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Composition 1 and 2 - Johnstown Campus: Evaluating Information

This guide is designed to help students enrolled in English Composition 1 and 2 classes at the Johnstown campus.

Why Do I Need to Evaluate My Sources?

Why do I need to evaluate my sources? Because your paper is only as good as your sources.

Let's use a practical example to illustrate this.  Pretend you are fixing up an old car, and you'd like to sell it for a small profit.  A lot of parts in the car don't work, so you need to buy some to get it up and running.  Can you go to the junkyard and just get any old parts?  No, not if it you want it to run. 

First, you need to have an understanding of how that particular car works, and then you need to be sure that you have good quality parts.  You don't want the car to break down right after someone buys it.  The car will only be as good as the parts that you put into it.

Writing a paper is like fixing up that car.  You can't just use any old source that you find on the Internet or in the library's databases.  First, you need to have an understanding of your topic or argument.  Then you need to be sure that you pick sources that are not only appropriate to your thesis, but ones that are also of good quality.  Like the car, you don't want your paper breaking down halfway through!

What Makes Information "Scholarly?"

Instructors often ask students to find "scholarly," "academic," or "peer reviewed" sources of information for their research. These terms all refer to the same type of information – sources based on in-depth research, and are considered higher in quality and more reliable for your research.

These sources can range from chapters within books or entire books, or journal articles, but all have common characteristics that can help you recognize that type of information:

  • Produced by experts or researchers in a specialized field or discipline.
  • Purpose is to present new or unpublished research.
  • Articles reviewed by experts for scholarly content or quality, or
  • Written using formal language and structure: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, footnotes, endnotes and/or bibliography.
  • Articles always cite source information.
  • May include tables or graphs to support research.

The CRAAP Test

Evaluating Information – Applying The CRAAP Test

When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it . . . but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and The CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Of course, different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. 

Evaluation Criteria

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • For the Internet, 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 citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • For the Internet, does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Is it a .com .edu .gov .org .net? But don't overly rely on the URL because not all of the top level domains are regulated. E.g., a .org may be sponsored by a for-profit company and a college student can create a .edu site.

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 or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases? 

 

The CRAAP Test was developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.

Check Your Biases

20 Cognitive Biases that Screw Up Your Decisions

From:  Lee, S., & Lebowitz, S. (2015, August 26). 20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-that-affect-decisions-2015-8

In-class Project

Your boss is the superintendent of a school district and she has been asked by the School Board to review the policy of allowing energy drinks to be stocked in the district's vending machines. She needs your help to find reliable information from credible sources on whether or not energy drinks are safe for student consumption that she and the School Board members can understand.

Working together in small groups, skim over the four information sources related to energy drinks that are linked below. Use The CRAAP Test to holistically consider the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose of the sources. Which sources would you choose to forward to your boss and why?

Why Energy Drinks Are Worse For You Than Soda

Let's Clear It Up: Energy Drinks

Energy Drinks: A Contemporary Issues Paper

High Caffeine Intake in Adolescents: Associations with Difficulty Sleeping and Feeling Tired in the Morning

Other Ways to Evaluate a Source

Confirmation Bias Explained