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Learn at the Libraries: Evaluating

Learn more about university level writing, how to search the library, and the correct way to use references.

Evaluating

Why Evaluate Sources?

Regardless of where it is found, it’s important to recognize that any source of information can be inaccurate, out-of-date, incomplete, or misleading. Generally speaking, you can trust that peer-reviewed sources meet the criteria of scholarly publishing, but meeting these standards does not necessarily mean that the conclusions in every peer-reviewed article are based on solid evidence and sound argumentation. It is your responsibility as a student to evaluate the accuracy and credibility of all sources as best as you can. That is not often easy to do. Below is a simple acronym you can use to test the credibility and "appropriateness" of books and articles for your research. Librarians often refer to this as the CRAAP Test. 

Currency

  • How recently was the resource/information published or last updated?

  • How current are the sources that the author cites? Currency is more important in some fields, for example health sciences, while not as important in others, for example humanities.

  • Are any of the links broken?

Relevancy

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (ie: not too complex, etc.)

Authority

  • Who is the author?
  • What kind of academic or professional background do they have?
  • Are they affiliated with any organizations?
  • Is the author a recognized expert in the area they are writing about?

Accuracy

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or referenced by other experts in the field?

Purpose

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors make their intentions or purposes clear?

Identifying Biases in Sources

All sources of information can contain biases that influence the focus, methods, and outcomes of research. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any researcher to complete a study without some bias so it is important to be critically aware of this limitation in academic writing. You can use the following questions to help you evaluate the books and articles for bias, compare them with other sources, and decide how they fit into your research.
 

Evaluating a Source for Bias

  • Does the the information appear to unfairly favour a group or perspective over others?

  • Is the information misrepresented?

  • Is there other important information missing?

  • Whose perspectives and experiences are included? Whose are excluded? 

  • Who will benefit from the information as it is presented? 

  • Will the information cause harm or disadvantage another?

Misleading Information

Unlike scholarly sources, claims made on websites are not often supported with good evidence or a bibliography of sources that tell you where the information the author is using originates. In more extreme cases there are websites presenting themselves as legitimate sources with the intent of misleading readers. These so called "fake news" sources have political motives for falsifying information. There are also cases where journals are presenting themselves as legitimate peer-reviewed sources when in fact they do not have a rigorous review process and solicit articles for profit.

It can be quite difficult to determine whether some sources are legitimate. Below are some guiding questions to help you, but if you are still unsure you can contact a librarian for assistance. 

 

  1. Consider the source and the author.
  • ​​Investigate the author’s previous written work and the website it has been published on. Is there evidence of bias?
  1. Consult supporting sources.
  • If you are reading a book or journal article, take time to look at the bibliography. Are the sources cited in the bibliography scholarly, peer-reviewed, and credible?
  • Check the links provided on websites and online articles. Are the linked sources credible? Do they actually support the information and claims made by the author or have they been taken out of context? 
  1. Check the date.
  • How old is the source? Have attitudes/opinions changed since it was published? Has new information that debunks the argument come to light? Note that reposting old information does not necessarily make it relevant.
  1. Is the source satire?
  • If the source is humorous it may be intended as satire. Review the site and learn more about the author to be sure.
  1. Check your own biases.
  • ​​Consider how your own beliefs and experiences impact your understanding when reading the source.
  1. Ask the experts.
  • If you’re unsure whether what you are reading is a poor resource or not, ask a University of Manitoba librarian. They can assist you with evaluating the sources that you find.