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PALNI Information Literacy Modules

Module 4: Evaluating Sources

Introduction

person holding pencil near laptop computer

(Scott Graham, Unsplash)

Now that you've performed your search and come up with a list of titles that could work for your project, there is still one step to go. You need to decide which sources to use for your assignment. This module will begin to cover the task of evaluating sources.
 

Learning Outcomes

After completing this module, you will be able to: 

  • Evaluate resources to determine if they should be used for your assignment based on standard evaluation criteria.

Evaluating Sources

Every time you have an assignment that requires you to use sources, you will need to evaluate them to determine if they are a good fit for that assignment. The video below explains more.


(University of North Carolina Libraries, 2015, CC BY-NC-SA)

Methods for Evaluating Sources

One common strategy for evaluating sources is to use the CRAAP acronym. This stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

Currency/Relevance/Authority/Accuracy/Purpose

     CURRENCY
     Is the source current and up-to-date?

     RELEVANCE
     How is it relevant to your assignment?

     AUTHORITY
     What are the credentials of the author?

     ACCURACY
     Is the information in the source accurate?

     PURPOSE
     Why was the source created?

 

(Evelyn S. Field Library, Raritan Valley Community College, CRAAP)

 

A second strategy for evaluating sources is to use the SIFT acronym, developed by Mike Caufield.

Stop, Investigate the source, find better coverage, trace the original context.
(Mike Caulfield, HAPGOOD)

Stop: Check your emotions. Is this designed to make you feel angry? Outraged? Sad? Are you familiar with the source? Why are you reading this? If you are just generally curious, knowing the source may be enough information and you do not need to go further. However, if you are doing extensive research, you should continue and may need to check each claim. (Caufield, 2019)

Investigate the source: Who is writing this (and do they have an agenda)? For example, a study on benefits of milk consumption by the dairy industry might be inclined to promote milk consumption. (Caufield, 2019)

Find better [or other] coverage: "Sometimes you don’t care about the particular article or video that reaches you. You care about the claim the article is making. You want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement...[you may need to] find the best source you can on this topic, or, just as importantly, to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be." (Caufield, 2019)

Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context: Sometimes, what we read has been taken out of context. For example, a video might be clipped and make it appear that one person started an argument when in fact they were responding to someone else. Another example is reports on scientific studies that do not fully explain the limitations or conclusions of the study, e.g. they may cherry-pick select information. (Caufield, 2019)

 

A final strategy is to ask the five standard "W" questions about the source.

Who? What? Where? When? Why?WHO?
Who created it? What are their qualifications? Who is their audience?

WHAT?
What is it? What type of source?

WHEN?
When was it created? Published? Updated? Revised?

WHERE?
Where did you find it? Library database? Online? Social media?  Citations? 

WHY?
Why was it written? Why should you use it? 

 

(Okanagan College Library)

Regardless of the strategy you use, you should carefully consider every source you find before using it for your assignment.

 

Applying an Evaluation Strategy

Let's try an example.  You need to write a paper on global warming for a class. You searched Google, and found an interesting looking site. It's called the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Union of Concerned Scientists
 

First, let's answer each of our CRAAP questions.

CURRENCY: Is the source current and up-to-date?

A quick scan of the site shows articles published from this week.

RELEVANCE: How is it relevant to your assignment?

Clicking the link to "Climate" at the top of the page produces an entire section of the site dedicated to climate change, which includes global warming.

AUTHORITY: What are the credentials of the author?

Clicking the link to "About" at the top of the page produces the following text:

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Today, we are a group of nearly 250 scientists, analysts, policy and communication experts dedicated to that purpose.

ACCURACY: Is the information in the source accurate?

You read several articles on the site and all the information matches what you have read elsewhere.

PURPOSE: Why was the source created?

From the "About" page:

Our mission: to use rigorous, independent science to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

 

Next, let's consider SIFT.

STOP: Does this seem designed to elicit strong emotions? Are we familiar with this source? Why are we reading it?

"We use science to make change happen" does not seem particularly designed to elicit a strong emotional response. I was not familiar with this source before this exercise. I'm reading it because a librarian wrote this assignment.

INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE: Who are the Union of Concerned Scientists?

Clicking the link to "About" at the top of the page produces the following text:

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Today, we are a group of nearly 250 scientists, analysts, policy and communication experts dedicated to that purpose.

Our mission: to use rigorous, independent science to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

FIND BETTER COVERAGE: What are other resources saying?

You read several articles on the site and most of the information matches what you have read elsewhere.

TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, AND MEDIA TO THE ORIGINAL CONTEXT: Where does the UCS get their information?

It appears that many of the reports on the UCS website are original. They include clear citations to reputable resources (such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that can easily be found.


Finally, let's try evaluating the same website with our 5 W questions.

WHO? Who created it? What are their qualifications? Who is their audience?

As we discovered already, the Union of Concerned Scientists was created at MIT and consists of scientists and other experts in the field. The site is clearly aimed at the general public.

WHAT? What is it? What type of source?

This is a website with basic information about climate change.

WHEN? When was it created? Published? Updated? Revised?

As we already saw, there are new articles published on the site daily; however, the information on climate change is not dated.

WHERE? Where did you find it? Library database? Online? Social media?  Citations? 

You found it via a Google search.

WHY? Why was it written? Why should you use it?

In our analysis above, we looked at their About page. Let's dig a little deeper and Google the name of the site. Our results tell us that they are a left-leaning organization who presents factual evidence, but framed in such as way as to persuade you to agree with them. They also work hard to set or change governmental policies. 
 

As you can see, using each of the evaluation models produces useful information to help you make a decision about whether or not to use the information on this site. Based on this evaluation, you might use factual information you find on the site, but ignore the loaded words they've used to attempt to persuade you to agree with them. You might also look to see if they've written a policy paper on this topic with a more scholarly feel, including citations.

Acknowledgments

The content for this module is drawn from the following sources:

Caulfield, M. (2019, June 19). SIFT (The Four Moves). Hapgood. https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/

Franklin College. (2020, July 8). FYS 101 research guide. https://franklincollege.libguides.com/fys101/tools

University of North Carolina Libraries. (2015). Evaluating sources for credibility [Video]. https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/evaluating-sources

Activity

As we learned in this module, each source must be evaluated carefully before being used for your project.

Remember that paper we pretended to write on global warming? For this activity,  we've given you a few more results you might find when searching Google.

Either in the textbox in the LMS or in a Word document, do the following:

Evaluate each of the three sites below using one of the evaluation tools from this lesson and determine which you might want to use when writing a research paper about global warming.

Quiz

See the Google doc here for quiz questions and answers. Please note, this document is stored on the PALNI team drive and is only accessible to those who work in a PALNI school.

Copyright

Creative Commons License


All of the PALNI Information Literacy Modules are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.