by Kari Swanson, illustration by Jennie Bernstein
This post doesn’t have anything to do with what’s in your baby’s diapers… unless you’re looking for valid information about what’s in your baby’s diapers, in which case it might be a very useful tool for you. The CRAAP test doesn’t have anything to do with crap and a whole lot to do with determining if the information you’ve found, regardless of whether that information is in a print resource or online, is valid, partly valid, or if it’s… well, just plain crap.
What is the CRAAP test? The CRAPP test is a tool that can be used to facilitate evaluating information resources. It was developed by librarians at the California State University at Chico’s Meriam Library (www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf). CRAAP is an acronym that stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. The CRAAP test poses questions in each area that it assesses to help you to determine if a particular source is more or less valid—it’s really a fluid scale not a black or white answer.
While the CRAAP test was developed by librarians for use by college students in evaluating resources to support research papers, it can be used by anyone to evaluate the validity of any resource used to answer a particular question.
The first questions in the CRAAP test are about the currency of the source. They ask questions about 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?
It is very important to think about whether the answer to your question requires current information and, if it does, to determine if the source you are evaluating is current, has been revised or updated and (if it is an online resource) has functional links. An online resource that contains a bunch of broken links is almost certainly not up to date. And if a print resource has a copyright date before your grandparents were born you might want to consider more recent material.
The next set of questions in the CRAAP test are about how well the resource relates to your information need:
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
- Who is the intended audience?
- 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?
- Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper [or to answer your question]?
If you are using the CRAAP test to evaluate a resource for answering a particular question, but not necessarily for a research paper, it is important for you to think about what kind of information resources you think will answer your question and if the resource you are evaluating is that kind of resource. For example, if you have a question that you think will best be answered by a scholarly research article and the resource you are evaluating is a newspaper article about the research the newspaper article will probably not thoroughly answer your question, because it will probably only provide a very brief summary of the research. And, some newspaper articles and blog posts about scholarly research are notoriously bad at summarizing scholarly research and occasionally present conclusions that the research does not actually support.
The next group of questions in the CRAAP test relate to the authority of the source of the information in the resource:
- 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
Again, even if you are not writing a research paper it is still important to think about the authority of the source of information in a resource. Anyone can publish anything on the Internet, so it is important to understand who the source of information is when evaluating a resource in order to determine if the resource is valid. URL’s can reveal information about source, because some URL’s can only be used by certain kinds of organizations. For example, only academic institutions can have a .edu URL and only government agencies can have a .gov URL.
This set of questions pertains to the reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the information:
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- 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 unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
The type of resource provides clues to whether information has been reviewed or refereed by other experts. Scholarly articles are usually peer-reviewed, which means experts in a field have reviewed the research and determined that it meets rigorous standards. Even if a resource isn’t peer-reviewed, the information it presents can be supported by evidence in the form of citations or links to other sources of information (which may or may not themselves be valid). Be wary: satire, spoofs and intentional falsehoods abound on the internet. There are whole web sites dedicated to non-existent species of animals that unfortunate people have been tricked into believing are real (e.g. look up “tree octopus”).
The last set of questions in the CRAAP test pertain to the reason the resource exists.
- What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
Knowing the purpose of a resource can help you to determine whether it is valid or reliable. You may find good information on a commercial site that sells products related to your question, but it probably shouldn’t be the only resource you use to answer the question since it is quite likely that they will present information that is biased in favor of their products. Sometimes it is easy to determine bias and sometimes it is much more difficult. Sometimes to answer these questions you have to consider answers to previous questions. For example, you may need to consider an author’s affiliations and expertise to determine if there is bias of some kind or whether a resource he or she wrote is fact, opinion or propaganda.
Answering all of the questions in the CRAAP test will help you to determine if a resource is more or less valid for the purposes you need it. If you are not confident that a resource meets the level of reliability or validity that you need to answer your question you can move on to other resources. If you find a resource that meets the level of reliability or validity that you need, but you want or need more information you can use that resource as a means to find related resources by looking for other resources that it cites or that cite it. When you’re doing your personal research to assist you in your decision making, it is a good idea to ensure it all passes the CRAAP test even if you won’t be publishing it anywhere.
And, if you aren’t sure or you get stuck, ask the expert searchers: your local public or academic librarians. We excel at knowing the difference between CRAAP and crap!