Evaluating sources is one of the most important parts of research. By using the questions included in The CRAP Test (below), you will be able to evaluate the books, articles, websites, and other sources you find on your topic.
These tools include lots of helpful information on gathering, evaluating, and citing your sources.
Just getting started with your research? Try a search in ISearch.
Currency or timeliness of information may or may not be a concern depending on your research topic. Current information is particularly important when you're researching a topic in a quickly changing field like science, technology, or social policy. Also, your professor may put limits on the age of information you're allowed to use, for example, not older than five years.
Some things to consider:
To determine when a source was written or published, look for its copyright or publication date. You can also look for the publication date of any sources the author cites: the publication itself is usually just slightly newer than its most recent cited source.
If it's a website, when was it last updated? Are there many broken links? A website with a lot of broken links should be considered suspect. If the site’s publisher doesn’t maintain the functionality of the site, you cannot be sure its content is current.
The most important question to ask is whether or not the information in the book, article, or website is outdated or no longer accurate.
Writers often have opinions about their subject. It's important to determine if the information being presented is biased (promotes one perspective) or balanced (gives equal weight to opposing viewpoints). An example of bias is the PC versus Mac rivalry. A website dedicated to praising the virtues of Macs is likely to be biased against PCs.
Biased material may still be useful as long as it contains reliable factual information along with the authors’ opinions. However, you must recognize and account for the bias in your use of the material. It is not always easy to recognize bias – especially if you agree with the author’s perspective. When looking for bias, ask the following questions
The authors’ use of other sources on the topic is an important indicator of how well they have researched the topic themselves. When evaluating a book, article, or website, ask the following questions:
Ask a number of questions before determining that the author(s) of a book, article, or website are authorities on your topic.
If you don’t know the answer to at least some of these questions, it's time to investigate. You can start by looking for information about the author in biographical sources or on the Internet. The library provides a variety of print and online biographical resources.
Knowing who published a book may be very important in helping you decide if the material is useful for your research. When you're evaluating a book, ask the following questions:
The answers to some of these questions may be found at the publisher’s website. If you need help investigating a publisher, ask your professor or a librarian.
When you're evaluating an article, ask the following questions:
When you're evaluating a website, ask the following questions:
The type of site does not necessarily indicate the value of the information provided. The following are only general guidelines:
Every author and publisher has a purpose. As a rule, this purpose falls into one (or a combination) of the following three categories:
When evaluating any source, you should consider its purpose in light of your topic and research requirements. To identify a source’s purpose, ask these questions: