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Evaluating Web Resources

This is a quick guide on how to evaluate resources found on the web. Tips on how to cite information in web resources and how to find information on the web are also provided.

Why Evaluate?

We have all noticed that there is a huge amount of false or misleading information pouring into popular media channels. All this noise can make the work of online research more difficult and time-consuming. To prepare, equip yourself with a few solid tools for evaluating information that you can apply in any situation. Keep reading this guide to get started!

Evaluating Websites Using Pre-evaluation plus the CRAAP Test

What is pre-evaluation?

Pre-evaluation is a quick step that saves you a lot of time and effort in evaluating sources. It works like this:

Do a quick scan online for basic information about the source, rather than investigating within the source.

  • Open a new tab in your browser and search for the name of the website, author, director, or journal. Has a site like Snopes already investigated the source? Does Wikipedia have an entry that tells if it has known biases, or on the other hand if it is peer-reviewed?
    • Do not spend more than 1 or 2 minutes on this step. The idea is to get a quick scan.
  • You should now know if others think this source is likely to be reliable, or likely to have strong bias or misinformation.
    • If it is likely to be not very reliable, then it is not worth your time looking into it any further. Go back to your search and look for something better.
    • If it is likely to be reliable, continue with the in-depth evaluation of the CRAAP Test to find out for sure.


The CRAAP Test is a guide that reminds us to check 5 important criteria when evaluating an information source to decide if it's reliable enough to trust, and to use in our research.

Currency: Is the information recent enough for your needs?
  • Consider the topic you are studying: how recent does the information need to be to still be relevant?
  • Look for the published date, or a revised/updated date. Note that many websites do not post a publishing date, and that is a big problem for us as researchers. Do not accept sources without a clear date, with very few exceptions.
Relevance: Is the information relevant to your particular research needs?
  • Does the information add to your understanding of the topic? Does it answer questions you have about your topic? If not, it may be a reliable source, but not right for your current research needs.
Authority: Is the author an expert on the topic?
  • You already have an idea about the authority of the source based on your pre-evaluation scan. What clues do you need to follow up on now that you are evaluating the source itself?
  • Who is the author, and what is their expertise on this topic? Expertise can mean different things in different contexts, like an advanced degree or extensive experience. Give this one a hard look and decide if the author deserves to have your attention to what they say.
Accuracy: Is there evidence that the information is correct?
  • For this criterion, you need to read the source carefully: Does the author present evidence for their claims? Evidence might be any of these: direct quotes from eyewitnesses, data collected through direct experimentation, or carefully referenced research with citations. If the author makes many claims but bases them only on their own opinion, then we cannot know if the claims are accurate.
  • Is the source from a peer-reviewed journal? This is strong evidence in favor of accuracy.
Purpose: Why did the author or publisher present this information?
  • Purpose informs our evaluation by helping us discover any hidden bias the author or publisher may have. Some common purposes are to inform, to teach, to sell, to entertain, or to persuade. Which one is this source trying to do? Consider how this purpose could reveal bias in the information presented.
  • It is very important to seek out a variety of different types of information and different authors. Even if one source seems reliable, check the information against a different author from a different type of publication to ensure you hear from a variety of perspectives.

SIFT: Getting at the Truth

SIFT is a method of quickly assessing the likely reliability of an information source, whether that source is a blog post, a news article, a video, or any piece of evidence.

It is not meant to be thorough, but to be a quick and practical pre-evaluation tool. Use it to quickly decide if a source is worth the effort of a more thorough evaluation (such as the CRAAP Test method).

S is for Stop

Stop and ask yourself:

  • Do I know and trust the source (website, magazine, author, etc.) of this information? 
    • If you don't, stop reading and go to the next step, "Investigate the source".
    • If you do, and you know it's likely to be trustworthy, you are done with SIFT. You can now continue with a thorough evaluation method like the CRAAP Test.
  • Video introducing this process
I is for Investigate the source

Find out more about your source of the information before you read it (or view it).

  • Open a new browser tab and search for information about your source. What do other sites say about your source? How does Wikipedia or another general informational site describe the website, magazine, or author? Does the source have expertise in a certain area? Does it have a particular slant, agenda, or purpose?
    • If you find some solid information about your source's reliability, you are done with SIFT. You can now continue with a thorough evaluation method like the CRAAP Test.
    • If you find information showing your source is not likely to be reliable, or if this step is taking longer than about 30 seconds, go on to the next step of SIFT, "Find trusted coverage".
  • Video demonstration of this step 
F is for Find trusted coverage

If you can't find out more about the source, or find that it's not reliable, try to find a different source that addresses the same claims from your original source.

Think about it like this: it's usually not the particular source (article, blog post, video, etc.) you care about, it's the information, or the claim the source makes. You want to know, is the claim true or false? Does the claim represent a consensus viewpoint, or is it the subject of disagreement? 

  • To find trusted coverage, start a new search that focuses on the claim of the original source. You're looking for a different, more trusted, more in-depth source that covers the topic or claim.
    • For example: if you find an article from the Save the Koalas Foundation that says koalas have just been declared extinct, you might open up a new tab in your browser and search: koalas extict. Browse these results for an article from a more well-known and reliable source.
  • Video demonstration of this step
T is for Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

A lot of things you find on the internet have been stripped of context. Often only a part of a story is told, or a single claim is pulled from a scientific paper, making it very misleading.

  • Try to trace the claim, quote, or media from your source back to the original source. This lets you see the information or claims in their original context and get a better sense if your source accurately presents the information. Very often once you see the original source, you use it instead of the one you started with. The most original or primary source is almost always the better source.
    • To search for the original source, use clues such as a researcher's name, the date the original research was published, or the title of the journal where the research was published.
  • Video demonstration of this step
A note about "fake news" also known as Disinformation or Misinformation:

In some cases these SIFT techniques will show you that claims are outright wrong, or that sources are legitimately "bad actors" who are trying to deceive you (this is called "disinformation"). But even when material is not intentionally deceptive (this is called "misinformation") the SIFT process still helps us by establishing context, and leading us to better sources. 

SIFT and its description were created by Mike Caulfield and spelled out in his course "Check, Please"

Sources for Fact Checking Online News

With the rash of disinformation and misinformation, a.k.a. "fake news" online, these are some sources that can help you get closer to the truth:

Additional fact checker sites for specialized topics:

Additional Resources

Cedar Rapids Campus Library

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6301 Kirkwood Blvd SW, Cedar Rapids, IA


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