28 Evaluating Information: Websites

In previous chapter, we discussed what is peer-reviewed journal, why is considered to be a credible source of information for public relations students. Another source of information is websites. They offer reports, white papers, statistics, and other useful materials. Not all websites are created equal, though. It is important to critically evaluate each website using the CRAAP test. While government and reputable NGO websites are usually appropriate for use, there are many other websites that might have a hidden agenda, be outdated, or not have enough expertise to support their information. Here are some examples of websites that are considered as acceptable:

Government websites:

Government of Canada – Canada.ca

Parliament of Canada – Welcome to the House of Commons of Canada (ourcommons.ca)

Statistics Canada – Statistics Canada: Canada’s national statistical agency (statcan.gc.ca)

Non-Government Organizations websites:

The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) – Canadian Public Relations Society (cprs.ca)

Greenpeace Canada – Greenpeace Canada

World Wildlife Fund Canada – World Wildlife Fund Canada | WWF.CA

International Organizations:

United Nations – United Nations | Peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet

World Bank – World Bank Group – International Development, Poverty, & Sustainability

OECD – Canada – OECD

What is the Information Circle?

When looking for information sources, it is important to know how the information circle works. When anything important happens in the world, be it a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, a contested election night, a corporate scandal, or anything else, it is first covered the same day on social networks and perhaps in TV and radio reports. It usually takes until the next day for newspapers to write about it. Then, a week or a few weeks later, bi-weekly and monthly magazines will cover it. Peer-reviewed articles will start appearing in academic journals months later. Finally, it frequently takes a year or more for books to be published. Then a few years later, after a book was published or on an anniversary of this event, social media, newspapers, TV and radio shows will remember what happened and the cycle will start again. Visit the University of Illinoi library webpage to view the information circle infographic.

Knowing how the cycle of information works will help you search for information in proper locations. For example, if you look for something that happened last week, do not expect to find it in either an academic paper or even a magazine. Instead look for articles in newspapers or posts on social media. On the other hand, if the event you are interested in occurred months or years ago, then peer reviewed articles and books will be your best bet to get more detailed in-depth coverage of the event.

Evaluating Information Using CRAAP Test

It is very important to critically evaluate the information we receive from different sources. While some of them, such as academic journals, government, and international organizations website, are more reliable, even they could benefit from a closer look.  A great tool for such evaluation is called CRAAP Test. It stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. We are surrounded by information sources and not all of them should be trusted. Before using a website or an article, try to answer a series of questions about it.

Here are the criteria for inspection:

Currency: How timely is the information? When was it written or recorded? Is it still up to date or did it become obsolete?

Relevance: How useful and important is this information to your topic? What audience was it written for? Is it too simplistic or too sophisticated?

Authority: Who wrote or recorded this information? What are they credentials? Where do they work? Have they published anything on this subject before? For books, is it a well-established publisher or was it self-published?

Accuracy: Can you verify the authors’ claims with the help of other sources? Are they citing all their sources? How many of them seem relevant to you?

Purpose: Is the purpose of the article / book / website/ recording stated? Does the coverage seem to be objective? Can you detect a bias? If yes, what is it?


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