Essential Steps and Tools for Trustworthy Research
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.
Why Is It Necessary 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.
The CRAAP Test
Use the CRAAP Test to help you decide if the source you found is credible:
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- Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?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)
- .net (network)
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?
- 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
Fake news Is false information deliberately 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.
10 Types of Misleading News
- Ideological and includes interpretation of facts but may claim to be impartial
- Privileges facts that conform to the narrative whilst forgoing others
- Emotional and passionate language
- Tries to explain simply complex realities as response to fear or uncertainty
- Not falsifiable and evidence that refutes the conspiracy is regarded as further proof of the conspiracy
- Rejects experts and authority
- Purveyors of greenwashing, miracle cures, anti-vaccination and climate change denial
- Misrepresents real scientific studies with exaggerated or false claims
- Often contradicts experts
- Includes a mix of factual, false or partly-false content
- Intention can be to inform but author may not be aware the content is false
- False attributions, doctored content and misleading headlines
- Entirely fabricated content spread intentionally to disinform
- Guerrilla marketing tactics, bots, comments and counterfeit branding
- Motivated by ad revenue, political influence or both
- Adopted by governments, corporations and non-profits to manage attitudes, values, and knowledge
- Appeals to emotions
- Can be beneficial or harmful
- Eye catching, sensational headlines designed to distract
- Often misleading and content may not reflect headline
- Drives ad revenue
- Advertising made to look like editorial
- Potential conflict of interest for genuine news organisations
- Consumers might not identify content as advertising if it is not clearly labeled
Satire and Hoax
- Social commentary or humour
- Varies widely in quality and intended meaning may not be apparent
- Can embarrass people who confuse the content as true
- Established news organisations sometimes make mistakes
- Mistakes can hurt the brand, offend or result in litigation
- Reputable orgs publish apologies
How to Spot Fake News
Consider the Source
Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
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?
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.
List of Fake News Websites
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.
Fact Checking Sites
All Sides — A website that rates the bias of news stories and other articles, labeling them according to where they fit on a political spectrum from left to center to right. And it posts multiple versions of major stories and their ratings. Readers can test their own biases on the site.
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.
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.
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.
Helpful Links for Evaluating Sources
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.
Fake News or Parody
More fake news & parody sites to be aware of:
- 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.
Putting CRAAP to the Test
Put CRAAP to the test by investigating a news story. Evaluate the Currency of the information, considering when it was published or last updated. Examine the Relevance to your topic, assess the Authority of the source, verify the Accuracy of the content, and analyze the Purpose behind the information's existence. By applying the CRAAP Test, you can critically assess the credibility and reliability of the news story and make well-informed judgments about its trustworthiness.
Checklist for Evaluating Sources
Use this comprehensive checklist as a valuable tool while conducting research, guiding you in effortlessly evaluating the credibility of any information source. It is crucial to recognize that not all sources can be automatically considered trustworthy, necessitating the application of your own educated judgment and critical thinking skills.
By employing this checklist, you can confidently distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, ensuring that the information you utilize is accurate, authoritative, and serves a valid and useful purpose, thereby enhancing the quality of your work and showcasing your adeptness in critical analysis.