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ENG1021 Advanced Composition & Communication: Evaluating Resources

The Science behind Fake News

How does fake news get started? Why do people believe it? How can you tell the difference between real news and fake news? Check out this video to learn.

Where to look for answers?

Books and Articles

To evaluate a book source or an article from a database, at the records of books and articles provided in the library's online catalogs. The record for the source should show the author(s), publisher, and date of publication information. Once you have found this information, look for additional information about the author(s) or publisher. If you can't find much information on an author or publisher, you can ask a librarian to help.

Websites

Websites will usually have the following elements you can use in your evaluation process:

  1. Author or contact person with contact information (e-mail, social media, phone, etc.)
  2. Uniform Resource Locator (URL), including an affiliated institution (e.g., ".edu" sites should be affiliated with a university or other educational institution)
  3. Date of creation, revision, or update
  4. Link to the institution's home website

Evaluating Sources: The CRAAP Test

To evaluate something means to look closely at it, break it down, and make a judgment about it. Evaluating a source of information with the American Library Association's CRAAP test is the best way to make sure your sources are accurate, authoritative, and relevant. The CRAAP test stands for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Scroll down or use the following links to see how well your source holds up to the test! 

Currency   |   Relevance   |   Authority   |   Accuracy   |   Purpose

Currency

How recently was your source published? Here are some tips on choosing the most current information for your topic:

  1. General advice: the newer, the better. A source from the past 5 years is ideal. The past 10 years is okay. However, this can vary depending on your topic. Let's say you were looking for information on the use of DNA evidence in forensic investigations because you are writing a paper on prison reform. A source from the past 5 years would be ideal. A source from the past 10 years would be less than ideal but maybe okay. Anything older than that? Nope!

  2. Dates are more flexible in humanities sources than science sources. Science- and technology-oriented topics should follow the 5-year/10-year pattern, but humanities topics (history, literature, biography, etc.) are usually more flexible. You have to take it on a case by case basis. Say, in your paper on prison reform, you needed incarceration statistics going back the past thirty years. Is a source from 1992 appropriate to use for some of that information? Of course! Likewise, if you need some biographical information on Thomas Mott Osborne, an influential prison reformer in the early 20th century, some older sources are probably alright -- check it by the other parts of the CRAAP test to get a full evaluation!

  3. Check to see if the information has been updated. Sometimes a source (especially a book source) may have been published in a year that may be outside of your ideal range, but it has been recently updated (in a new version, new edition, etc.) to reflect new knowledge. If it has been updated, take that into account for use in your paper.

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Relevance

Make sure the source you've picked out actually relates to the topic you're researching. Take the following into account:

  1. Verify that the source relates to your topic. This means going beyond the title and looking at the abstract (summary) and the subject headings or tags associated with the source. Remember: a reference in the title to "the Civil War" may not be referring to the American Civil War (1861-1865).

  2. Think about the intended audience of the source. If you are researching the African American Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968), a webpage explaining the basic history of civil rights to middle-school age users is not going to be appropriate for your paper.

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Authority

Look up the author of the source as well as the publisher of the source. Check out their information on the web and other articles they have written/published in your library's databases. Here are some things you'll want to pay attention to:

  1. Educational and professional credentials of an author. Check out where they got their degrees from, what degrees they got, and where they have worked or conducted research. Make sure they have an academic or professional connection to the subject you are researching to ensure they are a reliable source of information. 

  2. Scholarly reputation of a journal or publishing house. Look up information on the publisher to find out if they are known for publishing peer-reviewed scholarly content, and if they are known to have a bias in their publications.

  3. Peer-reviewed content has an extra layer of authority. If a source has been peer-reviewed, that means that a panel of other professionals vetted another professional's work for quality writing and research.

  4. With websites, stick to .edu when possible. Websites are a serious gamble in credibility, and they should be at the bottom of your list under books and articles when seeking out authoritative information. However, there are plenty of credible sources of information out on the web. One of the best practices in doing web research is to stick to .edu sites, which are affiliated with an educational/research institution. But don't stop there! Remember tip #2: look up that institution and see if it is actually known for research in that field, if it is widely known to have a bias, and if it is an accredited institution.

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Accuracy

Accuracy is the known correctness of the information presented, and it overlaps a lot with the concepts we've already covered. The key thing to look for is clear, objective, well-represented evidence that backs up the author's claims. Here are a few tips:

  1. Check other sources for the same information. If other authoritative sources corroborate that same set of facts, you're probably in good shape.

  2. Look closely at what kind of evidence is being used. If there is original research in your source, look carefully at the parameters of the study. Does this seem like a logical, comprehensive way to go about getting those results? If the source uses studies or reports from other authors or institutions, look those up and check them according to the criteria under the Authority section. Do they check out?

  3. Don't use sources with emotional, subjective language. Subjective language asserts personal interpretations and interjects emotional content from the writer, while objective language presents attempts to present the writer's findings in a factual, unemotional way, free of personal judgments on the material. For more, see this helpful guide from the University of Aidelaide.

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Purpose

All sources are written for a purpose. Some are written to entertain an audience, some are written to teach their audience or inform their audience, some are written to persuade an audience to a certain way of thinking, and some are written to sell a product or service. Some things to remember:

  1. Author's intention should be transparent. The author(s) should clearly state their intentions in the introduction of their article, the opening of the book chapter, or the Home page or About page of their website. If not, use extra caution as you read through this source.

  2. Be critical of sources with an ideological basis. If you notice a political, religious, cultural, institutional, or personal bias, use extra caution and diligence in researching claims they make to see if they can be corroborated. Bias does not necessarily mean the information is wrong, but you do need to stay aware of it.

  3. Facts can be true and still be misrepresented. Let's say you read in a source that truancy went up by 200% at A. B. Cee High School from 2010 to 2016. Sounds bad, right? But then you read another source and that author says that there were only six students at A. B. Cee High School punished for truancy in 2016 (there were only three in 2010), significantly less than the national average. Or let's say that an author stated that crime was on the rise because a state penitentiary took in 600 new inmates in 2000 and 800 new inmates in 2020; yet the population of that state was 7 million people in 2000 while the population was 11 million in 2020. That is actually a decrease from 0.0085% of the population to 0.0072%. Numbers don't always mean what you think they mean; look at what people are doing with them.

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