Adapted by Liz Delf, Rob Drummond, and Kristy Kelly
If there’s no such thing as an inherently “good” or “bad” source, how do we determine if a source is right for our purposes? As you sift through sources, you should consider credibility and use value to determine whether a source is right for you. Credibility refers to the reliability and accuracy of the author, their writing, and the publisher. Use value is a broad term that includes whether you should use a text in your research paper as well as how you will use that text.
The CRAAP Test
The CRAAP Test will help you explore both credibility and use value, and it’s especially useful when evaluating sources that you are carefully considering for use in a paper. In chapter 23, Mike Caulfield offers a faster set of strategies for determining the validity of information you find in your day-to-day life online.
|How recently was the text created? Does that impact the accuracy or value of its contents, either positively or negatively?
Generally, a text that is current is more credible and useful: data will be more accurate, the content will reflect more up-to-date ideas, and so on. However, there are some exceptions.
• A text that is not current might be useful because it reflects attitudes of its publication era. For instance, if I were writing a paper on sexism in the office environment, it might be convincing to include a memo on dress codes from 1973.
• A text that is current might not be useful because the phenomena it discusses might not have existed long enough to have substantial evidence or study. For instance, if you were writing a paper on nanorobotics, it would be difficult to evaluate long-term impacts of this emergent technology because it simply hasn’t been around long enough.
|Is the text closely related to your topic? Does it illuminate your topic, or is it only tangentially connected?
A text that is relevant is generally more useful, as you probably already realize. Exceptions to this might include the following:
• A text that is too relevant might not be useful because it might create overlap or redundancy in your argument. You should use texts like this to pivot, complicate, or challenge your topic so you are not just repeating someone else’s ideas.
• A text that is only slightly relevant might be useful in providing background knowledge, drawing out an analogy, or gesturing to important questions or ideas you don’t have room to discuss in the scope of your paper.
|Is there any reason to doubt the validity of the text? Is it possible that the information and ideas included are simply untrue?
You might start out by relying on your instincts to answer these questions, but your evaluation of accuracy should also be informed more objectively by the other elements of the CRAAP Test (e.g., if a text is outdated, it might no longer be accurate).
Of course, the importance of this element depends on your use of the source; for instance, if you were writing a paper on conservative responses to Planned Parenthood, you might find it useful to discuss the inaccurate videos released by a pro-choice group several years ago.
|Who is the author? Who is the publisher? Do either or both demonstrate ethos through their experience, credentials, or public perception?
This element also depends on your use of the source; for instance, if you were writing a paper on cyberbullying, you might find it useful to bring in posts from anonymous teenagers. Often, though, academic presses (e.g., Oxford University Press) and government publishers (e.g., hhs.gov) are assumed to have an increased degree of authority when compared with popular presses (e.g., Routledge), popular periodicals (e.g., Time), or self-published texts (e.g., blogs). It may be difficult to ascertain an author’s and a publisher’s authority without further research, but here are some red flags if you’re evaluating a source with questionable authority:
• There is no author listed.
• The website hosting the web page or article is incomplete, outdated, or broken.
• The author seems to use little factual evidence.
• The author is known for extreme or one-dimensional views.
• The source has a sponsoring organization with an agenda that might undermine the validity of the information.
|What is the author trying to achieve with their text? What are their motivations or reasons for publication and writing? Does that purpose influence the credibility of the text?
As we’ve discussed, every piece of rhetoric has a purpose. It’s important that you identify and evaluate the implied and/or declared purposes of a text before you put too much faith in it.
Even though you’re making efforts to keep an open mind to different positions, it is likely that you’ve already formed some opinions about your topic. As you review each source, try to read both with and against the grain; in other words, try to position yourself at least once as a doubter and at least once as a believer.
Regardless of what the source actually has to say, you should (1) try to take the argument on its own terms and try to appreciate or understand it and (2) be critical of it, looking for its blind spots and problems. This is especially important when we encounter texts we really like or really dislike—we need to challenge our early perceptions to interrupt projection.
The original chapter, Interacting with Sources by Shane Abrams, is from EmpoWord: A Student-Centered Anthology and Handbook for College Writers
- When would the CRAAP Test be most useful, and when would it not? Can you imagine yourself using it to, say, evaluate a video online? Why or why not? Is it still a useful set of guidelines, even if we wouldn’t use it in all cases?
- What other rules have you been taught for evaluating sources? Talk about these with a peer or instructor. Which rules hold up, and which are myths?
- Use the CRAAP Test to evaluate a source, step by step. What did this process help you notice?