Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

SWITCH Libraries' Information Literacy Tutorial: Unit 6
Evaluating Sources

This tutorial is for use by the community of library users within the SWITCH Library Consortium.

The Need to Evaluate

Why bother image

Why bother evaluating sites and sources? Because the quality of information varies tremendously. Anyone can register for a site and post whatever they want and most sites don't employ fact checkers or editors.

Besides, your instructor told you that you needed to use reliable and/or scholarly information for your assignment, right? Gossip blogs and sensational news can be fun to read while in line at the grocery store, but you don't want to use them to write your final paper or help you make major life decisions. Evaluating what you find on the web is always a good idea.

Lateral Reading

Checklists are helpful, but may not be sufficient to effectively evaluate the credibility of a webpage. Finding what other people think about a page and verifying who owns a page's registration is a better strategy. This is often called reading laterally.

WHOis is a tool that you can use to determine the ownership and registration of a page. Or, if a page contains a sensational claim, you can test the claim by using a fact checking site like snopes.com.

For more tips on evaluation of sources - take a look at the e-book Web literacy for student fact-checkers by Mike Caulfield.

From Scholarly to Quackery

Has your instructor asked you to find scholarly articles and you're not sure what that means? Check below for a quick overview. More tips for determining scholarly vs popular sources are available here.

Scholarly

  • Reliable, scholarly
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Written by experts, for scholars
  • Found in academic journals
  • Found in databases
  • Includes citations & data

EX: The American Journal of Nursing

 

Substantive News

  • Can be reliable, NOT scholarly
  • Researched & vetted
  • Sometimes have citations
  • General information
  • Broad, intelligent audience

EX: The New York TimesThe Economist

NOTE: remember to check if the piece you're reading is an editorial/op-ed (meaning, opinion) or a piece of journalism, based on research & facts.

Popular

  • Occasionally reliable, NOT scholarly
  • Mainly for entertainment
  • Meant to sell something, product endorsement
  • Rarely have citations
  • Broad audience, non-scholarly content

EX: PeopleSports Illustrated

Sensational/Quackery

  • Unreliable, DEFINITELY NOT scholarly
  • Sensational & inflammatory language
  • Superstitions & conspiracy theories

EX: The National Enquirer

Fake News

A lot of us get our news when scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media platform you prefer. That's not a bad thing, but every social media platform has a spectrum of users and the quality of the information posted will vary dramatically.

It's up to you to determine if the links you click and the blogs you follow are reliable, based in fact, and able to withstand scrutiny. Or, if the information is fake news.

Fake news graphic

Fake news graphic

 

 

The CRAAP Test

When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it... but is it good information?

You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help.

The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.

C - Currency: is it timely?
R - Relevance: is it relevant?
A - Authority: who authored it?
A - Accuracy: is it correct?
P - Purpose: why was it written?

URL Clues

.edu / .gov / .mil / .int : Educational, government, military, or international & intergovernmental sites. These are usually reliable.

.org : Tend to be advocacy sites/non-profit organizations. Often ok, watch for bias.

.com : Commercial (for profit) sites, anyone can register for a .com address. Be careful and read closely!

.me / .news / .guru / etc. : Treat these newer domains like .coms.

.net : Alternative to .com, treat similarily.

.uk / .de / etc. : Used for other countries (the UK and Germany, in this case). The quality of sites ending with a country code varies greatly, you'll have to use your other evaluation skills to help determine reliability!

Guide to Bad Science

12 tips for separating the science from the pseudoscience

Bad science graphic

Test Your Knowledge

Quiz image

Please review the information on this page before attempting the quiz. After completing the quiz, a score will be sent to your email address. Click here to take the Evaluating Sources Quiz.

Questions?

Ask a librarian logo
Questions? Please contact your home library and ask to speak with a librarian.

Attribution

"How to Spot Fake News", from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

"Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Fake News Edition" from WNYC's On the Media

"The CRAAP Test", from the Meriam Library, California State Universiy, Chico

"A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science" by Compound Interest