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Library Research E-Textbook - Instructor Version: Evaluation of Online Sources

Evaluation of Online Sources: Introduction & Goals

Introduction

Not all information is good information, so make sure you're careful about what you cite! It's important to be critical of information, no matter where you get it. Be sure to ask questions of every information source you find: who wrote it? why? when? In this module you'll learn more about how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information. Also, the entire point of doing research is to construct critically analyzed thoughts, which can only be completed through your critical reflection of sources.

Goals

In this module, you'll learn to:

  • Apply the CRAAP criteria to evaluate a website, and how to apply the same concepts to other types of information sources
  • Use advanced web searching tools and tips in using Google and Google Scholar

Choose your sources wisely

Most students start their research online, so we'll begin our discussion of sources with websites.  Google is probably where you immediately fo when you want to find out information on a research topic (or anything really), right?  Google is a great place to start your research, but you may quickly find that there is an overwhelming amount of online information about your topic.  It is, therefore, very important to choose your research sources wisely -- especially when they're websites. It's essential that you review every website you want to use for your academic projects with a critical eye. Be a skeptic! Watch this video for the major considerations and things to look for when evaluating potential Web sources.

Direct link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_qR5lpnXBE

Deciding Relevance

When deciding whether to keep a particular information source for use in your project, no matter whether it's a book, article, or website, you will use a decision-making process that revolves around relevance. 

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

According to librarians at Chico State University, evaluating information includes considering relevance and asking the following questions:

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

We must also learn to apply the CRAAP test when evaluating websites for our research:

Currency:  The timeliness of the information.
Relevance:  The importance of the information for your needs.
Authority:  The source of the information.
Accuracy:  The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational content.
Purpose:  The reason the information exists.

To learn more about this, review the tutorial from Chico State University (original created by the University of Wyoming) and check out their handout below.

SLOs and IL Standards

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Critical Thinking

Information Literacy Standards:

  • Standard 2
  • Standard 3

Activity Option 1

Do a search using a web search engine (e.g., Google) to find a webpage that relates to your research topic. Record the name and URL of the webpage, and evaluate it using the CRAAP criteria (outlined in the Chico State tutorial). Write at least one sentence for each of the criteria below.

  1. Name, author, and web address (URL) of the webpage.
  2. Currency – Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
  3. Relevancy – Does the information relate to your topic?
  4. Authority – What are the author’s qualifications to write on the topic?
  5. Accuracy – Where does the information provided come from?
  6. Purpose – What is the purpose of the information – to inform? to sell?

Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose (santoser@canton.edu) for assessment purposes.

Activity Option 2: Evaluating Websites

Answer the following questions about a webpage/website of your choice:

  • What webpage/website did you locate? Please provide the URL for the site. 
  • Who is the author/creator/sponsor of the site? 
  • What are the author's credentials or affiliations? 
  • What sources (if any) are used to support the information on the site? 
  • Would you use this website in your paper? Why or why not?

Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose (santoser@canton.edu) for assessment purposes.

Activity Option 3:

Do a search using a web search engine (e.g., Google) to find a webpage that relates to your research topic. 

Use Academic Search Complete to find an article on your topic (or use an article that you found in the Basic Research Strategies module).

Compare the website to the article, using the questions below.

  1. Name, author, and web address (URL) of the webpage. & name, author, journal title, date, and page numbers for the article.

  2. Currency – Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?

  3. Relevancy – Does the information relate to your topic?

  4. Authority – What are the author’s qualifications to write on the topic?

  5. Accuracy – Where does the information provided come from?

  6. Purpose – What is the purpose of the information – to inform? to sell? to present research?

  7. Summary - which of these sources do you think would be more useful for an English 102 paper? Why?