Unit 4: Special Considerations for Evaluating Online Sources
Until this point, we have focused on appraising sources using the five criteria of the CRAAP evaluation method: credibility, relevance, authorship, accuracy, and purpose. Let's take a quick look at two similar evaluation models – APPEAL and RADAR – and
review some additional features that can help us better assess the quality of online resources.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 1 hour.
4.1: Additional Evaluation Methods
The APPEAL and RADAR models offer another lens or framework scholars use to evaluate websites. However, they use nearly identical concepts and methods to review website content as the CRAAP test.
4.2: Author and Sponsoring Organization
As we noted earlier, it is essential to verify an author's credibility for all types of source materials, including websites.
Let's look at some additional factors you should consider when reviewing a website. Note that you may come across blogs or other sites where you cannot find any information about the author or sponsoring organization. Since you cannot verify the source's credibility, you should not use the information in any authoritative way in your research. However, a lack of documentary evidence should not prevent you from criticizing the information you find on the website. Even so, the site's lack of supporting material should prevent you from using the site's information to support your claims or provide context for your research. This applies to any gaps or lack of supporting documentation you discover in the materials you find.
4.3: Political, Social, or Cultural Agenda
Most organizations articulate their agenda in the about link on their website. Do they promote a certain ideology or support a particular political party, leader, or candidate? Is their mission to influence public policy? Who founded the organization? Who are their partners? You may need to research these items to obtain a full picture of the organization's worldview, since these factors may influence the content of the articles on their website.
For example, in the about section of the Centre for Social Justice's website, the organization claims it seeks to "narrow the gap between rich and poor, challenge the corporate domination of Canadian politics, and press for policy changes that promote economic and social justice".
The information you find on its website, such as statistical interpretations, interviews, and calls to action, will likely promote the sponsoring organization's mission. You might take a look at the Centre's list of partners (other social justice organizations, faith groups, unions, and universities) to gain additional context when you analyze their site.
Websites lose credibility when their sponsors intentionally misrepresent the facts or omit key information. Look for these if you are familiar with the topic. You may have to read the reports and research the experts cited to judge whether the source is credible and whether you should cite it yourself. You are searching for examples that point to their ethos.
Take a look at the appearance of a potential website source. Does it look professional and well-curated? While this type of analysis is a judgment call we make based on our experience visiting other sites, you can sometimes use appearance to get a feel for the site's authenticity. Does the site use proper grammar and spelling, and do its claims seem reasonable?
Remember our discussion of purpose from earlier. Are there many advertisements that may indicate the purpose of the website is to sell you a product, membership, magazine subscription, or conference attendance? Is the journal written for scholars, or does it seem to be designed to attract viewers to earn more advertising dollars?