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SSI2-114: Humans, Nature, and the Environment (Prof. Sherman)

Evaluation of Online Resources

What kind of information is available online? How do you find it? How do you tell if it's good or not? And what does it mean to be 'good' information?

When you are doing research online and you start clicking on the various search results, you can end up looking at a lot of very different kinds of online resources. As you engage with these sources, you might be asking yourself "should I use this for my research?" Maybe a better question is HOW would you use it for research?  You must think critically about online resources. Fortunately, you have a couple of tools at your disposal to help you critically evaluate online resources. We will take a look at two of them below: the CAARP test and the Four Moves framework. 

  • The CAARP test is a 'checklist' approach that can help you interrogate a source on its own merits, but it has limitations...many of the markers of quality information can be ambiguous or hard to verify when looking just at the source by itself. 
  • The Four Moves approach to evaluating information encourages you to contextualize the information that you've found. Its process is called lateral reading, and lets you "SIFT"  the information that you've found: we can Stop and Investigate the source, Find other coverage, and try to Trace information given. 

Evaluating Sources: the CAARP test

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Authority: the source of the information

  •  Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence? Is it documented and cited properly?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

‚ÄčRelevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? Does it fit within the guidelines of your project?
  • Who is the intended audience for this source? 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?
  • How would this fit into your research? Does it back up what you’ve already found, or provide new material?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this course in your research paper?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information?It is to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information presented as fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

CAARP test adapted from the original created by librarians at California State University, Chico

The Four Moves

What people need most when confronted with a claim that may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something I have decided to call “moves.”

Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process.  They are associated with specific tactics. Here are the four moves this guide will hinge on:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

In general, you can try these moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

Google Searching Tips

  • Look for clues in the URL: .gov, .org, .edu;
  • When in doubt, go back to the primary page to find out more ( out the mainpage to see what it's about);
  • When searching, try including the name of a well-known organization or museum, such as the Smithsonian;
  • Evaluate, Trust...Verify: once you've evaluated information and decided that it's probably trustworthy, it's a good idea to verify facts and dates through other sources.