Evaluate Sources of Information
An important part of the research process is comparing and evaluating the information you find.
Who wrote it? Why did they write it? When was it published? What evidence or data did they use to support their claims?
These are important questions you need to ask BEFORE you use any source in your work.
Reasons for the need to evaluate information sources
- You cannot guarantee that all information sources are trustworthy. So will need to use your own educated judgment and critical thinking skills to evaluate them.
- Some sources of information are more trustworthy than others, but it can be hard to tell from appearances. Even scholarly articles from library databases can contain unreliable or inaccurate information.
- You need to filter out the information you do not need and should not use.
- When you use credible sources of information, your work will improve and your critical thinking skills will show in your writing.
- Credible Sources are reliable, authoritative, accurate, and have a valid, useful purpose.
Use this checklist when you're researching to help you easily evaluate a source.
The CRAAP Test
Currency: the Timeliness of the Information
- When was the information published or posted?
- Has the information been revised or updated?
- Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
- If its online, are the links functional?
Relevance: the Importance of the Information for your needs
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
- Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
- Would you be comfortable using this source?
Authority: the Source of the Information
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
- Does the author have any credentials or are any organizational affiliations mentioned?
- If so, what are their credentials?
- Is any contact information provided, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
- If its an online source, does the URL reveal anything?
.com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government)
.org (non-profit organization)
Accuracy: the Reliability, Truthfulness, and Correctness of the Content
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Has the information been reviewed by others or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from your own personal knowledge?
- Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
Purpose: the Reason the Information Exists
- What is the purpose of the information? To inform? to teach? To sell? To entertain? To persuade?
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information given fact? opinion? propaganda?
- Is there any obvious (or subtle) advertising?
- Does the point of view, language and tone appear objective, impartial and free of emotion?
- Can you identify any political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
Try and put CRAAP to the test by investigating a news story in this exercise.
Helpful Links For Evaluation Sources
Fact Checking List
- Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning - This Stanford University study published on Nov. 22, 2016 showed that more than 7,800 middle school, high school and college students in 12 states could not assess the credibility of the information that floods their smartphones, tablets, and computers — despite their aptitude for digital and social media." Working from this perspective the NLP teaches students how to differentiate between, on the one side, reporting that seeks to present information fairly, accurately and contextually and, on the other, opinion, rumor and disinformation. This is a great potential resource for students and educators.
- FactCheck.org - A product of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, this site is terrific for checking up on political claims.
- LinkedIn - A professional networking website where you can look up the authors of articles and books to see if they're credible.
- The News Literacy Project - The News Literacy Project (NLP) is an innovative national educational program that mobilizes seasoned journalists to work with educators to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.
- News Literacy Project - A collaboration between journalists and educators to improve students’ information literacy through lessons in the classroom and its online program Checkology.
- Pew Research Centre
- Politifact - The Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact researches the claims of politicians and checks their accuracy.
- Snopes.com - One of the oldest debunking sites on the Internet, Snopes.com focuses on urban legends, news stories and memes. the also cite their sources at the end of each debunking.
- Room for Debate
- Washington Post Fact-Checker - The Post's Fact Checker blog is run by journalist Glenn Kessler. The site assesses claims made by politicians or political advocacy groups and gives out Pinochios based on level of accuracy.
- Voyant Tools
- Web Historian
- When you open up a news article in your browser, open a second, empty tab. Use that second window to look up evidence, check an author’s credentials and investigate the companies or organizations mentioned in your source.
- Check your own opinions and biases: What keywords are you using? Are they biased in any way? Are you paying more attention to search results that confirm or support your own beliefs and ignoring those that don’t?
- Be suspicious of pictures! Not all photographs tell the truth. Images are sometimes digitally manipulated. Do a Google reverse image search to discover the source of an image and its possible variations.
For more information about evaluating sources, check out the following links:
- Cairo, Alberto. The Functional Art: Alberto Cairo's weblog on visualization, infographics and data journalism. Guide to evaluating data presentation online, including from news sources.
- Caulfield, Michael A. Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers. See the table of contents for a list of ways to evaluate the accuracy of news stories. Brief, practical guidance.
- Cornell University Library. Research & Learning Services. Critically Analyzing Information Sources. What to look for when evaluating published content.
- Cornell University Library. Research & Learning Services. Evaluating News Sources.
- Stony Brook University. School of Journalism. Center for News Literacy. Digital Resource Center. Lesson 8: Source Evaluation.
All About Fake News
The term "fake news" refers to false information that is intentionally spread by people who either want to make money or promote a political agenda. Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp can spread fake news stories really fast and make them go viral. Fake news is a problem because it leads people to lose trust in their governments, in science and in the democratic process of society.
List of Fake News Websites
A Quick List of unreliable website sources that you should probably avoid citing in your work. Starting on page 4 of this document is a list of tagged websites that have been analyzed by librarians. All tags may be subject to revision based on feedback, discussion, continued analysis, or website changes etc.
Fake News or Parody
- The Daily Dot: Fake News Sites List. A compiled list of fake news sites to watch out for.
- List of Fake and Parody News. Professor Zimdars' original list and criteria, with updates and addenda.
- The Onion. One of America's premier parody news sites.
- The Borowitz Report. From humorist Andy Borowitz, a column parodizing and commenting on current news trends.
- Dr. Joseph Mercola. Dr. Mercola is a doctor of osteopathy who has frequently been targeted by the FDA for promoting false, misleading and even dangerous medical advice. His site promotes products and his blog includes false and/or misleading information about medical topics.
Spot Fake News
- Consider the Source - Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
- Read Beyond - Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
- Check the Author - Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
- Supporting Sources? - Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
- Check the Date - Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
- Is it a Joke? - If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
- Check your Biases - Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgment.
- Ask the Experts - Ask a librarian or consult a fact-checking site.