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BMD 202: Survey of Biomedical Sciences Literature

C.R.A.P. Test

If you search the web for evaluating websites you will find a number checklists and criteria, one of which is the C.R.A.P. test. Because of how easy this acronym is to remember, I think it's worth highlighting.

C = currency

  • When was the information published or posted? 
  • Has the information been revised or updated? 
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well? 
  • Are the links functional?

R = relevancy

  • 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 citing this source in your research paper?

A = authority

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? 
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations? 
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic? 
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address? 
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)

P = purpose/point of view

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

Some versions of this acronym include an extra A for accuracy (i.e., CRAAP). This test can be used to evaluate all kinds of information sources, not just websites. Below is a link to a printable version of this list of criteria and questions.

Evaluating Information - Applying the CRAAP Test (pdf)

Source: Merium Library, California State University, Chico

The C.R.A.P. Test in Action

This 5-minute video demonstrates using the C.R.A.P. test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of view) to evaluate websites on the topic of performance enhancing drugs in sports. 

Source: Portland State University Library

Evaluating Articles

Identifying articles on your topic of interest is just one part of finding appropriate articles. You must also constantly assess the credibility of what you're finding. Even if you've confirmed an article is peer-reviewed, you still look at it closely. The following questions can help guide your critical assessment of the articles you find:

  • Is the publication date appropriate for the subject matter at hand?
    • A general rule of thumb for biomedical information is not to put much stock in publications older than 5 years. However, there may be exceptions depending on the topic and your objective.
  • What are the author's credentials?
    • Also note whether s/he is from a university, research institute, or government agency. If the writer is a journalist, you should try to identify the original study or scientific article s/he is writing about.
  • Is the article peer-reviewed? 
    • Databases like CINAHL allow you to narrow your search to only peer-reviewed articles. However, you still need to be able to look for clues that an article is peer-reviewed, such as the presence of a bibliography or the appropriate credentials of the author. If ever in doubt, a good trick is to Google the journal title to find the journal's website. If the journal and its articles are peer-reviewed, it will likely say so under the "About" section of the journal's website.
  • Are there conflicts of interest or reasons to suspect bias?
    • For example, if an article claims that a certain drug is effective at treating a condition but you notice the author is a researcher from a drug company, you might investigate further to make sure s/he does not have a vested interest in publishing positive results.
  • Are sound scientific methods used?
    • Study the Methods section of an article and evaluate it for any red flags. For example, is the sample size small? If so, does the author acknowledge this as a study limitation later in the article?

One other important point: When we set out to find articles on a topic, we typically have preconceived notions or hypotheses (either formal or informal) and often expect the literature to report certain findings that support our suspicion. However, it's important to keep an open mind while searching! Don't discount articles simply because they are not in line with your thinking. Evaluation of the literature needs to be "fair and balanced." :-)

Source: Scientific Papers and Presentations, 3rd ed. (2012) by Martha Davis, Kaaron Joann Davis, pg. 39-42

Additional Resources

These resources provide additional criteria to consider when evaluating scholarly articles.

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