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Evaluating Sources

This guide will provide you with information that you can use to critically evaluate sources including websites, articles and reports, books and ebooks, etc.

Evaluating Sources Using C.R.A.A.P.O.

What is C.R.A.A.P.O.?

C.R.A.A.P.O. is an acronym for the primary criteria you want to use when evaluating sources. It stands for:

  • Currency
  • Relevancy
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Purpose
  • Objectivity

Use the tabs on this box for more information about each criteria. Keep in mind that most of these criteria apply to evaluating websites as well, but websites may have some additional criteria to consider such as domain and functionality. Visit the What About Websites? page for more details.

Check out the Source Evaluation Rubric for a step-by-step evaluation tool.

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Currency

Evaluating a source by currency means that you are asking: Is the content presented current enough for your project?

When considering the currency of a source, ask yourself:

  • Was this source published recently or is it older? Does your research call for the use of very current sources (e.g. medical research) or can you use older sources (e.g. historical research)?
  • If you are evaluating a website or other frequently updated source, does the website list the date it was last updated and is the date current enough for your research?

Where should you look to determine the currency of a source?

Print & Database Sources Websites
  • Date of publication (could be inside front cover of a book, on the detailed record of a resource, on the PDF of an article, etc.)
  • Look for the last date updated (could be anywhere on the webpage, often at the bottom)
  • Date of publication (if an article or blog from a website--could be near the title/author information)

What to avoid:

  • Sources that have been published more than 5 years ago (unless doing research on a topic that requires examination of older materials - check with your professor if you're not sure how current your sources should be)
  • Websites with no "Last Updated Date" or a website with no updates in the past year
EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
MSNBC.com What kind of site is it? Would you expect the information to be up to date?
CIA World Factbook Is the information on this web site up to date? Why is that important?
TravelGram Is the information up to date? Why or why not would this be important?

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Relevancy

Evaluating a source by relevancy means that you are asking: Does it answer your question or contribute to your research?

When considering the relevancy of a source, there are several things to ask yourself:

  • Is the scope of the source is appropriate for your research? Does the source provide a general overview of your topic or is it focused specifically on a single aspect of your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience for the source? Is the information too basic or too technical? Does it assume you have prior knowledge about the topic?
  • How many sources have you found? Have you searched thoroughly enough to find the most relevant sources available?
  • Does the source meet the parameters of your assignment? Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research project?

Where should you look to determine the relevancy of a source?

Print & Database Sources Websites
  • Read the abstract, summary, or table of contents
  • Scan the full text of the source
  • Examine subject terms and keywords associated with the source
  • Look at sources beyond the first page of search results
  • Read the abstract, summary, or table of contents (if available)
  • Scan the full text of the source
  • Examine subject terms and keywords associated with the source (if available)
  • Look at sources beyond the first page of search results

What to avoid:

  • Sources that provide minimal usable content for your research
  • Sources that provide content which is too broad or too narrow for your research
EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
What is "global climate change"? Who is the intended audience for this web site? Does it include information that is too technical or too basic?
Foreign Affairs Does this website assume you have prior knowledge about the topic? Does it address a topic broadly or is it very specific?
How Stuff Works Does this website offer a general overview of a topic or does it answer a specific question? Would you feel comfortable citing this source in your research project?

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Accuracy

Evaluating a source by accuracy means that you are asking: Is the information provided correct?

When considering accuracy, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the source been edited or peer-reviewed?
  • Has the author supplied a list of references for their work? Does the list of references include scholarly sources?
  • Is the information provided verifiable? What does this source offer compared to other sources?
  • Is the language or tone opinion based or does it contain facts and statistics?
  • Does the source include spelling or grammatical errors? Is the source logical, well organized, and professional in appearance?
  • Is the information crowd sourced or vulnerable to changes by other authors or non-experts (e.g. Wikipedia or another public wiki)?

Where should you look to determine the accuracy of a source?

