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Research Skills

Information to help students find, evaluate, reference, and write for their assignments

Critical evaluation of sources

It is very easy to find information thanks to the convenience of the Internet. However, it can be difficult to know which source or which piece of information is reliable.

A reliable source:

  is published by an expert in their field

 presents information that has been researched and shows evidence of that research

 has research that has been checked by another expert, or has gone through an editorial process

 is objective. Its aim is to inform without any bias

 is up-to-date

Use the quick links below to learn how to recognise what a suitable source is for academic study.


Quick links


What is an academic source?

For many Wintec courses you will be expected to find information from sources that are academic. These are also called scholarly sources.

In general, academic sources refer to peer-reviewed articles and books. They are reliable sources.

If you're not sure, a quick way to tell if a source is academic is if it has a bibliography (a list of sources that the author has used in their research).

Peer-reviewed articles are articles published in academic journals and that have been checked by other experts in that field. They are critically evaluated for the quality and accuracy of their research.

The pyramid below demonstrates the amount of the different types of sources you should use, with the least reliable or least academic at the top.

Depending on your assignment and field of study, you should be relying on peer-reviewed articles and academic books to inform your research. Use online sources sparingly (to plug any information gaps you find after you've searched for academic sources).

What's the issue with using websites and other online sources?

Anybody can create a website and upload information to the Internet. It can be very difficult to know if that person is an expert in their field and if you can trust their information.

But there is a way you can evaluate a website to see if it's a good source - The CRAAP test. Read on to find out how to critically assess websites.


Critical evaluation: The CRAAP Test

The CRAAP Test is a system of checking if a source is reliable. It asks you a set of questions:

For a more comprehensive set of questions, click here.

The video and the interactive tutorial below will teach you more about how you can use The CRAAP Test to determine if online sources are reliable.

CRAAP Test video

CRAAP AGENT interactive tutorial


Currency
How up to date is the information?

  • When was the information published or last updated?
     
  • Is the information still relevant/applicable to your subject area?
     
  • Is there newer information available?
     
  • For websites: are the links still functional?
     
  • How quickly does information change in this subject area?
    • (In some areas like IT or medicine, information goes out of date quickly and it's important to have newer information).

Relevance
Does the information relate to your topic?

  • Does the information answer or address your research question?
     
  • Who is the intended audience? What level is the information?​
    • If the information is too simple or general, it might not be appropriate for an academic assignment.
       
  • How appropriate is the information for use in your research? Is it academic information?
     
  • Does the information contribute to your knowledge of a subject?
     
  • Where does the information come from? Does it relate to your particular location/context?

Authority
Who generated/published the information?

  • Who is the author/publisher/source of the information?
    • ​If there is no author, the information may not be reliable.
    • If the author is a company, they might be trying to sell you something.
    • Check URLs. .co .com = businesses | .govt = government | .edu .ac = academic institutions
       
  • What can you find out about them? What are their credentials or qualifications? Are they an expert in their field?
     
  • Is the author affiliated with any educational institutions or prominent organisations?
     
  • Can you find information about them in other sources? Do they have a good reputation?

Accuracy
Is the information reliable, truthful, and correct?

  • Is the information supported by evidence and references? What reasons are given for statements/claims made? Be wary of information not supported by references
     
  • Was the information peer-reviewed—i.e., was it checked by editors or experts?
    • (Academic information is usually checked thoroughly before publication. Websites aren't usually checked by anyone).
       
  • Does the information reflect what other credible sources have said about the subject? Can you verify the information with other sources? Has anything been left out that might disprove or contradict any claims made?
     
  • Are there any statements that seem unlikely or false? Are there spelling or typographical errors?

Purpose
Why does the information exist?

  • Is the information trying to sell you a product? Persuade you of a particular point of view? EntertainInform? (This will affect how the information is presented to you).
     
  • Is the information factual or based purely on opinion? Is it propaganda, meant to influence the reader for political, religious, cultural, or commercial reasons?
     
  • Is the information written with obvious bias or prejudice?
    ​
  • Is the language neutral/unbiased or does it try to appeal to your emotions?

Fake news, misinformation and disinformation

It can be hard to navigate the large amounts of information thrown at us daily. Some of it is true and factual. Some of it isn't.

Untruthful information falls into camps: things that are deliberately designed to mislead you, and the stuff that is well-intentioned, but poorly researched or based on assumptions rather than fact. So, what is the difference between misinformation, disinformation, and fake news?

Why do we tend to fall for misinformation, disinformation and fake news?

This video explains why our brains are susceptible to accepting information without being critical about it.

Above The Noise. (2017, May 4). Why do our brains love fake news [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNmwvntMF5A 

How can we avoid being fooled by wrong information?

The best thing you can do is fact check:

 Use The CRAAP Test to help you determine if information is reliable

 Cross reference the facts being presented with other reliable sources. Do they all say the same thing/are they presenting the same facts? If your reliable sources agree with your original source, then it should be safe to use the information.

 Did you get the information from a source that is known to be factual? Social media, for example, is known to be full of misleading information.

 Would the information source be considered academic? Academic sources are a great place to gather information, even if what you're researching is not for your studies. Remember, academic sources are considered to be reliable because the authors are experts in their field and their work has gone through an editorial or peer-review process.

More great stuff on fake news and misinformation

This podcast from Jonathan Van Ness' Getting Curious explores the phenomenon of fake news and misinformation and why we are so susceptible to falling for it and spreading it. Click on the image to listen.

Van Ness, J. (Host). (2022, February 9). Why do we fall for fake news? with Dr. Nadia Brasher [Audio podcast episode]. In Getting curious with Jonathan Van Ness. Jonathan Van Ness. https://jonathanvanness.com/podcast/why-do-we-fall-for-fake-news-with-dr-nadia-brashier/

 

CRAAP test video

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