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GEOL 095: The Blue Planet (Fall 2017)

Evaluating Information

You've found some resources for your assignment, but are they appropriate for your research? It's easy to find articles in databases and websites on the Internet, but are they reliable? With so much information available, both print and online, researchers need to develop skills in evaluating the resources they locate. In particular, you want to find credible resources that provide information that the reader can trust because it's backed up with evidence. The definition of a credible source depends on the information need, the audience, the topic, and the discipline. 
When in doubt, use the CRAAP Test!: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

How to Evaluate Sources

A video from Stanford University Libraries about evaluating sources.

Evaluating Information: Currency

Currency: Currency, or date, is important to note because information can quickly become obsolete. Supporting your research with facts that have been superseded by new research or recent events weakens your argument. Not all assignments require the most current information; older materials can provide valuable information such as a historical overview of your topic. In some disciplines, the date of the source is less important, while in others it is very important.

Questions to ask to determine currency:

  • When was the information published or last updated?
  • Have newer articles been published on your topic?
  • Are links or references to other sources up-to-date?
  • Is your topic in an area that changes rapidly, like technology or science?
  • Is the information obsolete?

Evaluating Information: Relevance

Relevance: Relevance is important because you are expected to support your ideas with pertinent information. A source detailing Einstein's marriage would not be very relevant to a paper about his scientific theories.

Questions to ask to determine relevance:

  • ​Does the information answer your research question?
  • Does the information meet the stated requirements for the assignment?
  • Is the information too technical or too simplified for you to use?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Does the source add something new to your knowledge of the topic?
  • Is the information focused on the geographical location you are interested in?

Evaluating Information: Authority

Authority: Authority is important in judging the credibility of the author's assertions. In a trial regarding DNA evidence, a jury would find a genetics specialist's testimony far more authoritative compared to a testimony from a random person off the street.

Questions to ask to determine authority:

  • What are the author's credentials? 
  • Is the author affiliated with an educational institution or a prominent organization? 
  • Can you find information about the author in reference books or on the Internet? 
  • Do other books or articles on the same research topic cite the author? 
  • Is the publisher of the information source reputable? Search by publisher name (peer-reviewed journal or reputable publisher)

Evaluating Information: Accuracy

Accuracy: Accuracy is important because errors and untruths distort a line of reasoning. When you present inaccurate information, you undermine your own credibility.

Questions to ask to determine accuracy:

  • Are there statements you know to be false?
  • Was the information reviewed by editors or subject experts before it was published?
  • Do the citations and references support the author's claim? Are the references correctly cited?
  • What do other people have to say on the topic? Is there general agreement among subject experts?
  • If applicable, is there a description of the research method used? Does the method seem appropriate and well-executed?
  • Was item published by a peer-reviewed journal, academic press, or other reliable publisher?

Evaluating Information: Purpose

Purpose: Books, articles, and web pages are made to serve a purpose. They can educate, entertain, or sell a product or point of view. Some sources may be frivolous or commercial in nature, providing inaccurate, false, or biased information. Other sources are more ambiguous about any potential partiality. Varied points of view can be valid as long as they are based on good reasoning and careful use of evidence.

Questions to ask to determine purpose:

  • Why did the author or publisher make this information available? 
  • Is there obvious and/or extreme bias or prejudice? 
  • Are alternative points of view presented? 
  • Does the author omit any important facts or data that might disprove their claim? 
  • Does the author use strong emotional language?

Source

Content on this page references the CRAAP Test by California State University, Chico.