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AGRI 112: Agronomic Crop Science (Lee)

A guide to agriculture literacy for students enrolled in AGRI 112 Crop Science including helpful resources and search tips.

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources for Context, Relevance and Authority

There are many ways to evaluate a source but the key to each of them is thinking critically about who wrote the piece, why it was created, what the publication process may have been like to give you clues as to the authority and accuracy, and consider any bias or incentives that may take away from the credibility of the source.

As you read more literature in the field of Agriculture, you'll become more familiar with the publications, the authors, and the way scholars and practitioners communicate with one another through publications.

Three of the most common methods for evaluating sources are listed in the tabs below: Lateral Reading/SIFT, 5 W's, and CRAAP.

Ways to Evaluate a Source

Why Should You Try Lateral Reading

Reading a text in isolation can be dangerous. Thinking about evaluating sources as "good" or "bad" is misleading. There is a lot of grey and information is all about CONTEXT.

The way information is created today is interconnected and complicated; context is the key to understanding the credibility of the source. When you incorporate lateral reading into your process of evaluating a source, it encourages you to dig deeper to see the bigger picture and to wonder about how this source is interconnected with others. When you're properly evaluating a source, you're not just wandering around looking for an article to use for your paper, you're wondering about uncovering any bias within the source and how it fits within context of your knowledge, research, and purpose.

How Do I Practice Lateral Reading?

Lateral reading means you spend less time on the source you're thinking of using and more time searching for information about the source. Instead of going to the About Us page of a website to learn about the organization you've never heard of (vertical reading), you'd open up a new tab and search for other sources about the organization, it's founders, and it's reputation (lateral reading).

There are plenty of organizations that have a veneer of authenticity and neutrality as a disguise for advocacy or lobbying and plenty of publishers that have leaning agendas that won't ever run a story that doesn't support the narrative they want to portray. Lateral reading encourages you to ask many of the 5 W's (especially who, what, why) with the underlying goal of discovering "what sort of public memory does this information invoke?". These steps help you understand the context of the source, uncover nuances and subtle signaling that only are revealed through critical thinking.

Instead of asking whether this is a "good source" or a "bad source" ... you're asking "why would I use this source" and making your decision based on the context you've uncovered.


Civic Online Reasoning (n.d.). Curriculum.

Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral reading: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Stanford History Education Group Working Paper No. 2017-A1, Oct. 9, 2017.

SIFT method for evaluating sources: stop, investigate the source, find better coverage, trace claims, quotes, and media to original context

When looking at an information source, consider using the SIFT Method:

Stop: Understand who created this information and why

  • Ask yourself
    • Do you know the website or source of the information?
    • What is the reputation of both the claim and the website?
  • Use the next 3 steps to help you answer the questions (if needed)
  • Don’t read it, use it or share it until you can answer those questions
  • As you're answering those questions, if you feel like you're going down a rabbit hole learning more about the creator and the reputation of the creator and the claim, STOP and refocus your search

Investigate the Source: Know what you are reading before you read it

  • Ask yourself
    • What is the expertise and agenda of the source?
    • How might that expertise and agenda impact your interpretation of what they say?
  • Taking sixty seconds to figure out where media is from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness.

Find Better or Other Coverage: Look for other reporting or analysis on the claim

  • Ask yourself
    • Are multiple sources making the same claim?
    • Does there seem to be consensus around this claim or is there a chance you're uncovering bias from the creator?
  • Find the best source you can on this topic
  • Scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be
  • Understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it and form a starting point for future investigation

Trace Quotes, Media and Claims to Original Source: Understand the original context

  • Ask yourself
    • What is the full context of the original source?
    • How might that quote, media or claim been taken out of context?
  • Trace the claim, quote, or media back to the original source or primary research study, so you can see it in it’s original context and get a sense if the version you saw was accurately presented


5W's - Who what when where why

When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's. 

  • Who? Who wrote this? Are they an authority in this topic? Who did they write it for? Credentials are important, but first-hand accounts are also important. Most importantly, who stands to benefit if you believe this source?
  • What? What kind of resource is this? Is it an advertisement? Newspaper article? Scholarly research article? Also, what kind of information does it present? Does the content match up with what you already know about this topic? Are there a bunch of advertisements, either related or unrelated to the topic of the article?
  • When? How up to date is the information? And how soon after the event was this published? Also, how up to date do you need the information to be? Looking for reviews of classic movies that came out shortly after the cinematic debut versus critical acclaim that came years later can make a big difference.
  • Where? Where was this information created? How different is the information provided by CNN versus BBC versus Al-Jazeera? Also, where is this information in relation to the structure of the website? Is it on the front page? Is it buried?
  • Why? What's the purpose of the source? Is it trying to sell you something? Convince you of something? Also, why are you looking at this source? Entertainment? Medical research? Academic need?

When looking at an information source, consider the following CRAAP Method:

Currency: the 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?

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 that this is one you will use?
  • Is this source appropriate for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations 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)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • 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 unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

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?