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Information skills: Evaluate your resources

Evaulate your resources: Why should you know this?

By using this tool you can make good choices about the quality of the information you are relying on for your assignments. Let me introduce the CRAAP test:

Currency: Is it recent enough to be useful to modern thinking?
Relevance: Does it really help solve your problem?
Authority: Was it produced by a credible expert? Is it peer reviewed
Accuracy: Can you check their facts and figures?
Purpose: Why was it produced? Is there bias or money involved?

Evaluating Information Sources

Currency

You need to decide if the source that you have found is current.

How recent is recent enough?

If you are studying ancient Egypt, a source decades old may be fine. If you are studying nanotechnology, a year old may be too old.

Your tutor should be able to help with this, so when you are given an assignment, ask them about how old sources can be. 

How can you tell how old sources are?

 

Source How to tell?
Books Look for the most recent copyright date on the back of the title page.
Journals Look for the year on the cover or first pages, or search Google scholar for the article's citation.
Online Video Sometimes appears in the credits. If it's original content, you might use the upload date.  
Web page It can be hard to tell. Look for a "last updated" statement which is often at the bottom of the page.  

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Accuracy

If your source makes factual claims, you want to be able to check their facts with other sources. So, for example if a study claims to show that vaccinations cause autism, it is useful to see if other studies have found the same thing.

Some guidelines for assessing a source’s accuracy:

Source How to tell?
Books Does this book use references? If so, you can check them. If not, try searching online for any facts that you intend to use to support your arguments.
Journals If the journal is peer-reviewed, some fact checking should already have been done.
Online Video You need to search for other trustworthy sources to check these facts - one reason that videos make uncommon academic sources.
Web Page You'll need to search for other reputable sources to check these facts.
Statistics Try searching, but other sources may not exist.  

CRAAP test

A quick and quirky video clip on how to evaluate websites.

 

A kaupapa Māori approach

Rauru Whakarare framework

Relevance

When you are looking through the sources that you have found, you need to consider where and how you could use them:

If it does not help solve your problem or inform an argument that you are making, then it is probably a waste of your time!

So, look at your assignment/task, marking guide etc. and decide:

Where will this source earn me marks? How would I use it?

Does it help solve my problem?

Some guidelines for assessing a source's relevance:

Source How to tell?
Books Look at the Table of Contents. If there is not at least a chapter there on your subject, it could be a waste of time.  
Journals Look at the abstract. Does it discuss your question? Will it be worth reading the whole article?
Online Video You will have to tell from the title and the description if it is worth watching.
Web page You can scan the page or look at the sections that it has to see if it discusses your issue.
Statistics Look at column headers and the level of detail. Do the statistics inform your research.

 

Purpose

It is also vital to think about why a source was created, because authors always have a reason why they put time and effort into creating the item.

Suitable purposes for study include: spreading new information; education; summarising evidence or knowledge. Unsuitable purposes typically include persuasion, sales, entertainment and propaganda. Consider whether the source presents facts (can they be checked?) opinion (informed or uninformed?) or misinformation

Acceptable for purpose How to tell?
Scholarship Some sources, like journals, are to share information between academics.
Summarize knowledge  Sources like text books and encyclopedias are there to give a summary of current knowledge.  
News News sources (which can include some social media posts) try to give information about current events but remember that some news sources are biased.
Unacceptable for purpose How to tell?
Persuasion and propaganda Sources like political or advocacy groups, want to persuade the reader of an opinion. These are not usually suitable.
Selling The purpose of some sources is to promote a business or sell something. Since these sources have a clear conflict of interest, they are not usually suitable for study.  
Entertainment Sources that are meant to divert and entertain include most social media and recreational websites. These sources usually lack the academic rigor to be suitable for study.

Good reasons to evaluate websites

Check out these websites to find out some good reasons why it is good to evaluate what you are reading...

The Onion - America's finest news site

Facts about Dihydrogen monoxide

How to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octupus

 

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Authority

With authority we want to know that the author knows a lot about the subject area. A famous heart surgeon may know a lot about the ins and outs of the heart but may not know a lot on how to design a house. When looking for information we want to be able to show that the source has been written by an expert in that area.

Some guidelines for assessing a source’s authority:

Source How to tell?
Books Most academic authors will give their credentials in the "about the author" section. You can search online for them too.  
Journals Most academic journals will check the authority for you and give author qualifications and where they work.  
Online Video You need to identify the speaker/author and search for them.
Web page You need to identify the author and search for them. If they are credible they should not be hard to find.
Statistics These depend on who produced the statistics. Can the organization be trusted?

 

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Books on evaluating research