Print & Database Sources Websites
  • Read the source's reference list (if available)
  • Find out more about the publisher, journal, etc. via their websites, information provided with the source, etc.
  • Examine source in full text (PDF or original print is preferable) for errors, organization, opinions, etc.
  • If using an article or blog on a website, read the reference list (if available)
  • Look at the "About Us" section of the website to find out more about the website's author(s), affiliations, submission and editorial process, etc.
  • Examine the website and web pages you will be using for errors, organization, opinions, etc.

What to avoid:

  • Sources that have no reference list and/or that have not gone through any type of editorial or peer-review process (unless you are seeking non-scholarly materials)
  • Sources with grammatical or spelling errors
  • Sources that are vulnerable to changes by other authors or non-experts (e.g. Wikipedia)
EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
Current Employment Statistics Where does the information come from? Does the author cite sources?
A Brief History of Medical Marijuana Is this an opinion site, or a straightforward and objective piece of information?
Smithsonian Institution Is this site purely informational, or is it trying to sell a product (advertising)?

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Authority

Evaluating a source by authority means that you are asking: Does the author have expertise on the topic about which he/she is writing?

When considering authority, ask yourself:

  • Who is the author? Is he or she a subject expert on the topic? What are the author's credentials?
  • Is the source sponsored or published by a reputable organization or institution?
  • Is the author the original creator of the information?

Where should you look to determine the authority of a source?

Print & Database Sources Websites
  • Examine or look up the author's credentials and affiliations
  • Try to find more sources written by the author(s) and examine them - are they scholarly?
  • Look for the author's contact information
  • Examine the publisher's credentials
  • Examine or look up the author's credentials and affiliations
  • Try to find more sources written by the author(s) and examine them - are they scholarly?
  • Look for the author's contact information‚Äč
  • Examine the domain extension (i.e. .com, .edu)

What to avoid:

  • Authors who have no credentials or affiliations, no expertise on the topic
  • Personal websites. These are usually indicated by the text (e.g. "Personal Homepage Of..."), by specific characters in the web address (e.g. the use of a tilde ~), or by a username in the web address (e.g. ~jsmith).
EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
Eating Disorders Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
Country Joe McDonald's Florence Nightingale Tribute Is the author an expert, or a credible source of information?
Rooftop Gardens Are you able to find information about the author? Is it a personal website?

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Purpose & Objectivity

Evaluating a source by purpose & objectivity means that you are asking: Is there bias or a slant given to the information provided?

When considering the purpose & objectivity of a source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What point of view does the author represent? Is the source arguing for or against something? Does the source contain mostly factual information or is it opinion-based?
  • Is the source associated with an organization or institution that is known for promoting a certain point of view or opinion?
  • What appears to be the purpose of the information provided -- to inform, teach, sell, entertain, provide public services, or persuade?

Where should you look to determine the purpose & objectivity of a source?

Print & Database Sources Websites
  • Read the abstract, summary, or table of contents for the source
  • Scan the full text of the source - look for facts, statistics, advertisements, etc.
  • Examine or look up the author's and publisher's affiliations
  • Examine or look up other works written or published by the author/publisher
  • Read the abstract, summary, or table of contents for the source (if available)
  • Scan the full text of the source - look for facts, statistics, advertisements, etc.
  • Examine or look up website's or author's affiliations
  • Examine or look up other works written or published by the author/website
  • Examine the domain extension (i.e. .com, .edu)

What to avoid:

  • Sources that are primarily opinion-based, with few facts or statistics (unless seeking biased sources)
  • Sources that are primarily concerned with selling a product (unless seeking biased sources)
  • Sources with affiliations known for promoting a certain viewpoint (unless seeking biased sources)

Note: It's okay to use information from sources that contain strong arguments or opinions, but it's always a good idea to acknowledge the author's view.

EXAMPLES QUESTIONS TO ASK
BeefNutrition.org Who sponsors this web site? Does it promote an agenda or specific viewpoint?
Melatonin.com Is this site purely informational, or is it trying to sell a product (advertising)?
Monsanto - Biotechnology Who sponsors this web site? Does it promote an agenda or specific viewpoint?

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