When we describe a resource as credible (or high quality, trustworthy, or reliable), it means that it's reasonable for us to believe what the source is telling us. Using credible sources helps demonstrate your own credibility as a writer and researcher.
Note that credible and academic don't necessarily mean the same thing. Many non-academic sources (national newspapers whose journalists and editors fact-check stories, for example) are highly reliable while some academic sources (a peer-reviewed paper that was later retracted, for example) would no longer be considered credible.
Watch the following video to learn about source credibility and why it is important for your research:
Evaluate Sources with the CRAAP Test
The CRAAP test contains questions you can ask yourself to help determine if a source is sufficiently credible or reliable. The relative importance of the various criteria (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) will depend on your specific topic or information need.
The timeliness of the information.
- When was the source written, created, and/or published? (For academic studies, when was the data collected?)
- Has any information been revised or updated since the source was first published or shared?
- Is the information outdated or up-to-date?
- For websites: Are the links functional? When was the site last updated?
The importance and usefulness (or "fit") of the source to your needs.
- Does the source relate to your topic? Does it fill in gaps in your understanding or help answer your research question?
- Who is the source's intended audience?
- Does the source explain your topic with appropriate levels of detail and difficulty?
- Is there better information available in another source?
The source of the information.
- Who authored or created this source? Are they an expert on the topic? What are their qualifications, credentials, or relevant experience?
- Who published or sponsored this source? Are they considered legitimate, fair, and reputable organizations? Do they have particular agendas or biases of which you should be aware?
- Is the Author/Creator’s contact information provided?
- For websites: Does the website reveal anything about the author or source? What kind of URL does the website have? (Examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)
The reliability and correctness of the information.
- Are the source's arguments and conclusions supported with evidence?
- Where does the source's information come from? Does it include references, citations, or links to these other sources?
- Has the source been fact-checked or reviewed by an editor or through the process of peer review?
- Can you verify any of the information in other sources or from personal knowledge?
- Are there extensive spelling, grammar, or typographical errors?
The reason the information exists.
- Does the information have a clear purpose to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Does the source contain any obvious biases (political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal)?
Source: Western University. "Evaluating Sources." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 13 January 2012. 18 June 2020.
The CRAAP Test was originally created by Sarah Blakeslee, of the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.
What is Fake News?
Fake news is information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news. There are other forms of false information that you can encounter, too. Watch the following video to learn about fake news and how to recognize it:
Source: CyberWise. "What is Fake News?" Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 August 2019. 18 June 2020.
How to Spot Fake News
- Consider the Source. Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and contact info.
- Read Beyond. Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
- Check the Author. Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
- Supporting Sources? Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.\
- Check the Date. Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
- Is it a Joke? If it seems too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and the author to be sure.
- Check Your Biases. Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
- Ask the Experts. Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.
Check Your Bias
Our biases can make all of us susceptible to inaccurate information, claims with limited or incomplete evidence, misinformation, and disinformation.
Bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.
- Implicit or unconscious bias: Implicit bias includes attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) about other people, ideas, issues, or institutions that affect our opinions and behavior but occur outside of our conscious awareness and control. Everyone has implicit biases that they have developed over a lifetime; even people who try to remain impartial, like judges and journalists, are affected by these biases. However, people can work to identify harmful implicit biases and then work to change these biases.
- Explicit bias: Explicit bias refers to attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) that we consciously or deliberately hold and express about a person or group.
Cognitive biases are often framed as recognizable patterns of deviation from logical thought, or common errors in judgment. There are several cognitive biases that you should be on the alert for, including:
- Confirmation bias: Confirmation bias, or the selective collection of evidence, is our subconscious tendency to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, expectations, and/or hypotheses. Confirmation bias is both affected by and feeds our implicit biases. It can be most entrenched around beliefs and ideas that we are strongly attached to or that provoke a strong emotional response.
Source: "Confirmation and Other Biases." Facing History and Ourselves.
Watch the following video to learn about confirmation bias:
Source: Above the Noise. "Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?" Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 May 2017. 18 June 2020.