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Using Hekman Library Online

Overview of resources available and research strategies for library learning online

How do I judge whether something is a "good" source for my research?

As you gather information for your research project or assignment, it is important to spend time evaluating that information and its source. Why? Well, information comes from many places, from academic journals to popular magazines to Youtube to blogs to organizational websites to newspapers and more! Some of those sources may be more or less appropriate for your needs. Also, information is created by different people for many reasons - to inform, to persuade, to sell, to generate conversation, to troll, to entertain, etc. For good research, you need information that is accurate and unbiased, coming from sources you can trust. But how do you go about evaluating information for research purposes? 

Let's imagine that you've just heard something surprising about an acquaintance - how to you decide whether to believe this gossip? 

  • Do you consider if the news is recent (is it an insight about the person as they are right now or as they were known years ago in high school)? Do you consider if there is any proof to this gossip (is it based on assumptions or suspicions about the person or actual facts)? Do you consider who's giving you this information (do they know the person well or are they speculating)? Do you consider the gossiper's reputation or motives (are they known for reliable or unreliable talk, or do they actively like or dislike the person in discussion?)

Just like this social life example, we ask a lot of questions and use discernment to judge information in our research, paying extra attention to its source. But where do you start? One helpful tool to help guide your evaluations is the CRAP test

white letters in blue boxes, spelling out the word "crap," an acronym for evaluating information

This method reminds you to ask several basic questions about the information you find and the source it comes from, to decide if it is trustworthy. First, is it current - has the website or print source been recently updated, or was it published so long ago that the information is out-of-date? Second, is it reliable - is the information supported by factual evidence or eye-witness accounts, or is it missing that information and making assumptions? Third, who is the authority - who wrote or published this, and is it a well-known source or author in that field, or a source with little to identify them? Fourth, what is the purpose or point of view - is this information presenting a balanced view of an issue, or is it leaning a certain way? By asking these questions, you'll be on your way to understanding more deeply whether the information you find is good for your research.

When it comes to trustworthy sources, we recommend using library resources to more efficiently find scholarly sources of information (though still taking time to evaluate and make sure they are relevant and accurate). Information found elsewhere on the Internet can be hard to evaluate, and it's easy for us all to be fooled by "fake news." However, there are plenty of tools we can use to help us spot fake news and bad sources online - check out a few resources below!

Online Evaluation Resources