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.
|- / +||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 books and journals are generally considered of good quality, but not quite as authoritative as scholarly sources.|
|++||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.
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.
That 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.
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.
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!
If it's important to have current, up-to-date information about your topic, then ask:
"The CRAAP test" is adapted from "Website Research: CRAAP Test" by Rebecca Hill Renirie available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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:
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.
To help answer the Authority questions, check out a website's About page.
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.
Information can be presented to inform, persuade, entertain, or sell something to you.
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: