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InfoSkills for Economics and Management

InfoSkills @ TiU

Source credibility

Evaluating the sources you find for credibility and usefulness is a crucial part of searching for appropriate literature. But how do you do that? Let's take a look at the source types we've discussed so far.

Credibility of traditionally published sources

Popular 

- / + In terms of credibility there's a lot of variation within popular sources. Everything from entertainment books (e.g., Life is Too Short) and magazines (Celebrity) to highly regarded newspapers (The New York Times), and well-respected popular magazines (Popular Science) falls into this category.

Professional 

+ Professional books and journals are generally considered of good quality, but not quite as authoritative as scholarly sources.

Scholarly 

++ Among traditionally published sources, scholarly journals and books are by far the most credible. This has everything to do with the quality-control standards in traditional scholarly publishing, which gives these sources maximum quality and credibility.

The conclusion must be that the credibility of traditionally published sources varies greatly, especially among popular sources. But even with scholarly sources, you should always be critical. For example, the reputable scholarly journal British Medical Journal (BMJ) pulled an April Fools day joke in 2006. An article published in BMJ, dated April 1, described a new psychological disorder: 'Motivational Deficiency Disorder', something that turned out to be extreme laziness. A quote from the article: "Neuroscientists at the University of Newcastle in Australia say that in severe cases motivational deficiency disorder can be fatal, because the condition reduces the motivation to breathe." The prank, however, had a purpose: the article was designed to bring attention to a conference on so-called disease mongering, the medicalization of ordinary conditions.

What about the credibility of grey literature?

Compared to 'white' literature (traditional scholarly sources), the quality control of grey literature is less rigorous. Sometimes it's even non-existent. This may result in some of the grey literature not being reliable and therefore unsuitable to use for an assignment.

‚ÄčThat said, grey literature sources may be credible and very useful. For instance, very recent research may not yet have been traditionally published in a journal or book -- but might be available in a working paper or conference paper. Reports from professional organizations may examine particular topics in more depth, or on a more practical level, than traditionally published sources. Government/EU publications, academic or not, are generally considered to be credible. Many prominent academics, journalists, and public figures have blogs where they share reliable information.

The CRAAP test

Now how do you determine that you're dealing with a credible source? A commonly-used way to do that is to subject your source to the so-called CRAAP test.

What does CRAAP stand for?

CRAAP is the acronym for the five criteria often used to determine whether or not a source is credible and useful: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. To learn what’s appropriate for your assignment and what’s not, test the sources you've found by asking yourself the questions listed under each of these criteria. Make sure each and every source you plan on using in your writing assignment passes the CRAAP test!

CRAAP questions

The timeliness of the source

If it's important to have current, up-to-date information about your topic, then ask:

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated? 
  • Are the links functional?

How the source fits your needs 

Not all information about your topic is going to meet your needs. The information must be useful. To find out whether or not it is, ask: 

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your assignment question?
  • Does the information help you understand your topic better?
  • 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'll use?

The origin of the source

When talking about authority we are really referring to the author. Knowing who wrote and published the information will tell you whether it's credible or unbiased. 

  • Who is the author, book publisher, magazine or journal publisher, or (if the source is a website) sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
    If s/he works at a university or research institute you may be dealing with a scholarly source. Check whether the source also has the other characteristics of a scholarly source as described in 'A closer look at scholarly sources'.
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as an email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • .edu (educational)
    • .gov (U.S. government)
    • .com (commercial)
    • .org (nonprofit organization)

INOTEI
To help answer the Authority questions, check out a website's About page.

The reliability and correctness of the source

Because you're likely not an expert on the subject you are researching, it's important that claims being made in your sources are accurate. 

  • Where does the source come from?
  • Is the information that's provided supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
    If so you are most likely dealing with a traditionally published book or scholarly journal article. Make sure that the source also has the other characteristics of a scholarly source as described in A closer look at scholarly sources
  • Can you verify any of the information in other sources? 
    Never rely on only one source!
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

The reason the source exists

Information can be presented to inform, persuade, entertain, or sell something to you. 

  • What is the purpose of the source? 
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, or other biases?

INOTEI
To help answer these questions, always check out a website's 'About us' section (if available). Here you'll find its purpose and viewpoint.

Watch this brief video about the CRAAP test:

Source: McMaster University Library. Published under a CC BY 3.0 license.

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.by Tilburg University Library.