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WEL427 Research Skills Guide: Evaluating information

Evaluating information

After you have located an information source you need to discern whether it is of suitable academic quality for your use.

There is no definitive way to calculate the quality of an information source. However, there are certain indicators that, in combination, can help you determine if the source you are considering is reputable. Using these in conjunction will enable you to form a rounded opinion on the quality of most information sources.

The CRAP Test

The C.R.A.P. test is a set of criteria you can use to evaluate most types of information sources, such as journal articles, books, and websites. Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the resource against the criteria of Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose.

Currency

  • When was it written?
  • Is it current enough for your topic? Older material might be ok for an essay about historical approaches to child welfare, but if your assignment is about social media and child protection, you'll need to keep it current!
  • Not sure if it is current enough? The rule of thumb is to use resources published in the past five years.
  • For web resources check when the page was last updated and if included links still work

Reliability

  • Is the source reputable? Is the journal peer-reviewed, or is the book published by an academic or professional press?
  • Is the content the author's opinion or have they offered evidence to support their argument?
  • Have they provided references to reputable resources?
  • For web resources look for an About Us to give you more information about who is the organisation that provided the information

Authority

  • Who is the creator/author?
  • Are they qualified to write about this topic?
  • Are there any experts in the field that you should look up?
  • For web resources, remember anyone can publish anything on the internet. Look for a Contacts page and avoid anonymous websites.

Purpose

  • Is this fact or opinion?
  • Is it biased?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the author trying to sell you something?

Check if the Journals are Peer Reviewed

Articles published in peer-reviewed or refereed journals have been through a formal approval process. An editor and one or more subject specialists review the article before it is accepted for publication. This process is intended to ensure that the article is accurate, well-researched, and contributes to the body of knowledge in the field.

While most databases offer a peer-review limiter, Ulrichsweb Global Periodicals Directory is the best place to confirm the peer-review status of a journal. This is because Ulrichsweb isn't like most databases - instead of collecting articles, Ulrichsweb is a specialised database that collects information about journals.

You can access this database from the Library's list of U-databases.

To check if an article comes from a peer reviewed journal:

  • Search for the journal title (not the article title) or the journal ISSN
  • Locate the journal on the results list
  • If there is a referee's jumper () in the column on the left it means the journal (and therefore the article) is peer reviewed. In the United States of America they refer to the peer review process as refereeing, hence the referee's jumper.

If you searched by journal title, you may get more than one result for the same journal. This sometimes indicates that there is both a hard copy and an electronic copy of this journal.

If you are unsure, you can always go back to the article record from your original search and get the journal's ISSN number from there. The ISSN is a unique number that is delegated to each journal.

Note that only the scholarly articles in a peer-reviewed journal will have been peer-reviewed. Other documents such as book reviews and opinion pieces will not have been peer-reviewed, and would not be considered "academic quality".