Sorting Through Information

There are billions of websites available on the internet, led by people with billions of different agendas.  With so much information available to us, it’s important that we learn how to sort through all the noise.  This week we want to discuss a tool that can help to narrow our focus when it comes to reliable versus unreliable sources.  The skills we will be discussing are critical in essay writing in particular.  However, they can be useful to anyone who is looking for credible information, so long as it is used properly.

The acronym we will be using as our tool to find more credible information is CRAAP.  This stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.  For every piece of information you find, you must consider each of these five aspects before you accept the information as credible.  Below is a list of questions to consider based on these five parts.  We hope you find this useful.

Currency – How recently was this published?  This is especially important to ask when looking at scientific studies as our understanding of science is constantly changing.  For other subjects, it also provides the most up to date ideas on current issues, making it more relevant.  Particularly for scientific study, five years old should be your limit.  Any older than that should be considered outdated.

Relevance – Who was it written for? Does it actually apply?  It’s important to consider who the audience was meant to be as that changes the way certain topics are discussed.  It’s also tempting, especially when writing an essay, to use any information you can find on a topic, even if that information goes a bit into the weeds.  Consider whether or not information will really help your argument.  If it does little to strengthen your point, disregard it.

Authority – Is the writer to be trusted?  Do they share contact information?  When reading an article, it’s a good idea to look up the author’s name on Google.  This will provide you with a better understanding of their credentials.  If they share contact information, it usually means that they are willing to continue the conversation, meaning they’re more likely to be trustworthy.  A lack of contact information means the author may have something to hide.

Accuracy – Does it have a works cited?  Has it been peer reviewed?  Are they sharing facts or personal emotion?  Articles that are primarily driven by emotion usually lack factual evidence.  However, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of allowing their emotion to influence yours, leading you to believe whatever they say.  Be sure to consider the actual facts, or lack thereof, that are being shared.  If the article comes from a peer reviewed source (such as a journal or book) and shares other sources that they themselves used, the accuracy of the information is more likely to be credible.

Purpose – What is the intent of the author?  Could they be biased?  This is similar to authority, though these questions focus in much more on why the article is being written.  Some news stations, for example, are notorious for being biased for one political party or the other.  There could be two articles from different sources about the same event that are completely different.  One could be trying to make the right look better, while the other is in support of the left, thus causing each to focus on different points and even misconstrue facts in order to make the other side look bad.  Make sure you recognize these points of possible bias and recognize the intent of the author.  If their intent is to persuade people to a certain view, rather than simply inform, tread carefully.