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American History 148

Evaluate Sources with RAPT

Good info, bad info?  Let's explore...

We all want good information!  Good information means thoughtful, informed decisions whether it is in life or for a class assignment.   

So, what are some of the factors that makes an information source credible?  This short video discusses credibility and explains other factors you will want to consider when evaluating sources:

 (Links to an external site

Consider the source!

Have you ever heard the expression, "Consider the source,"? For instance, a friend who notoriously tells big stories says that he once caught a salmon the size of a whale! Rather than believing him "hook, line, and sinker" (pardon the pun!) you say to yourself, "That doesn't even sound realistic. Consider the source!" In this case, you just evaluated the information you received from your "colorful" friend. You weigh your friend's information against what you know of his character and against what you know about the normal size of a salmon and come to the conclusion that what he told you is probably an embellished story.

The truth is, we process and evaluate information every minute of every day.

Should you question the value of information you find in research sources?

Absolutely yes! You should always carefully evaluate a source - no matter how reliable it seems to be - before presenting it in your research project. When it comes to academic research, critically evaluating information sources is a very important step in the research process and source credibility is a key factor.

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources with short paragraphs describing them. The paragraph should summarize the source, evaluate it, and discuss how it would fit into your topic. When you are evaluating your sources you are writing your annotated bibliography!

Criteria for Evaluating Sources

There are several ACRONYM criteria for evaluating information sources such as the CARS test, the CRAAP test, the TRAP orTRAAP test, the ASPECT test, and the RAPT test to name a few. These criteria are designed to help you begin thinking critically about an information source in order to determine its usefulness to your purposes.  Let's use R.A.P.T.!

Using the R.A.P.T. criteria...

                                R = Relevance     A = Authority     P = Purpose     T = Timeliness

  • RELEVANCE - Establish whether the source is useful to your research by asking yourself these questions:
    • Does this source add value in helping me understand or advancing my knowledge of my research problem?
    • Does this information provide important arguments related to my research problem?
    • Does this source offer solutions to my research problem?
      • If so, do the solutions seem well thought out and reasonable?
    • Is better information available elsewhere?
    • Is this information at an appropriate level (not too simple or too advanced) for my needs?
    • Does this source meet the requirements of my assignment?
  • AUTHORITY - Investigate the author(s) or editor(s) and try to identify their credentials:
    • Is their education, training, and experience in the field relevant to the information being provided?
    • Do they include a bibliography?
    • Is their information backed by scholarly research or scientific study?
    • Do their facts, dates, data, and statistics appear to be accurate and error-free?
    • Are their facts, dates, data, and statistics verifiable by other sources?
    • Are they well-known in their field of study.
    • Have they written other materials?
    • Are they from an academic or other reputable organization?
    • Is the publisher or sponsor reputable?
      • What kinds of materials do they publish?
      • What are their editorial standards and/or processes?
  • PURPOSE - Determine why the information was created and whether it is presented in a fair, balanced, and impartial manner:
    • Is there minimal bias in the work (devoid of strong opinion, propaganda, and emotionally charged language)?
    • Is this work trying to sell, advocate, sway opinion, or educate?
    • Who was the material written or created for (intended audience)?
  • TIMELINESS - Decide if the presented information is date-appropriate for your topic or research problem:
    • Determining timeliness is dependent on how you are planning to use the information.
    • Keep in mind that technology, the sciences, and medicine are rapidly developing fields.
    • Older information, regardless of the subject area, can be useful for providing historical context, background info, and showing progression or change over time.

Evaluating Websites

Evaluating website content should be at similar standards for what you find in print.  No matter your information source, you want credible, reliable, objective, valid information.  Here are some specific tips to help you evaluate web content.

Tips for evaluating information from websites:

Determining AUTHORITY can be a bit more difficult when looking at information from web sources. Here are some standard website pages that may help when looking for author and/or publisher information:

  • About Us page can give insight into the purpose of the website or organization
  • Contributors or Staff page can give insight into the writers and their expertise
  • Contact Us page can give insight into who owns the website or organization and where they are located
  • News Releases page can give insight into how they are identifying or promoting themselves to the public
  • Links to these pages are often in the fine print at the bottom of the Home page
  • Be wary if facts, data, and stats are undocumented (not cited)
  • Keep in mind that while top-level domains (.com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil, .int, etc.) may give a clue about the quality of a website, NEVER ASSUME website info is credible or accurate on that basis alone

Determining TIMELINESS for web information sources may also prove challenging. At the very least, look to see if the website or web page tells you when it was last updated. Many websites do not include any dates on their web pages. If you need time sensitive information it's probably best to avoid using web info that does not include an exact published date.

Summed up in the table below!
Term Definition
  • When was the information created or last updated?
  • Date should be prominently displayed.
  • For electronic sources -- are links functional on site?*
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (not too simple/not too advanced)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research project?
  • Who is the author?
  • Is the author the original creator of the information?
  • Are the author's occupation, education, or other credentials listed?
  • Who are the author’s organizational affiliations?
  • For websites -- what does the URL reveal about the author or source, i.e. .com, .org, .edu, .gov?*
  • Is the information verifiable?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Are their resources documented?
  • What does this source offer compared to other resources?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?
  • Is the language or tone unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Can you verify the information in another source?
  • Is the information crowd sourced or vulnerable to changes by other authors, i.e. Wikipedia or other public wiki?*
  • What appears to be the purpose of the information -- to inform, teach, sell, entertain, public services, or persuade?
  • Is the information biased?
  • Are there any advertisements?
  • Why is the author/creator providing this information?
  • What institution (company, organization, government, university, etc.) supports this information?
  • Does the institution appear to exercise quality control over the information appearing under its name?
  • Does the author's affiliation with this particular institution appear to bias the information?
  • Is there advertising and does it affect the content and message of the source?

And, here is a short video that answers the "Why" question and will challenge your thinking about evaluating even scholarly sources:

Why Evaluate? (5:46) (Links to an external site.)