"How do we know what we know, and to what extent can we be sure?"
Information literacy is the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information” and to use the information in an effective, ethical, and legal way once acquired (ALA "Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education").
Learning to properly evaluate sources for yourself is an important counterpoint to the endless skepticism that can get people trapped into conspiracy theory thinking. While the peer-review process helps to screen materials in an academic context, it is still important to apply evaluation skills to scholarly sources, and especially important to apply to popular sources such as news, social media, and other internet sources. This page will help to build a foundation for you to evaluate what you find on the internet and teach you how to do a basic fact check.
According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, an information literate person will understand the six following concepts. While it is not necessary to have every concept memorized word-for-word, understanding these concepts will help you find and consume quality information, both in your academic and your daily life. This tab contains an overview of these information literacy concepts while the other three tabs in this box (the CRAAP Test, SIFT Method, and lateral reading) provide concrete practices with which to put these concepts into practice. A final tab also provides several links that may be useful as fact-checking tools.
Authority is constructed and contextual
Consider: who is writing or making this information? Can I trust them? What is their background/education? Where are they publishing their information?
Information creation as a process
Understand: information doesn't just exist. People create and analyze it. Information reflects the society it was created in and the values of the people who created it.
Consider: how does writing a study/paper/academic article work in your major? How is that information created (lab results, interviews, literary analysis, surveys, etc.)?
Information has value
Consider: What information am I actually looking for? How do I find it? In what ways will it be useful to me?
Consider additionally: Does information about me have monetary value and in what circumstances?
Research as inquiry
Understand: research is about asking questions as much as it is finding answers. All research starts with a question and more and more questions are asked along the way.
Scholarship as conversation
Understand: scholarship and research don't exist in a vacuum. Researchers talk to each other and build off of one another's work. Researchers are also influenced by the society and culture they grew up in.
Searching as strategic exploration
Understand: While a database search is useful to find academic articles for an assignment, it may not be as useful to figure out whether a post you see on Twitter is real. There are many different methods to locate information and understanding when to use those methods will help you.
You probably already use more information literacy skills than you may think! Every day, you're confronted with choices and you have to make knowledgeable decisions based on the information you can find. For example:
In college, you use your information literacy skills to:
In your personal life, you use your information literacy skills to:
The CRAAP test is a basic set of evaluation criteria and questions that you can apply to any source that you find. CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. The test also helps consumers of information to identify the rhetorical situations (audience, author, purpose, medium, context, and content) of the media that they consume.
Currency: the timeliness of the information.
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs.
Authority: the source of the information.
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content.
Purpose: the reason the information exists.
The CRAAP Test was developed by Sarah Blakeslee and other librarians at California State University. Read more via:
Blakeslee, Sarah. "The CRAAP Test." LOEX Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 3, 2004, https://commons.emich.edu/loexquarterly/vol31/iss3/4.
Trying to figure out if something you see on the Internet is real or not? Try:
The SIFT Method
For more information about the SIFT method you can read the free, short ebook: Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Mike Caulfield (Washington State University).
Lateral reading helps you determine an author's credibility, intent, and biases by searching for articles on the same topic by other writers (to see how they are covering it) and for other articles by the author or organization that you're checking on. This is one of the strongest tools in your fact checking toolkit. Ideally lateral reading is an essential part of both the CRAAP test (notably the "Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?" question under the "Accuracy" criteria) and SIFT method (essentially Step 3's "Is there a consensus for the information provided?"), but it might help to understand this as a strategy of its own.
You can learn more about this strategy using the library's Lateral Reading Tutorial.
Wikipedia is the biggest encyclopedia ever created. It exists in hundreds of languages. Anyone may contribute by writing or editing articles, and articles are developed over time, which means articles can be of varying quality. It is important for readers to recognize whether an article is a good or poor. To evaluate Wikipedia article quality, look in three places: the article's text and references, the article's "talk" page, and the page's edit history.
Again, when researching a topic, one of the first things you might do is head to an encyclopedia or Wikipedia to get a basic sense of what the topic is about or to find some keywords to use in a library database search. This is a good strategy!
For an academic report or presentation, however, you usually wouldn't cite Wikipedia itself, but rather you would cite the references that provide whatever information you're interested in. Doing this allows you and your professor to verify that your information is coming from a reliable source. Have a look at the below image, taken from the Black Lives Matter Wikipedia page, for an example of where to find references in a Wikipedia.
If for whatever reason you want to cite an entire Wikipedia page (for instance, because there are so many basic facts on it that it wouldn't make sense to cite each of the facts individually), always cite the Permanent link version of the page. This will provide a snapshot of the Wikipedia page in time, which is better for citation purposes than just citing a page that might (and will) change tomorrow.