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Citing Sources: Evaluating Sources

Guides for citing sources in MLA and APA format

Evaluation Techniques

There are many ways to evaluate sources.  The CRAPP test has been around since the mid-2000s, but doesn't work for the plethora of misinformation that is out now. For this reason, I've included other methods of evaluating information on this page--Newseum's E.S.C.A.P.E Junk News, the Sift technique, and Act Up! 

E.S.C.A.P.E. Junk News

Need to E.S.C.A.P.E. junk news? Use the six ways below to evaluate information.  Created by NewseumEd, who provides "free learning tools on media literacy and our First Amendment Freedoms."

E - Evidence

  • Do the facts hold up? Look for information you can verify--names, stats, places, quotes, etc.

S - Source

  • Who made this and can you trust them? Trace who touched the story--authors, publishers, sponsors, funders, social media users, etc. 

C - Context

  • What's the big picture? Consider if this is the whole story and weigh other forces surrounding it--current events, cultural trends, political goals, financial pressures

A - Audience

  • Who is the intended audience? Look for attempts to appeal to specific groups or types of people--image choices, presentation techniques, language, content

P - Purpose

  • Why was this made? Look for clues to the motivation--the publisher's mission, persuasive language or images, moneymaking tactics, stated or unstated agendas, calls to action

E - Execution

  • How is this information presented? Consider how the way it's made affects the impact--style, grammar, tone, image choices, placement and layout

The SIFT Technique

The SIFT method of media literacy and evaluation, created by Michael A. Caulfield of Washington State University, another great way to evaluate information.  He has created a free online set of lessons and activities called Check, Please that is perfect for teens and adults. There are 5 lessons, each taking around 30 minutes to complete. 

SIFT stands for:

  • Stop. - When you feel strong emotion, surprise, or just an irrepressible urge to share something… stop. Then use the three steps below.
  • Investigate the source. 
  • Find better coverage
  • Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context

Read more about Caulfield's ideas at his blog, Hapgood. 

Videos

The CRAAP Test

If you want to judge whether a source is reliable, take the CRAAP Test.  This is a series of questions about the source's Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

Currency - The timeliness of your source

  • How old is this source?
  • Is a date listed?
  • Is the information current or outdated for your topic?
  • Does your topic deal with recent issues (technology, medicine, etc) that need the latest information?

Relevancy -How the source meets your information need

  • Is this source useful for my topic?
  • Does the information help to answer or shed light on my research question?
  • Is the language/information appropriate for my level of understanding? Who is the intended audience?
  • Is this an appropriate source for a college paper?

Authority - Who or what the information comes from

  • Who is the author/publisher/sponsor of the source?  Is this hard to find?
  • Is the author or publishing organization an expert on the topic?  What are their credentials?
  • Are they qualified to write about this topic?
  • Is the source published, sponsored, or endorsed by a special interest group?
  • If it's a website, is it hosted by a for-profit company (.com) by a non-profit organization (.org), by an educational institution (.edu) or by the government (.gov)?  

Accuracy -The reliability and accuracy of the information

  • Do you notice any factual errors? Math or calculation mistakes? Statements that contradict each other?
  • Is the information presented supported by evidence?
  • Does this source say things that can't be verified?
  • Has the source been reviewed or refereed?
  • Are there lots of typos, spelling and grammatical errors?

Purpose -The reason this source exists

  • What is the purpose of the source? To inform? Teach? Entertain? Sell something?  Persuade?
  • Does the source present facts, opinions, or propaganda?
  • Are different perspectives on the issue presented? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Not living up to all of these criteria doesn't automatically make a source "bad." But a source should meet most of these criteria, and it's important to recognize when a source doesn't pass the CRAAP Test.

Act Up! Technique

The ACT UP Method - Created by Dawn Stahura, a research and instruction librarian at Salem State University

Author - Who wrote the resource? Who are they? Background information matters. Why did the author write it? What's the intent? 

Currency - When was this resource written? When was it published? Does this resource fit into the currency of your topic? 

Truth - How accurate is this information? Can you verify any of the claims in other sources? Are there typos and spelling mistakes? Can you verify the claims made? If the language seems wild or scandalous with lots of !!!!, don't use it.

Unbiased - There is no such thing as unbiased since we all have them.  But is this article impartial? Are they upfront with their bias/point-of-view?Who funded the research? Are their conflicts of interest? Is the information presented to sway the audience to a particular point of view? Are you only selecting items that confirm your OWN biases? 

Privilege - Check the privilege of the author(s). Are they all white men? Are they the only folx who might write or publish on this topic? Who is missing in this conversation? Critically evaluate the subject terms associated with each resource you found. How are they described? What are the inherent biases? What can you find in open access journals, blogs, or zines that are more inclusive?

Use Stahura's Infographic to find out more information about each step or check out her research guide about Act Up! Want to read how the Act Up! evolved out of CRAAP? Stahura's explains her thought process here: Stahura, D. (2018). ACT UP for evaluating sources: Pushing against privilege. College & Research Libraries News, 79(10), 551. doi:https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.79.10.551

Fake News

Don't forget about evaluating "fake news" either! Everyone talks about it, but did you know that your social media feeds are full of fake news? Take a look at the documents below for tips on identifying fake news.   

Types of Fake News: Parody/Joke Sites, News Imposter Sites, Fake News Sites, Sites that Contain Some Fake News

Still have questions about fake news? Take a look at this article by Steve Inskeep from NPR: "A Finder's Guide To Facts."