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Pop Quiz: is this an "online resource" or no?
Evaluation of Online Resources
What kind of information is available online? How do you find it? How do you tell if it's good or not? And what does it mean to be 'good' information?
When you are doing research online and you start clicking on the various search results, you can end up looking at a lot of very different kinds of online resources. As you engage with these sources, you might be asking yourself "should I use this for my research?" Maybe a better question is HOW would you use it for research? You must think critically about online resources. Fortunately, you have a couple of tools at your disposal to help you critically evaluate online resources. We will take a look at two of them below: the CAARP test and the Four Moves framework.
Let's use this frameworks to help us evaluate a resource about cats. Let's say you were noticing a lot of stray cats in your neighborhood, so you decided to search for some information about them, so that you can try to decide if there's anything you personally should be doing about these cats. You found this online resource about stray cats: Human Wildlife Interactions: Stray Cats
- First, let's use the CAARP test to evaluate it, and let us know if we should rely on it to help us answer our question about what, if anything, we should do about our neighborhood cats.
- Then, let's try to pull out one specific claim in this online resource. Is there something specific that you feel like this website tells you...what would you say is the "takeaway" message?
- Let's use the Four Moves approach to evaluate and "SIFT" that message: we can Stop and Investigate the source, Find other coverage, and try to Trace information given.
Evaluation Exercise: Trap-Neuter-Release
In your group, take a look at the site below which has been assigned to you. We will evaluate it using both the CAARP test and the Four Moves approach.
Groups 1-3 will look at this website: The Evidence Against Trap-Neuter-Release
Groups 4-6 willl look at this website: Why Trap-Neuter-Return Feral Cats? The Case for TNR
Each group will evaluate these websites by answering the questions on this Google Spreadsheet: SSI2-110: Evaluating Online Resources
- First, use the CAARP Test on the first tab, which we will then discuss briefly.
- Second, you should apply the Four Moves framework on the second tab. After you've done that, use the resources on this guide to create an APA-style citation for your website.
Evaluating Sources: the CAARP test
Currency: the timeliness of the information
- When was the information published or posted?
- Has the information been revised or updated?
- Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
- Are the links functional?
Authority: the source of the information
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
- Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
- Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
- Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence? Is it documented and cited properly?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? Does it fit within the guidelines of your project?
- Who is the intended audience for this source? Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
- Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
- How would this fit into your research? Does it back up what you’ve already found, or provide new material?
- Would you be comfortable citing this course in your research paper?
Purpose: the reason the information exists
- What is the purpose of the information?It is to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information presented as fact? opinion? propaganda?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
CAARP test adapted from the original created by librarians at California State University, Chico
The Four Moves
What people need most when confronted with a claim that may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something I have decided to call “moves.”
Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process. They are associated with specific tactics. Here are the four moves this guide will hinge on:
- Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
- Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
- Read laterally: Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
- Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.
In general, you can try these moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.
Citing Online Sources
- No Author, No Date, No Page Number? Make it explicit: usually with an abbreviation such as n.d (check specific style guidelines)
- To include URL or not? Some styles (MLA) don't require it, but (APA) does!
The definitive source is the APA Style Manual (7th edition), and they have some helpful examples on this page:
APA Style Reference Examples: Webpage on a Website
Other useful resources:
Google Searching Tips
- Look for clues in the URL: .gov, .org, .edu;
- When in doubt, go back to the primary page to find out more (www.mainpage.com/subpage...check out the mainpage to see what it's about);
- When searching, try including the name of a well-known organization or museum, such as the Smithsonian;
- Evaluate, Trust...Verify: once you've evaluated information and decided that it's probably trustworthy, it's a good idea to verify facts and dates through other sources.