Evaluating Information – Using the CARS Method
The CARS (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) Checklist is designed to assist researchers in evaluating information sources. Few sources will meet every criterion on this list but if you learn to use these criteria you will be better able to separate the high quality information from the poor quality information as you do your research.
Credibility is a measure of the authenticity or reliability of the source of information. To determine credibility you may ask: Why should I believe this source of information over another? How does this source know this information? What about this source makes it believable?
Indicators of credibility:
- An author’s credentials – his or her training and education in a field relevant to the information. Look for the author’s degree or title or position of employment. If the source of the information is an organization or group, ask yourself if it is a respected body (i.e. the Mayo Clinic, American Dental Association, the psychology department at Harvard University).
- Evidence of quality control – most scholarly information passes through a process of peer review, whereby several experts within that field of study review the author’s writings to ensure that his or her conclusions are valid and in keeping with current knowledge. Journals of this type are known as refereed publications.
Indicators of lack of credibility:
- Anonymity (no author listed)
- Poor visual presentation of information- authors may not present their information in a well-organized and professional manner.
- Bad grammar and/or misspelled words
The goal of the accuracy test is to ensure that the information is up to date, detailed, exact, and comprehensive. Keep in mind that something that was true twenty years ago may no longer be true today, and that the more information you have on a subject the better able you are to make an informed judgment.
Indicators of accuracy:
- Timeliness – this is a measure of the ‘up-to-date-ness’ of the information. In many disciplines (i.e. the Sciences, Medicine, Technology) timeliness is a very important measure of the relevance of information.
- Comprehensiveness – the ideal article presents a thorough discussion of the subject as opposed to only “hitting the high points.”
- Un-bias Approach – by addressing all sides of an issue the author ensures that you have a and complete objective treatment of the topic.
Indicators of a lack of accuracy:
- Vague or sweeping generalizations as opposed to exact figures.
- No date on the document, or a very old date on a document containing time-sensitive information.
- A very one-sided view that does not acknowledge opposing views or respond to them. For example, a gun rights website that promotes gun ownership and defends the 2nd Amendment but does not address the societal problems stemming from gun violence.
The measure of reasonable information is fairness, moderateness, and consistency.
Indicators of reasonableness:
- Fairness – look for a balanced and well-reasoned argument. The tone of the article should be factual and thoughtful.
- Moderateness – keep in mind that most information is ordinary and not likely to cause great excitement. Consequently, it should be presented in a calm and professional manner.
- Consistency – the facts and findings in an article should not contradict themselves in other parts of the article.
Indicators of a lack of reasonableness:
- A shrill or overly aggressive tone on the part of the author (i.e. referring to opponents as ‘stupid jerks’ or belittling findings not in accordance with his own).
- Over-claims – (i.e. ‘Thousands of children are murdered in this country every day’ or ‘This is the most significant piece of medical research ever!’).
- Sweeping generalizations – (i.e. ‘It is obvious to everyone that…’).
- Data that contradicts itsel
Most information presented in an article comes from other sources. By properly citing and acknowledging sources of information an author strengthens his or her credibility.
Indicators of support:
- The claims made in the article are supported by facts and/or figures.
- Proper documentation and citing of the sources for facts and statistics used in the article. A bibliography at the end of the article, for example.
Indicators of a lack of support:
- Numbers or statistics presented without an identified source.
- Claims are made by the author but are not supported with evidence.
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