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Evaluating Online Information and Resources: Example #1 - Getting Started with the Basics

What would you say about this site?

The "Save the Pacific Tree Octopus" site is commonly used in information literacy class assignments. The assignment is usually to use the CRAAP or CRAP type checklist and see what clues can be found on the site to indicate if this site is reliable or not. It seems like this will be a simple task with a predictable outcome. 

Take a look at the "Save the Pacific Tree Octopus" site and compare what your conclusions would be if you used a checklist type evaluation tool vs. some active Lateral Reading. 

What happens when we use the Old "C.R.A.P." Checklist

Traditional information evaluation checklists cover similar areas.

For example, C.R.A.A.P asks us to look at Credibility, Reliability, Author, Audience, and Purpose. 

The instructions for most of these checklist type of evaluation tools give us hints to look for on the website that could indicate whether or not the site is reliable, like:

  • Are the author's information/credentials listed?
  • Is the site a .gov, .com, or .org?
  • Is the website free of typos? 
  • Does the page appear to be biased?

These are useful clues, but is this really an effective way of evaluating a site?

Currency the "C" of CRAAP

Currency asks us to see if publishing and update information is provided and if the links are functional. 

The "Save the Pacific Tree Octopus" passes the test. Updated information is provided.

Relevance the "R" of CRAAP

Some of the questions under the Relevance heading include:

  • Does this information relate to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information written at an appropriate level?

When students are presented with a hypothetical research or essay need for ecology or endangered animals information and are asked if this would be a good site to use, according to the CRAAP test's criteria for relevancy, many feel it is.  

Authority the "A" of CRAAP

The CRAAP evaluation tool asks us to look at the site and see if the author is clearly identified, if contact information is provided, and if any credentials or affiliations are provided for the author. Well... what do we find?  The author, Kyle Zapato, is clearly identified along with contact information and affiliations. No credentials are noted, but that is not necessarily a requirement. The checklist also suggests looking at the URL for .com, .edu, .gov, .org, or .net... Ok, it's a .net, but what does that really mean to us especially now that .orgs are so prevalent?

According to our checklist, this site could pass the "A" portion of the CRAAP checklist. At least, as far as most students are concerned.  

Accuracy is the second "A" of CRAAP

The CRAAP test asks us to consider where the information comes from. By looking at the site, we can see where the creator says it comes from and for many that is good enough. We are asked to say whether the resource is refereed or reviewed. Again, to many, that is a simple "yes" or "no" question with little more to do. The Accuracy piece also asks us to consider the "tone" of the writing and if it is free from emotion. Do you find the "Save the Tree Octopus!" site particularly emotional? 

Purpose the "P" of CRAAP

The CRAAP evaluation tool asks us to consider the purpose of the site or resource we are looking at. The purpose is quite clearly stated on this page. "Save those Tree Octopuses!"

What happens when we use LATERAL READING?

Lateral Reading is ACTIVE researching, fact checking, and evaluating. While it asks us to consider many of the same elements of the CRAAP or CRAP checklists, the emphasis is on searching beyond the website in front of us. 

So, open up some new tabs and start searching!

What are some things we should look into?

Well, actually, we probably want to look at the very same things that were introduced to us in the "CRAAP" method. The trick is that this time we open new tabs and gather as much outside information as we can - or at least until we are satisfied that we can see a trend or consensus forming.


Tab #1- Let's start with the creator/author

Open some new tabs and start searching! You can search in order, but why? What is most important to you? Perhaps in this case it is not Currency "C", but Authority "A" - Go for it! This is about efficiency and effectiveness. Open some tabs and start Googling the author/creator! What do you find?

Tab #2 - Something else fun to search

What might be your second choice on the most important element to consider? Maybe Accuracy or Purpose? Check it out! What else can be found about saving the tree octopus? Are there books written? Articles? Is it on the endangered list? Where would you look?  What additional key words could you add to a basic "Tree Octopus" Google search? Endangered? Research? History? News? Scientists? 

Tab #3 - What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia? Really? But, we've been told for years that you have to be wary of Wikipedia because "anyone can post to Wikipedia!" Is that really true? How does that effect the information provided by Wikipedia?

What does Wikipedia say about Wikipedia? : )

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