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ZSR Library

LIB 100: Academic Research and Information Issues

Civic Online Reasoning and Lateral Reading

With so much of our information coming from the open web, researchers at Stanford have developed a new framework for evaluating sources called Civic Online Reasoning (COR). This approach to source evaluation is concerned with answering the following three questions:

  1. Who’s behind the information?
  2. What’s the evidence?
  3. What do other sources say?

But how do we go about answering these questions, especially if they aren’t explicitly stated in the source itself? In order to answer these questions about a source, we have to look at it from the outside. This is called “lateral reading” and it involves searching the web for more information about the source. Wikipedia is a great place to search for information about authors, publishers, and organizations behind materials you may find on the web. 

The CRAAP Test

The CRAAP Test is one of the most well known source evaluation frameworks and it asks some good questions that we should be able to answer before incorporating any source into our research.

  • Currency- When was this material published?
  • Relevancy- Does the source relate to your information need in a clear and meaningful way?
  • Authority- Who is the author of the source? Are they an expert on the topic? How can you tell? It is also important, especially with web sources, to ask questions about the organization responsible for publishing the content.
  • Accuracy- What data or evidence does the author use to back up claims? Do they cite sources? Is it peer-reviewed?
  • Purpose/Point-of-view- Why does this source exist? Is it meant to persuade or advocate for something, or is it to share research and knowledge? 

There are some valid criticisms of “checklist” methods like the CRAAP Test, including failure to really catch biased sources, ultimately sorting sources into “good” and “bad” categories, and considering sources too individually rather than as a part of the scholarly conversation.

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