In general, information sources are created for many different purposes by people with varying levels of expertise, trustworthiness, and credibility. Knowing how to evaluate information sources will help you find high-quality, relevant information, whatever your purpose. This is also important when you are working with information sources within your discipline. Either way, information evaluation involves questioning the purposes and origins of information sources, using specific evaluation criteria, and choosing the most credible and relevant sources from what you find.
As you find sources in the searching stage of your research, you sort through your results to see if they are relevant to your topic. You will also want to evaluate your sources to see if they will work for how you want to use them, whether for a writing assignment, presentation, or other form. The form your work will take depends on your discipline (e.g., lab report, literary analysis, persuasive speech, etc. Whatever the final form may be, integrating high quality information sources is usually an important part of the process.
Knowing how to quickly evaluate sources,(in our case, scholarly articles) is one of the most important parts of research and will save you a lot of time once you get it down. In INFO 2010, we will use nemonic device CRAAP. This is an easy acronym to help you decide if a source is crap or not.
CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.
Each topic will have its own range of what is current, and while most of them could be around 5 years, it depends completely on the context, discipline, and how you plan to use the article. You want your sources to represent the most recent research on your topic. For some of the more rapidly changing fields, the newer the better. Technology changes overnight, and the health sciences are constantly being researched. If an article in those fields is more than 5 years old, chances are it's obsolete. Unless you are looking at the change itself, or at the historical differences, etc. So while 5 years is listed as good, it's completely subjective and you must consider more than just the publication date.
Information can be good without being right for your purpose. When evaluating your sources you need to decide if the information is actually going to work for your purposes. Who the article is written for will also make a huge difference. If your assignment is going to be written for an academic audience, you don't want sources written for a general audience. You also don't want to be using sources that were created for children if your audience is college level.
This is important, because you want your information provided by someone who knows what they are talking about, rather than just anyone. In this internet age, publishing is really easy. Anyone can post their opinions as fact on the internet. So knowing the credentials of the author and their affiliations and who is publishing the material is vital. Having their contact information listed is nice, because it means they are open to further communication.
How accurate the information is closely relates to the authority. We hope that if the author has the authority to write on this subject that they are writing good information. But you can tell that from the articles themselves. Are their sources cited? Are the sources good? An article could cite their sources, but if all their cited sources are not authoritative or accurate, then the article wont be accurate either. Source types can also clue you in to possible bias. Are all their arguments and sources only showing one side of the issue? Does the writing appeal to the emotion or does it use fact and logic?
Purpose can also relate to accuracy, because information will be influenced by the intent with which it is written. A study about tobacco not causing cancer sponsored by the tobacco industry could call the accuracy into question. Doing a scan of the article and paying attention to the sources cited as well as other terms used can help you know that the point of view is. Is the author being objective or subjective? Is it pushing their agenda or trying to inform or communicate research results? Is the language neutral or charged?
Usually, you should avoid opinion pieces and ones that are pushing agendas, because the information with be subjective and full of bias. This will affect the accuracy of the information, and even the author or publisher's credibility. However, you might use such a source to illustrate a point or to show a certain point of view.
If you can figure out the purpose of the article and why it was written, this will help you decide right away whether it will be a good source for you to use.