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Evaluating Information Resources: Is it CRAP?

Is a resource valid? Is it reliable? Will this resource support my topic? Answer these questions with these guide options.

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Is it CRAP?

How do I know if a resource is good information?  One method is to follow the acronym CRAP:

  • Currency
    • What is the date?  If there is no date or it cannot be determined, be skeptical.
    • How recent is the information? 
      • Typically, you will want the most recent source, especially in the sciences. 
      • However, if doing a paper about a certain time period, i.e., music of a particular decade, hairstyles of the 80s, fashion of the 20s, you may want to find sources from that time periods.
    • Is the time relevant to my topic?
    • Your instructor will sometimes tell you the currency to look for, like the last ten years, last five years, etc.
    • If your source is older than 10 years, definitely see if you can find something newer, even if your source is still valid.
      • In some disciplines, like history or English, things don’t change that much that quickly and what was written 20 years ago may still be true, however, we are always learning new things and perspectives may change.  You will want to look at newer sources to find out those new things.
  • Reliability
    • Are there sources cited within your source?  If there are no sources cited, be very skeptical. If there are no sources, you may be looking at an editorial, an opinion piece, a fake news story, etc.
    • If there are sources cited, take a look at them.
      • Do they seem credible? 
      • Do they look like they are scholarly sources?
      • If your source cites nothing but sketchy sources, then your source is also sketchy.
    • Are other sources reporting the same information?  Be skeptical if information is being reported by only one source.
    • If the source is found online, what is the extension of the site, i.e., com, mil, edu, biz, org?  Note that search engines are not sources, i.e., Google, Bing, Yahoo.
    • Are fact checking sites reporting creditably about the information, i.e., Snopes - http://www.snopes.com/, ?
    • Is social media the source of the information?  Be certain to verify the information on a fact-checking site, i.e., Snopes.
    • Is the information from a primary source - autobiographical account of actual experience?
    • What are other professionals in the field saying about this information?
  • Authorship
    • Who created the information?  If there isn’t one or you can’t tell, be extremely skeptical.
    • Who produced the information?  
    • What are the credentials of the creator or producer? 
    • Is/are the creator(s) recognized as a professional(s) on the topic?
    • Do they have education or experience in this field?
    • Have they studied in the field?
    • Are they cited by other people in other people’s research?
    • If an organization, is it creditable?  Does the organization exist?  Does it sponsor actual research in the field?
    • If a web site source, does an "About Us" page exist?  Can you find out more about this organization other than what they say about themselves?
    • Are fact checking sites reporting creditably about the author(s), i.e., Snopes - http://www.snopes.com/?  Or are there entire pages of Snopes' entries debunking what the author, producer, or organization is saying?
  • Purpose
    • Why was the source information created? 
    • Does it support my topic?
    • Is a primary purpose to sell a product?  If so, be skeptical.  For example, prescription drug advertisements are not reliable sources to learn about a disease.
    • Be cautious about resources that inflame (election ads or fake news) or entertain (The Onion newspaper or The Daily Show).  These are typically not good sources, unless your paper is about such topics.
    • Is the purpose to inform the reader?  Inform, as a purpose, is ideal for academic research.  Characteristics:
      • Reasonably free of bias.
      • Contain facts, presented as facts in a matter-of-fact way.
      • Contain scientific language with minimal "emotional" words, i.e., adjectives and adverbs.
      • While not aiming to create an emotional response, at times, the reader may respond emotionally, based upon the facts, i.e., information about the Holocaust or wrongful convictions.
  • Types of Websites (aka Extensions):  refer to a following tab for additional information about website types and their reliability.

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