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Introduction to Library Research: Evaluating Sources

A video presentation on starting your research using the resources at the Macdonald-Kelce Library at The University of Tampa.

Evaluating Sources using the CRAAP Test

CRAAP stands for: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose

Use these assessment tools to evaluate what you're reading. Still confused about what news is trustworthy and what is fake? Read through our Fake News guide. 

Currency

  • The timeliness of the information:
    1. When was the information published or posted?
    2. Does the year published matter to your topic? Do you need the most up to date information or does that not matter?
    3. When was the information last revised or updated?
    4. Are the links on a website functional or are they broken?

Relevance 

  • The importance of the information as related to your topic:
    1. Is the information central to your argument or does it only briefly touch upon it?
    2. Who is the intended audience and is it at the appropriate level for you? Is it for the general public, grade school students, or scholars?
    3. Can you find better information elsewhere? Don't settle for the first articles that come up in a search. Maybe there is a book that covers your topic more thoroughly?

Authority

  • Who is the author? Is the author an expert, or a self-proclaimed "authority?"
    1. Are you able to find the author or editor easily?  If there is no author, can you tell who is the organization publishing the information? 
    2. Can you find the author's credentials? Are they a journalist, a university professor, a professional? Do an internet search to find out.
    3. Is readily available contact information provided (email, phone number, address)?
    4. Is the source reliable? Is it from a blog, a .gov site (government publication) or a .org site? Is it from a peer-reviewed academic journal or from a magazine?

Accuracy

  • The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content:
    1. Where does the information presented come from? Are the sources listed?
    2. Are the sources reputable? Does the author support their argument using clear evidence? 
    3. Can you verify the information in other sources or from your own knowledge? 
    4. Does the language or tone seem free of bias and emotion? Is the argument ideologically based or is it objective?

Purpose 

  • The reason the information exists:
    1. What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform? To teach? To sway your opinion? To sell a product or to entertain?
    2. Can you determine a possible bias, influence, or prejudice? This may be harder to determine - keep in mind the author and who is publishing the book or article. Is the institution or author affiliated with a religious or cultural organization? 
    3. Does the author make their intentions clear from the beginning? Do you detect propaganda or does the author make you aware that they are giving their opinion?
    4. Is the language neutral? Does the author consider all sides of an argument?

Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"

In his 1996 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (find it on the second floor: Q175 .S215 1997), the brilliant astrophysicist and philosopher Carl Sagan offers us a toolkit for maintaining unbiased judgment in the face of falsehood, propaganda, and misinformation in a chapter called "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection." Here are steps you can take when evaluating anything you read (not just science scholarship), as well as using these ideas to evaluate your own writing. 

1) Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

2) Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

3) Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

4) Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

5) Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.

6) Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

7) If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.

8) Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

9) Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

From The demon-haunted world : science as a candle in the dark by Carl Sagan, New York : Ballantine Books, 1997, c1996.