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To critically evaluate information and its sources.

When examining a print periodical or journal, or a website, you need to ask yourself some questions when trying to figure out its ideological orientation. You will want to recognize editorial points of view for many reasons: e.g., to find competing perspectives on particular policy proposals.

Use the tabs in this guide to answer these questions. (These items are based on documents used in a course titled AMC500: Research Foundations taught by Robert L. Houbeck, Jr. at the University of Michigan-Flint and the CARS Checklist by Robert Harris of Virtual Salt.)

CARS Checklist

Goal:  To find an authoritative, credible source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.

Who is the author or the publisher?

  • Is it a professional association, foundation, or institute, or is it an individual?
  • What do you know, or can you find out about either one?
  • What are their credentials?  (i.e. education, training, experience, job title, job function, etc.)
  • Do they provide contact information?  (i.e. e-mail address, office address, phone number, etc.)
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • What is their reputation or standing among their peers?

Don’t assume that because a title or site is produced by a professional group or a foundation with a neutral-sounding name, that it does not have a specific point of view.

Is there evidence of quality control?

  • Is the information presented on an organizational website?
  • Is the information "signed" and not written by "anonymous?"
  • Has the information gone through a peer-review process?

Peer-review is the process authors must go through when trying to get their research published. A refereed journal usually has a review board made up of experts in that field who read and critique an article before it is approved for publication. In some cases, these experts may determine that the article is not worthy of publication, therefore it is rejected. Most publications that are considered refereed will state so inside of their publication (usually on the table of contents page), on their website (look for a link to "about us"), and in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory (see the "title" section of volume 4, which is located behind the Reference Desk, and then look for the arrow symbol "" next to the title).

Goal:   To find a source that is correct, up-to-date, factual, detailed, exact, and comprehensive.

Is it timely?

  • Is there a date on the document?
  • Does it have a limit on its usefulness?
    • Do you need older, historical information?
    • Do you need the most current research available?

Remember, some disciplines, like computer science, are constantly changing, therefore information can become outdated very quickly. Others, such as history or literary works, are based on older, timeless pieces of information.

Is it comprehensive?

  • Is the information complete?
  • Are important facts left out?
  • Are there just vague, sweeping generalizations made without supporting documentation?

Remember no single piece of information can offer the complete story, which is why you should use more than one source.

Who is the audience?

  • Is it information meant for general readers, professionals, or opinion leaders?
  • Is the article easy to read, or is it written in a manner in which only professionals in that area might understand?

Goal:  To find a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth.

Is it fair?

  • Is it balanced, objective, and reasoned?
  • Is there a slanted tone?

Remember, a good information source will present an idea in a calm, reasoned, unemotional tone.

Is it objective?

  • Can you discern bias?
  • Is there a conflict of interest?
  • Is the publication or site subsidized by a professional association, or foundation?
  • Is the publication or site supported by subscriptions and advertising?
  • Why is somebody spending money to produce this publication or site?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to advance a particular point of view – but it is important to be aware that you are in the presence of people who have a specific agenda.

Is it moderate?

  • Is it believable?
  • Is it absent of fallacies?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Do claims lack validity?
  • Do claims conflict with information you already know?
  • Do claims seem too exaggerated to be true?

Is it consistent?

  • Does it contradict itself?
  • Are there inconsistencies?

Goal:  To find a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it).

Is there documentation or a bibliography of other sources?

  • Where did the information come from?
  • What sources were used?
  • Are the sources listed?
  • Does the author provide contact information in case you need to ask questions?
  • What kind of support is given?

Citing sources strengthens the credibility of the information.

Can sources be corroborated?

  • Do other sources support or reconfirm this source?
  • Do other sources challenge or rebut the information?

Remember that even in cases of opinions, if an argument is sound, there will be a number of others who are in agreement.

Checklist Websites