WRIT 3312 (Griffin): Written Communications in Business: Internet Credibility

Standards & Factors to Consider When Evaluating Information Sources

Intellectual Standards

Implementation of UHCL's Quality Enhancement PlanApplied Critical Thinking for Lifelong Learning and Adaptability, follows the Foundation for Critical Thinking model, which includes information ("data, facts, reasons, observations, experiences, evidence"*) as one of the elements of reasoning or thought to which intellectual standards must be applied. Critical thinking must be informed by information that is:

  • clear
  • accurate
  • relevant
  • fair
  • sufficient or complete

* Paul, Richard, and Linda Elder. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools.Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009. (p.3)

 

CRAAP Test Criteria

Currency

  • If timeliness is critical to the subject discipline or to the question at issue, how current is the information? Your professor may provide specific criteria on this aspect of an assignment (e.g., use sources no more than 5 years old).

Relevance

  • Is the content pertinent to the question you're considering?
  • Is it appropriate in terms of intended audience?
  • Is it suitable to the level or nature of the information need?
  • Does it provide new information or a needed perspective or analysis regarding the question at issue?

Authority

  • Are the author's credentials and/or expertise indicated? Could that information be verified if needed?
  • Is the publisher or sponsoring body reputable and a reasonable source for such content?
  • Could either have a point of view or bias that should make you question that authority?

Accuracy

  • Does the author's reasoning and presentation of evidence appear logical and complete?
  • Are facts correct? Should you consider checking another source for verification?
  • Was a peer-review or editorial review process used prior to publication?
  • Are suitable references or sources indicated?

Purpose

  • Is the main purpose of the information to educate, persuade, or sell?
  • Is the purpose transparent, or is it hidden? Does it influence the degree to which you should be skeptical of the content?
  • If an opinion is being promoted, is it supported by a balanced, logical presentation of facts?

Based in part on the CRAAP Test by Meriam Library, California State Univ., Chico.

Bias is a "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair" or "a predisposition either for or against something" (The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd ed., p. 159). In addition to looking for bias in an information source, consider your own assumptions and predispositions for a particular point of view.

Bias can be reflected through:

Word Choice - Subtle differences in expressions, syntax and diction can signal bias. Look for differences when comparing two articles [or documents] on the same subject.

Omitted Information - Stories, facts and details need to be complete and verified to offer the most objective and informed picture.

Omissions -- intentional and unintentional -- create slanted and/or incomplete pictures. Watch for differing information and the use of anonymous information for clues.

Framing - Framing is about context and how information is presented. Facts may be presented, but they may be put into a context/situation/pattern that emphasizes or de-emphasizes certain elements. Framing can be committed by manipulating the ideas or the actual physical location of an article.

Sources - Where is the article [or document] getting its information? Fair reporting will offer information that comes from a multitude of sources (most of them identifiable) and a variety of constituencies. Relying on just one source or unnamed sources can compromise reliability. Using sources with a vested interest in the topic or omitting source affiliations can slant.

Spin - Offering details or perspectives favorable to one side without adequate time/space/debate for alternate views.

(From Detecting Bias, Miller Library, Keystone College; used with permission)

As with any information source, consider standards and evaluative criteria related to currency, relevance, authorityaccuracy, purpose, and bias, and be particularly careful when you encounter the following "red flags" on a website:

  • authorship and/or sponsoring body difficult to identify and to find information about
  • an author or publisher with a vested interest in convincing you of something or selling you something
  • lots of advertisements
  • multiple broken and outdated links

Domain indicators in a web address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) are a clue to the fundamental nature of a site and typically indicate the following:

 .com  a for-profit, commercial business
 .org  an organization of some type; could be professional, educational, non-profit, or some type of advocacy group
 .edu  a higher education institution; the inclusion of a tilde character (~) indicates a personal page (such as a student page, for example)
 .gov  a U.S. government department or agency; usually federal, but now often used at the state or local level, also (example: City of Houston at http://www.houstontx.gov/)
 .us  often used for a U.S. state government department or agency (example: Texas Legislature Online at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/)
 .ca  example of a country indicator (example: University of Toronto at http://www.utoronto.ca/ in Canada)
 .net  an organization associated with providing network access
 .mil  a U.S. military organization or department

 

While the indicators above are most familiar, website creators may now use a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), which can be almost anything at all. Examples include:

  • .info
  • .engineer
  • .democrat
  • .social

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversees the creation and management of domain names.

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Find additional resources on the library's Evaluating Information Sources guide.

Additional Tools and Resources

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