Web sources can be particularly hard to evaluate, so we've developed this handy acronym to help you determine if a source may be CRAP.
CURRENCY: How recently was this information published/posted?
RELIABILITY: Is the information supported by evidence? Can it be confirmed by other sources?
AUTHORITY: Who wrote the information - are they an expert or knowledgeable in their field?
PURPOSE / POINT OF VIEW: Why was it written? To sell? To convince? To entertain? To inform?
How current our information needs to be depends on our topic.
In some topics like history and philosophy, currency might not be important. For instance, if we wanted to know about the history of communism we might want to seek out some older sources to see how things have evolved over time. However current information is extremely important in other subjects - health professions, education, or legal issues, for example.
Books and journals always show publication dates, usually at the front of the book or issue. When reviewing a website, you might have to search for a publication date. Dates are often at the top of the webpage, under the title, or at the bottom as a copyright (©) date. Be careful of sources that have old copyright dates, or things like news articles with dates from several years ago - information that is outdated may no longer be accurate. Double check to be sure there haven't been any changes.
Locating Publication/Copyright Information
If there is no specific date then the copyright © date (often only a year) can give you an idea of a website's currency.
Anyone can publish anything on the internet.
While this has great benefits (sharing opinions, crowd-sourcing, etc.) it also has some real drawbacks. A quick look at any Comments section shows that the internet provides a platform for a huge spectrum of information and opinion, factual or not.
A reliable site should provide evidence to back up its information - citations, or links to other resources or webpages where information can be cross-checked. It should also be free of simple errors, like spelling and grammar mistakes. Contact information, or other information about the site's authors should be easy to find.
Hoax and Mis/DisinformationSites
Some hoax sites are clearly meant as a joke (check out the well-known "hoax" sites below), while others may look reliable but deliberately misrepresent or cherry-pick facts to sway the reader. Hoax and misinformation sites are becoming more and more frequently and shared on social media regarding hot-button issues like politics. Double-check anything you may have read in your social media feeds for reliability!
Knowing who is the author of information can tell us a lot about how trustworthy it might be.
Is there a specific author listed, and what are their credentials (their degrees, or training, like an MD, PhD, etc.)? Your author should be an expert in their field, with either related education or verifiable experience to back up their authority.
For instance, if you have asthma, you wouldn't want health advice from a construction worker or a librarian - you'd want it from a doctor, someone with training and experience in the medical field. By the same token, you wouldn't want a doctor to build your house. Each kind of expertise is valuable in its own context.
On the web, organizations are often "authors." The organization that publishes a website can also influence its content. Check to see if the individual, group, or company that publishes information has a reputable history, provides contact information for the owners/authors of their content, or may have a special interest or bias.
Always ask yourself: "What does the author want me to DO with this information?"
The intention of an author can affect the accuracy of information. For example, advertising (to sell) presents products positively and minimizes drawbacks, while product reviews from a source with no stake in a company (to inform) are likely to be more objective.
Don't forget about your own opinions and biases! Our own points of view can actually be the hardest to recognize and overcome (this is called confirmation bias - exploring only information that justifies what we already think). Just because you agree with the information does not mean it is factual.
To cite this LibGuide use the following templates:
APA: Northern Essex Community College Library. (Date updated). Title of page. Title of LibGuide. URL
MLA: Northern Essex Community College Library. "Title of Page." Title of LibGuide, Date updated, URL.