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MCOM 320: Evaluate Sources

This guide was created to support MCOM 320 a required business writing course. Questions? Contact Leticia Camacho, Business Librarian

Evaluate Sources: The C.R.A.P. Method

Fake news, social media bias, and sponsored content: how good are you at judging the credibility of what you read online? Researchers at Stanford have found that we’re not as good as we think we are, with 80% of middle school students mistaking an advertisement for a real news story, and less than a third of college students recognizing the influence of political bias in tweets.

Whenever you encounter a new information source, whether it’s a scholarly journal, a website, or your roommate’s cousin’s girlfriend’s Twitter feed, you need to consider whether citing that source as evidence will strengthen or undermine your position. To judge the credibility of a source, put it through a CRAP test: assess its currency, reliability, authority, and purpose or point of view.

C. CURRENCY

Ask:

  • How recently was it published or updated?
  • How current are its sources and content?

Do:

  • Check the last time the page was updated
  • Dead links usually means the page is outdated
  • Charts should include a date reflecting when the information was gathered. Do not used undated statistical information.
  • Look for a notice indicating how often the website is being updated

R.  RELIABILITY

Ask:

  • Is the information organized, written, and presented well?
  • Are sources cited and easily verifiable?
  • Do the conclusions follow from the evidence?
  • Does the site have a .com, .edu, .gov, or .org domain?

Do:

  • Look for sites that don't have an economic bias (not trying to sell you anything)
  • Look for sites that care about their reputation (keeping a good image is incredibly important to gain consumers trust)
  • Look for sites that their main goal is to disseminate important information to the public.
    • Government sites (.gov,.gov, .mil, .us,... or a country code)
    •  Educational sites (.edu)
    • Nonprofit organizations (.org). 
  • Limit your internet search to reliable sources include [site:] in your query. The results are restricted to those websites in the given domain.
    • For example: (crowdfunding AND entrepreneurs site:.gov)
  • Look for sites that include links to other sites for more information.
  • Look for contact Information (email address, phone number and mailing address)

A. AUTHORITY

Ask:

  • Who are the authors?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Have they been cited by other sources on the topic?
  • Can they be contacted?

Do:

  • Read the "About Us" section. Look for information about the author or organization or someone who is responsible for the content.  Search for more information about the author or organization. Find their credentials, qualifications, biography, history or information on other work.
  • If it is a personal page be careful and investigate the author very carefully.
  • ​Find out if the document is part of an official academic or scholarly website. Put attention to the headers, footers, or distinctive watermarks.

P. PURPOSE/POINT OF VIEW

Ask:

  • Is the article written at a popular, professional, or professorial level?
  • Is the author or sponsoring organization values- or mission-driven, and might this introduce political, cultural, religious, or ideological bias?
  • Is the author or organization profit-driven?
  • How does this purpose or point of view affect the source’s usefulness?

Do:

  • Don’t just cherry-pick sources that seem to support your argument. Evaluate your sources carefully so that you can speak intelligently about them when someone in your audience has questions.
  • Read about the organization's mission to look for "bias".
  • Read between the lines, make sure the Website is not serving a personal agenda. Be careful with corporate Websites, if you need an annual report, go to EDGAR, a free government database. Public companies, foreign and domestic, are required to file registration statements and periodic reports electronically through EDGAR.
  • Look for advertising, it indicates a potential for biased information or an ulterior motive.
  • Look for organizational Websites that present a fair and balanced view of both sides of an issue. Organizations covering a controversial issue could be one-sided or biases.
  • Look for original research. Some pages contribute valuable information on the topic but some websites only repeat information already available on other websites.
  • If the site is fee based, check with your librarian before paying, it is possible that the library has already paid for the information or has access to similar information.

Does your source pass the CRAP test?

Try It Out: Evaluate these websites for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose or point of view. What does a CRAP test teach you about their usefulness as sources?