present
- Gale Virtual Reference Library (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
Information on Publishers:
- Google - look for publisher's home page (check for focus, how long in business, circulation, etc)
- Worldcat.org - see how many/which kind of libraries have the publication.
Information on Organizations:
- Idealist.org - information about foundations
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Can you verify the information in another source?
- How extensive is the bibliography or list of cited references? Can you use these references to find more information on your topic?
- Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
- Have other scholars evaluated or cited the resource?
- Search the title of the book in OneSearch and refine your search on the lefthand side by choosing "book review" under the "format" on the left.
- Book Review Digest Plus, 1983- present
- Articles: Search the article title in Google Scholar to see how many times it has been cited and link to the articles that cited it.
- What is the purpose of the information? Is it meant to inform you, sell you something or persuade you?
- Does it present a fair and balanced view of an issue?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religous, or personal biases?
- Are opinions or propaganda easy to recognize?
- Are there advertisements that suggest the information might be biased toward selling a product rather than providing objective information?
Evaluating Internet Resources
Internet resources can be even more challenging to evaluate because dates and authors are not always readily available. Plus, we all know that anyone can create a website. Using the CRAAP test will help you thoroughly evaluate your source, but the following are some important things to consider when reviewing internet sources.
Who Created the Information?
Websites do not always have authors so you'll need to find information on who or what organization is responsible for creating and updating the webpage. The following are links to look for on webpages that should provide more information on who is behind the website.
- "About Us": usually provides information about the organization or company that is responsible for the webpage.
- "Mission Statement": this will provide information on what the organizations values or goals are.
- "Contributors": provides information on who contributes content to the website, sometimes they'll even list the qualifications of their contributors. This section may also provide information on who funds either the website or the organization. *Beware of websites like Wikipedia where anyone can create an account and edit webpages.
Finding the date a website was created or last updated can be difficult sometimes. If you can't find a date on a particular webpage, click around and look at the other resources on their website, can you find a date anywhere? Are there links to other sources that are out of date or dead links?
URL Domain Extensions
The following is a list of the most popular domain extensions, which can be used to help determine authority and objectivity. However, domain extensions alone cannot determine if a web source is quality or if it's right for your research.
.gov - Government. The intent of the site is to present official information collected by or about the workings of a government.
.edu - Educational institution. The intent of the site is to educate as well as present information collected by or about the educational institution. *Look out for student work or papers that haven't been published in an authoritative source.
.com - Commercial. The intent of the site is to sell goods or services, as well as provide information about the company.
.org - Organization, usually non-profit. The intent of the site is to present information collected by or about the organization. Sometimes, the intent of the site is to promote a particular point of view. *For more information about the organization check out Idealist.org.
.net - Network, usually personal Web pages. The intent of the site is as varied as the individual(s) responsible for the content. *Usually not scholarly in nature, so if it is a personal page then make sure you research who that person is and what their qualifications are.
A more complete list of top-level domains is also available.
When to be skeptical?
- There is no author or organization associated with the website.
- There are a lot of advertisements and pop-ups. Just because a website looks professional does not mean that it's authoritative.
- Websites that ask you to take some sort of action: donate money, sign a petition, give your email, etc.
- A website that only cites itself, providing links that only lead you to other resources within the site.