All Websites Are Not Created Equal

Or Can I Trust This Website? Part 2

This is the second in my series of posts on information literacy.

2nd Anoniversary by Anonymouse9000 via Flickr

Evaluating websites is a similar process to evaluating the quality of any information source. I’m not always a fan of acronyms, but in this case I think the “C.R.A.A.P. test” is an easy way to remember the steps for evaluating information. (For this post, I’ve adapted the C.R.A.A.P. test from the Meriam Library at the California State University, Chico.) The letters in this B.S. detector stand for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Let’s look at each of these criteria individually.

Currency: How timely is the information? Look for a copyright date on webpage or a note of when it was updated. Sometimes more recent sites post older articles. Look carefully! Expired links can also indicate the website may be out of date. How old is too old? That depends on your subject. Information on technology or medical treatments is more time sensitive than for art history or literature.

Relevance: Does the information really answer your question? Close enough isn’t good enough! Is the site’s intended audience appropriate for your needs? You wouldn’t use a children’s encyclopedia as a source for a college paper. So don’t use a site that is too basic, or too advanced, for your purposes.

Authority: Is the author qualified to provide this information? What are their credentials? Is the site associated with a recognized and respected organization? Is there contact information? You can often find the answers to these types of questions on the websites’s “About” page. You want your medical information to come from a qualified doctor or researcher, not from a truck driver whose sister had something that he thinks sounds like what you have. This is where the domains I wrote about last time come into play.

Accuracy: How reliable is the information? Look for the source of the information, whether it has been reviewed or whether it can be verified somewhere else. Look for an unbiased tone free from emotion. Beware sites with pervasive grammar or spelling errors.

Purpose: Why was this site created? Is it a commercial site full of ads that is trying to get you to buy something? Is the information objective and impartial or does it seem biased or based in propaganda? In the case of an organizational website (.org), be sure you know the purposed of the organization.

Remember, don’t just take the first sources of information that seem OK. Be persistent and find those are really the best for your needs. Next time we’ll walk through an example and apply the test.

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About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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