The CRAAP Detector—A Tool For Evaluating Information Resources

by Kari Swanson, illustration by Jennie Bernstein 

What is research

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.

Currency

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.

Relevance

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.

Authority

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.

Accuracy

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”).

Purpose

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!

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Kari Swanson

 Kari Swanson is a college librarian, editor, photographer who invests much of her free time supporting other women in their breastfeeding journeys. Kari lives with her two children and husband in beautiful Northeast, USA.
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Blaming the milk? Is it the breastmilk or something else?

This post made possible in part by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Fairly often on The Leaky [email protected]@b Facebook page we see questions from moms concerned about their milk or explaining that they had to wean because they were told their milk was “bad.”  Moms ask about getting their milk tested, wonder about boosting fat content, and are concerned that their milk is making their baby sick.  Unlike issues with latch, milk supply, infection or, blaming breastmilk is often more ambiguous.  It isn’t uncommon for concerns to be rooted in outside sources; family expressing doubt that the mother’s milk is good enough, health care providers that suggest perhaps formula would be a more accurate, and formula marketing promising improved brain development and “closer to breastmilk than ever” so parents can sleep easier.  Even if their little one is growing well and meeting developmental milestones, there can be overwhelming concern that something is wrong with the milk and if their sweet offspring is anything other than the standard of a smiling, chubby, easy-going, and bright eyed Gerber baby, the milk is often the first thing blamed for a breastfed baby.

 

Why blame the milk?

Other than the reality of living in a culture where breastfeeding is not the accepted normal way to feed a baby but is just one option, why do so many people jump to the idea that there must be something wrong with the mother’s milk if the baby is “too” fussy, gassy, clingy, or any other possible problem?  Very few question if another mammal’s milk is good enough for their young, why are quick to suspect the quality of milk of human mothers?  Ignorance is a significant factor, too many people don’t understand what is normal behavior for a health, breastfed infant but I don’t think that’s the only reason.  Deep down I suspect there are other issues at play.

 

The perfect baby.

The old adage that children are to be seen and not heard is socially accepted as out of date however, our actions and reactions to children reveal otherwise.  If you don’t have a cherubic smiling baby all the time, there must be a reason, a reason that must have an easy fix.  A reason that probably starts with the parents.  And what could be an easier fix than a bottle of prepared, measured, and “scientifically formulated” breastmilk substitute?  With all that formulating, there can’t be anything wrong with it such as what you last ate… or so some are inclined to believe.

 

Out of touch.

With a good portion of a generation or two of mothers having no experience of breastfeeding, many in society are out of touch as to what’s normal in a breastfed baby.  New standards have been established based on a product derived from milk intended to grow an animal that starts out weighing anywhere between 50-100 pounds and can grow to weigh a ton (literally, not figuratively) as an adult.  An animal that has 3 stomachs.  Growth charts have been based on this product and for a long time nobody even thought there should be a different chart for breastfed babies and health care professionals and parents alike accepted the growth patterns of a formula fed infant as the standard.

Be sure your health care provider is using the correct chart with your child, ask if they are using the WHO growth chart for breastfed infants.

 

Obsessed with food.

Our culture is obsessed with food.  Eating it, not eating it, where it comes from, where it doesn’t come from, how much it costs, who is eating it, who isn’t eating it, how much we’re eating, etc.  It’s pretty dang hard to measure breastmilk coming straight from the breast.  If you can’t measure it, can’t see it, how can you obsess about it?

 

Women, your bodies are broken.

From monthly fertility cycles to sexual arousal, from birth to breastfeeding, from feminine hygiene to body shape, society consistently tells women there’s something wrong with their bodies.  A quick glimpse at vintage ads will show that this has been the case for a long time.  Douche it, pinch it, pull it, augment it, decrease it, measure it, plump it, thin it, paint it, perfume it, shave it, cut it, bind it, CHANGE IT!  Above all, hide what connects us with our animal side and don’t trust it.  Breastmilk is suspect because it comes from our body.  There must be something wrong with it.  The overwhelming message is that our bodies are broken.

 

Don’t judge me.

Whatever a mom’s reason to not breastfeed, whether there were physical issues, a lack of support, lack of information, or just not wanting to; nobody wants to be judged.  Finding camaraderie can be reassuring no matter what the reason.  Most moms don’t want other moms to fall short of their goals and they genuinely want to support but that support can also offer comfort to the one extending it if they feel even slightly judged because they didn’t breastfeed.  Blaming the milk for not being good enough or of making the infant sick can bring comfort that it wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do.  It’s not that they are looking for excuses but with the other reasons shared it can be that finding a reason as ambiguous as there being something wrong with the milk a relief that things didn’t work out.

 

Sex, sex, and more sex.

Breasts are sexual.  There’s no denying it.  But then so are other parts of the body that we use for other purposes… such as the neck holding up our heads and an erotic zone, our lips for kissing and talking, our hands for caressing and working, and so on.  Most of western society has over emphasized the sexual nature of the human female breasts but that doesn’t mean that they are a completely asexual part of the female anatomy.  That over emphasis has created problems though.  Problems that are easy to avoid thinking about if we just don’t use our breasts to feed our babies.  The balance is off between the breasts as a food source for a woman’s young and the sexuality of breasts.  Since women’s body’s are broken, babies should be perfect, we’re obsessed with food, and we don’t want to be judged, blaming breastmilk for any potential issues helps us to keep that overemphasis on the sexual nature of breasts so we don’t have to be confronted with the misogynistic objectification of women quite as overtly if we never have to see a breast being used in another capacity.

 

The reality is that most of the time it’s not going to be the milk to blame for problems with baby.  Once normal behavior, including normal emotional, psychological, attachment, and developmental behaviors are understood and eliminated as the cause of presenting symptoms, there are many other factors to be evaluated before even considering breastmilk.  When breastmilk truly is the problem these babies get sick very fast and in very distinct ways that require quick interventions.  And when there are more mild issues such as sensitivities to foods the mother has eaten, slow weight gain of the infant, or other such concerns, the answer rarely is to stop feeding breastmilk.  With the support of an informed health care provider and an IBCLC, most issues related to breastmilk can be worked through and the milk isn’t actually to blame.  Problems happen and sometimes the actual breastmilk needs to be considered before we rush to blame breastmilk for every physical discomfort or behavior we would rather not see in our babies and let’s truly help moms reach their personal breastfeeding goals, setting babies on the right track for a normal standard of health with the appropriate diet for human babies; breastmilk.

 

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 Have you wondered if your breastmilk was ok?  Do you think we have unrealistic expectations that lead to confusion between what is normal and what are real problems?

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