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Evaluating Books

Evaluating Books

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The CRAP Test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose) is an acronym that represents criteria that can be used in evaluating resources.

The following questions are guidelines for determining if a resource is credible. Not all books will meet all the criteria for a credible book. Even if a book doesn't meet all criteria, it may still be credible and useful. It is up to the student to determine if a resource is appropriate to use for a given project.

 

What is "Credibility?"

The term "credibility" is used by many instructors in assignments to indicate the quality of resources you must include in your assignments. However, just what is credibility? How is credibility defined?
According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, credibility is defined as: "the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest." Merriam-Webster Dictionary

How does the term "credibility" relate to evaluating resources? Generally, credible resources will be written experts on the topic, or journalists who write for highly regarded newspaper or magazine sources. Credible sources will generally be published by university or other scholarly publishers, as well as highly regarded publishers of books, newspapers and magazines.

Currency

How recently was the book published? Is the information current enough for your topic?

Having the most up-to-date information is particularly important if your topic is, for example, Health or Science-related. However, date of publication is not as critical for many topics, such as History or Fine Arts. Ultimately, you must make this decision based upon your research needs.

Reliability

Does the information creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?

The credibility of a resource is greatly enhanced if the author provides evidence of where they're getting their source information. This evidence can be cited as a footnote, endnote or listed in a bibliography or list of resources, which is typically found back of a book.

Is the information accurate? Can you independently verify the accuracy of the information from another source?

To determine if the information is accurate, do an online search or consult a reference resource such as an encyclopedia to verify the accuracy of the information. Encyclopedias and other reference works are available through the Library's databases and print collection. Note: Multiple websites might post the same information using your original website as the source. Try to locate an independent, third-party website, database or print resource that corroborates the information listed in the article or website that you're citing.

Authority

Who is the author or creator?

The name of the author or party responsible for the information is usually located near the title of the article (byline) or near the bottom of the webpage. Occasionally the article or website will not list the name of the author, but rather the organization responsible for producing the information.

What are the author’s credentials? Are they an expert in the field, or, a journalist from a reputable publication?

The author's credentials indicate if the person has had the necessary training to offer an expert opinion on the topic. For example, research conducted by professors, teachers, those who hold advanced degrees and other professionals who work in the field of study are generally considered to be credible. Although not necessarily experts in a particular field, journalists who work for major news outlets may also be considered credible.

To learn more about an author or organization, do an online search of the name in quotation marks. For example, in doing a search for "Jill Lepore" you will find that she is a Professor of American History at Harvard University. This is the first result from the search. Since the website's domain name (the ".edu" part) is from an educational organization, the odds that the website is legitimate are very high. For more information on Domain Names, see below.

Who is the publisher?

Generally, books published by university presses, such as the Oxford University Press, or University of Illinois Press will be scholarly in nature. To find out information about a publisher, do an online search for the name of the publisher of the publication by putting the name of the publisher in quotes (searching by phrase). Look for links that might give you background information on the publisher, such as an "about" page, or "contact us."

Although university presses are considered to be highly credible, there are other credible publishers as well. Publishers such as Random House and Penguin Books are credible, however, they are not necessarily scholarly.

Purpose/Point of View

Is the resource based on facts or opinions?

Resources that use facts that are supported by evidence cited in the work are generally considered to be more credible than opinion-based resources. However, depending on your project, opinion pieces can be useful.

If the resource is opinion-based, is it balanced? Are multiple perspectives presented?

As the old saying goes, there are two sides to every story. A well-balanced resource will include multiple perspectives, offering arguments and counter-arguments.

Is the resource biased? Is the author trying to sway your opinion?

Most resources will have a bias. Biases can be "direct", meaning that the bias is clearly stated as a way to persuade the reader to agree with their position. Biases can also be "indirect," by including information that supports their position, and excluding information that does not support the position. It is important to try to identify the author's position so you can use this information in an informed manner.

Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

There is no shortage of commercial interests trying to sell their wares on the Internet. Sometimes marketeers will cloak sales pitches in the form of a story, essay or news article.