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Resource Evaluation for Writers

Students, teachers, and professional writers all need to use solid resources when researching a topic. And really, ALL of us curious people who seek an answer to a question need to know where our facts come from. 

Years ago, I learned an acronym to help evaluate resources, especially online resources. Despite the effective acronym, I had to move the letters around so I could share this with students during author visits. (As a guest speaker at a school, I use careful language. This reflects that even if you would choose otherwise.) I especially like to share this information during professional development workshops with educators. Some have heard of this and needed the reminder that their students can use the stinky CARP test, too. 

This is the Stinky CARP Test, an acronym to evaluate research resources. Goldfish are a member of the carp family. You don't need hands-on sniffing experience to know dead fish stink. You don't want them around. 

You also don't want to ruin your writing project with bad information, so know your source.

Whether you examine a book or a website, you can use the Stinky CARP Test to evaluate if this source is one you want to use in your research.
Now, let's take a look at each of these words. I'll share some questions to ask yourself regarding your topic and this resource as well as some personal experience. 

Is this recently published? 
Is there a date? (No date...eek!) 
Is the date of publication important for your topic? 

(If your source is a primary resource such as a diary, artifact, autobiography, or interview, the date may not be a concern.)

I'm currently researching about frogs for another book in The Truth About series (from Reycraft Books). New frog species are identified every year. Sadly, some frog species go extinct. As herpetologists learn more about frogs, sometimes their class or scientific name changes. All of this means I need recent resources. Books published in the past couple of years will be the most helpful. Along with books, scientifically-based websites have also been helpful for current research. Meeting with my expert has been incredible, too! As a professional, he keeps up with all of the latest information, statistics, and facts.


Who wrote the resource? 
What are the author's qualifications for the topic?
Is it a blog post? (Not typically an authority/good resource for professional writers.)
Is the person writing or being interviewed knowledgeable? Are they an expert?
Does the URL show anything about the resource?
    .com (commercial), .net (network), .org (nonprofit),
    .edu (educational), .gov (US government

When I was researching for The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide, I was surprised to learn that all of the books published at that time didn't match census records for a birthdate I needed. In this instance, I had to go with the birth year the census records indicated. You can read about the birthdate confusion of Almanzo Wilder over at my blog (or in my book). 

Who is the intended audience? 
Is the information too basic or too complicated for you?
Does the information answer your question? 
Is it a primary or secondary source?

The research of scientists in peer-reviewed journals is important to my writing. In my upcoming book Scurry! The Truth About Spiders, I relied on several articles written by experts. However, I am not an arachnologist. My big tip for scientific articles and journals is to read the abstract. It's full of information and tells me if the document will help me in my own research...without spending hours or days reading the entire article.

On the flip side, I cannot use children's books for my research though students certainly can. I have found their bibliographies helpful though. The same is true for the ever-popular (but not a reliable resource) Wikipedia. On Wikipedia, if you scroll to the bottom of an article, you'll find the bibliography which can lead to some fabulous resources. 

Is the information trying to educate, persuade, entertain, or sell?
What is the author's interest in the topic?
Is the information balanced or biased?

For my upcoming book Woof! The Truth About Dogs, I found some resources (books, websites, experts) to be biased regarding certain issues related to dogs. I appreciated the passion but also had to examine the other side of the issue to best understand how it related to dogs and my book. (You can take a sneak peek at Woof! The Truth About Dogs at the link above.) 

Did you know that children's nonfiction authors have to research just as much as authors who write for adults. 

Is this helpful to you as writer? As a teacher? I'd love to encourage others. Please check my speaking schedule to see my upcoming events. Explore my on-demand video courses (link to discount), or invite me to teach your group (students and adults). I teach both in-person (when able) and virtually. I'm also available for personal consultations. 
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