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Citing Sources : Evaluating Resources

Fishing for C.A.A.R.P

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Patrick Lyons
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Evaluating Information Found Online: Fishing for C.A.R.P.

The Internet is like a vast ocean full of wonderful things but like the ocean, the Internet can also become polluted with garbage and unsavory elements as well. When searching for information online it is important to understand how search engines work and to be able to identify quality web sites from bad websites.

A helpful way to evaluate websites is to use the "Fishing for C.A.R.P." method. Think of the Internet as a giant ocean and your search query as your fishing rod. Creating a focused and detailed search query (ex. Egypt AND "Middle Ages") is similar to using the right kind of bait in order to hook the right type of website. Once you've hooked a website you need to evaluate it using the C.A.R.P. method to determine if it's a keeper (quality website) or if you should throw it back in the ocean and cast your search again.

C - Currency

Currency does not mean monetary value, instead it refers to the resource's timeliness. For example, if you were researching Eastern Europe and you used a web article published in 1989 it most likely refers to the Soviet Union as the largest country in Europe. However, the Soviet Union no longer exists because it collapsed in 1991. You should always check a web site to see when it was published AND when it was last updated.

A - Authority / Accuracy

Authority examines whether the author of an article or website has deep knowledge of the topic. What are their credentials or experience with the subject matter? Anyone can create, write, share, or post information but that does not make them an expert on that subject. It is your responsibility to check the authority of a website or article's author.

For example, Wikipedia has great general information about an array of topics however all of their articles are crowd-sourced, which means anyone can add to an article. Since you cannot confirm the article was written by someone who has the experience, background, or knowledge of the subject, you should not cite Wikipedia articles in your schoolwork.

R - Reliability

Reliability can also mean trust, validity, accuracy, and truth. Simply examining the website's layout can help you determine its reliability. For example, a reliable website should include contact information for the author or publisher, a bibliography of resources consulted or suggestions for additional readings, citation information for images and graphs, and the overall look of the site should be professional and without advertisements. Make sure any sources they cite are high quality and any links still work.

Compare and contrast these two websites about Roman Women: website 1 and website 2. Which website looks more reliable? Which website should you use and which should you "throwback" into the Internet ocean?

P - Publisher

Who is responsible for publishing this website or article? Visit the website's "About Us" or "Contact" pages. Is there an editor or peer-review process to help weed out bad information? What internet domain does the site use (ex. .com, .edu, .gov, .org)?

What is their purpose or agenda for publishing? Is this fact, opinion, bias, misinformation, or propaganda? It is important to understand that websites may have an ulterior motive in posting to the web, perhaps they are trying to sell you something by generating scandalous headlines for click bait, or they may try to sway your opinion using misrepresented facts or out-of-context quotes. 


C.A.R.P. is based on the method developed by librarians at CSU Chico & modified by Kristin Bernet at The Harpeth Hall School


Currency: Timeliness of the information
  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?
Authority: the source of the information (Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content)
  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations are given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)
  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

The CARP Method is an adaptation based on the C.R.A.A.P. methodology created by the librarians at  CSU, Chino. Located here.