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General Library Research Tutorial: Module 5: Evaluating Sources

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate sources based on currency, authority, accuracy, relevance, and purpose.
  • Identify "fake news."
  • Identify bias.

Evaluating Sources: The CAARP Test

The CAARP test contains questions to ask yourself to determine the reliability of a source. The importance of the various criteria will depend on your specific topic or need.


Is the information you want to use still relevant and accurate?

Even when information is written by well-regarded scholars and published by reputable publishers (e.g., Harvard University Press), it is important to consider when it was published. For example, ask yourself: What is the nutritional information on the role of sugar in the American diet today? What was it 10 years ago?


Who wrote or produced this information? What credentials does the author have to be writing on the subject?

Reputable newspapers, like The New York Times, are usually reliable sources, but not always. OpEd/Editorial columns are opinions. Most major magazines and newspapers have these, and they aren’t necessarily backed up by facts or research. Consider who is responsible for the content. Make sure the author's statements can be verified by other sources that have done studies to confirm these findings. The same advice goes for books, websites, and documentary films.


Do you think the information is correct?

You need to take a minute to evaluate what you are reading. Even if the author sounds convincing and the information is published in a book, on a website, in the newspaper, consider how plausible the information is. For example, The Breitbart News published the following headline: "South Korean Media Report U.S. Navy Seal Squad Training to Kill Kim Jong-un." The source of the report was listed as a North Korean newspaper. Is the information true? Verifying with another, more trusted source would be advisable. In the era of “fake news,” verifying the accuracy of your information is important.


Is the information you’ve discovered about what you are researching?

A single topic can have many aspects. For example, if you are researching the Crusades, you might focus on the religious beliefs, the Islamic point of view, the economics of the campaigns, the role of the kings, the Catholic Church, the history of each Crusade, the geography, the sociology, or even the arms and armor. Make sure you select sources that are relevant to the specific topic you are researching.


Why was this information created?

This can be a tricky one to investigate, but it is important to check who is responsible for this information. Do they have another motive to come to a particular conclusion? Check the bottom of the page or the contact information. Many films, articles and websites publish paid content that looks and reads like regular editorially reviewed content. Make sure you analyze what you're reading and understand that there may be a bias in the content. When in doubt, verify using the criteria outlined above.

Source: Laurentian Library. "Evaluating sources with the CRAAP test (remix of NYIT's video." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 30 September 2014. 20 June 2017.

Spotting Fake News: The SMART Test

Like journalists, you depend on sources for information. You may read a story in the newspaper, see it on televisions, or hear it from a friend. To judge the reliability of the story, you should always consider the source. Use the following SMART test to check your sources.


For you to evaluate a source, you have to know who or what the source is. Where does the story come from? Is the person reporting the story an eyewitness to the story? Did the person get the story from others? From eyewitnesses? From officials? Trace the source down. If the source is unclear, be skeptical about the story.


Why do they say so? Sources often have a special interest or particular point of view that may cause them to slant information to suit their beliefs or causes. Biased sources can be accurate, but you need to check them carefully. Get all sides to a story.


How good is the source? Eyewitnesses can be wrong. Was the witness in a good position? If the source isn’t an eyewitness, make sure it is a source you can trust -- e.g. an expert on the subject, a newspaper with good fact checking. Be wary of any source that is repeating hearsay and rumors.


Go over the story carefully. Does it make sense? Is it logically consistent? Are there any notable errors in facts or conclusions? Make a list of questionable facts. Develop questions about the story.

Two-Source Test

Double-check everything, if possible. Talk to a second party or tune-in to other newscasts to see if they are also reporting the same story. Research the subject in the library, by interviewing others, and search on the Internet. Does your two-source test confirm or contradict the story?

Source: Constitutional Rights Foundation. "Fact Finding in the Information Age." Reproduced with permission of the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Module 5 Quiz


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