The CARS Checklist...
...is designed to provide some criteria for assessing the quality of a source, whether it is print or online. Few sources will meet every criterion in the list, and even those that do may not possess the highest level of quality possible. But if you learn to use the criteria in this list to critically evaluate the material you are reading, you will be much better able to separate the high-quality information from the poor quality. First, read the summary of the CARS Checklist below, then do the exercise that follows it.
Summary of the CARS Checklist for Research Source Evaluation
If a source is credible, it is: Trustworthy; the quality of evidence and argument is evident; the author's credentials are available; quality control is evident; it is a known or respected authority; it has organizational support.
Goal: An authoritative source; a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it. Some questions to ask to determine credibility:
- Is there sufficient evidence presented to make the argument persuasive?
- Are there compelling arguments and reasons given?
- Are there enough details for a reasonable conclusion about the information?
If a source is accurate, it is: Up-to-date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, and its purpose reflects intentions of completeness and accuracy.
Goal: A source that is correct today (not yesterday); a source that gives the whole truth. In addition to an obvious tone or style that reveals a carelessness with detail or accuracy, there are several indicators that may mean the source is inaccurate, either in whole or in part:
- No date on the document
- Assertions that are vague or otherwise lacking detail
- Sweeping rather than qualified language (that is, the use of always, never, every, completely rather than usually, seldom, sometimes, tends, and so forth)
- An old date on information known to change rapidly
- A very one-sided view that does not acknowledge opposing views or respond to them
If a source is reasonable, it is: Fair, balanced, objective, and reasoned; there is no conflict of interest; there is an absence of fallacies or slanted tone.
Here are some clues to a lack of reasonableness:
Goal: A source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably; a source concerned with the truth.
- Intemperate tone or language ("stupid jerks," "shrill cries of my extremist opponents")
- Overclaims ("Thousands of children are murdered every day in the United States.")
- Sweeping statements of excessive significance ("This is the most important idea ever conceived!")
- Conflict of interest ("Welcome to the Old Stogie Tobacco Company Home Page. To read our report, 'Cigarettes Make You Live Longer,' click here." or "When you buy a stereo, beware of other brands that lack our patented circuitry.")
If a source is valid, it will have: Listed sources, contact information, and available corroboration its claims will be supported; documentation will be supplied.
Some source considerations include these:
Goal: A source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made; a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it).
- Where did this information come from?
- What sources did the information creator use?
- Are the sources listed?
- Is there a bibliography or other documentation?
- Does the author provide contact information in case you wish to discuss an issue or request further clarification?
- What kind of support for the information is given?
- How does the writer know this?
Evaluate Some Sources
Having read the summary of the CARS Checklist, you are now ready to put your evaluative skills to work.
Given the general topic of presidential elections in the United States,
First: narrow the topic so that you can write about it in a ten page paper.
Second: from the eight Web sites listed, select five that you would most like to visit.
Third: You will apply the criteria from the CARS checklist as a means of evaluating and ranking the sites from the most reliable (4) to the least reliable (1).
Follow the directions below:
1. Select five Web sites from the list below and research your topic on each one, keeping the CARS checklist in mind as you examine the Web site. (The Web sites will open in a new window)
An atlas of elections featuring the issues and candidates of historical elections including the election of 2000
The New York Times summary of elections from 1896-1996
The Library of Congress collection of documents which includes those that apply to presidential elections and the electoral college
Election resources from the Law Library of Congress Reading Room
Results of all elections, including vice-president from 1789
Discussion of federal funding of elections including rules, conventions, matching funds, etc.
Article discussing the need for reforming voting methods, focusing on the Florida 2000 problems
Various articles suggesting technical methods of voting reform from the CPSR Newsletter
2. Select one of the Web sites you used from the list below. This will display a CARS checklist for you to use in evaluating the Web site. Complete the checklist and click the 'Submit' button to enter your data for that Web site.