CRAAP Analysis of Multimedia Sources

Learning Objective

  • Apply the CRAAP analysis method to evaluate multimedia sources

Currency: the timeliness of the information

Key Question: When was the item of information published or produced?

Determining when a multimedia source was produced can be more complicated than you might expect. With videos, in particular, you must be careful to distinguish the date of production from the date the content was published online. Do you think it is significant that a very old video was only recently published online? Maybe, but it depends on the context. Is the person or organization that put the video online the same that originally made the video? Is the video edited from the original? Is it the most recent version?

These are all important questions to ask. The first step to answering them is to understand how to find this information inside the interface where a video lives. Since most of the videos you will come across in your research will probably come from YouTube, we’ll use YouTube’s interface for our examples. Keep in mind that this information is usually in the same place on other video hosting services.

Click the three hotspots on the YouTube screenshot below to learn more about the different places you can use to determine the currency of a video.

explore the hotspots

The question of most recent version of a video versus an original or primary version can be a critical one. For example, if the above video from TEDx Portland was not published on TEDx’s YouTube channel, is there any way for us to know if the video was edited from its original? Paying attention to dates of publication can not only help you ensure the currency of your sources, but doing so can help you ensure their fidelity as well.

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

Key Question: How does this online source contribute to my research paper?

It can be especially challenging to work with a lot of multimedia sources because they may be more distracting than other forms of research. Thus, it is very important to establish the relevancy of a multimedia source and to remind yourself of that relevance whenever you return to the source.

Some questions you can ask to determine the relevancy of a multimedia source include:

  • How much of the multimedia source is related to your topic?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the multimedia source the best delivery of the content?
  • Does the multimedia source fit with other sources you’re using?

For example, if your project is about recycling and sustainability, would the TEDx video above be a relevant source? It depends, but unless your project studies paper towels in particular, the specific content from this video may not be relevant. In gauging relevance, it’s important to think about accuracy and authority as well. Even if your research paper is about paper towel usage, this video has to be accurate and credible in order to be relevant.

Authority: the source of the information

Key Question: Is the person, organization, or institution responsible for the content of the source knowledgeable in that subject?

Determining the knowledge and expertise of the subject or speaker in a multimedia source can be challenging. Anyone can put a video on YouTube, so the barrier to entering a conversation or debate is much lower.  Anyone can make an assertion or a statement about something in a video, but only someone who knows or understands that thing can make a reasonably reliable statement or assertion about it. Some external indications of knowledge or expertise in a video or multimedia source are:

  • Association with a professional or academic organization
  • Statement of credentials or authority in the video’s metadata
  • Quality or credibility of other videos on the same channel

Take a look at the description field from the TEDx video above:

R. P. Joe Smith served as a District Attorney in Umatilla County and nearly won a race for Oregon Attorney General without taking a single contribution over $99.99. He is a former chair of the Oregon Democratic Party and is active with several local nonprofits. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

It’s clear that Joe Smith has a lot of experience and credibility as a politician. But from this description, can we tell if he has any authority to speak about paper towels? Even if we agree with the speaker about using fewer paper towels, that doesn’t make him an authority on the subject.

The second part of the description is also important: TEDx talks are independently organized and distinct from the larger TED conference. Thus, the authority of speakers is not validated merely by their association with TED. If we look at other videos on the same channel, many of them showcase credible speakers with a lot of authority, but that’s not universally true. Using our three measures of authority, then, Joe Smith’s video may not be a great source to use in a research project about paper towel conservation.

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

Key Question: How free from error is this source?

Establishing the accuracy of multimedia sources can be challenging because they often represent a combination of facts, opinions, and perspectives from different individuals. The more the content of a multimedia source varies from the generally accepted point of view on a particular topic, the more scrutiny it warrants. It may be completely accurate, but corroborating it is both more necessary and more difficult. An important aspect of accuracy is the intellectual integrity of the item.

  • Does the source refer to other sources? Are those other sources credible?
  • Are there exaggerations, omissions, or errors? These are difficulty to identify if you use only one source of information. Always use several different sources of information on your topic. Analyzing what different sources say about a topic is one way to understand that topic.
  • Are there public reactions, reviews, or other content contextualizing the source?

In addition to errors of fact and integrity, you need to watch for errors of logic. Errors of logic occur primarily in the presentation of conclusions, opinions, interpretations, editorials, ideas, etc. Some indications that information is accurate are:

  • the same information can be found in other reliable sources
  • the presentation is free from logical fallacies or errors
  • the production value (video, audio, editing) of the source is high
  • quotations are “in context”-the meaning of the original work is kept in the work which quotes the original

Some indications that information may not be accurate are:

  • facts cannot be verified or are contradicted in other sources
  • sources used are known to be unreliable or highly biased
  • quotations are taken out of context and given a different meaning
  • presence of one or more logical fallacies
  • authority cited is another part of the same organization
  • Low production value
  • Highly controversial or negative ratings

Joe Smith’s video about conserving paper towels is probably accurate. If you apply the standards above to this video, or any TEDx video, you will find that most of these are valid sources of accurate information. Because of Smith’s questionable authority, though, you would want to independently verify his claims and locate other sources that provide evidential support.

Purpose: the reason the information exists

Key Question: Who was this information created or developed for?

Identifying the intended audience of a multimedia source may be easier that for other kinds of sources. Typically, sources like videos, podcasts, or interactive photo essays do a good job of stating up front why they exist. These sources are almost always contextualized in some way, whether they are published by an organization, shared on a YouTube channel, or released in a podcast series. You can use this context to define the purpose of the source.

Joe Smith’s video is a part of the TEDx series. How does TED explain the purpose of these talks?

The TEDx Program is designed to help communities, organizations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences. At TEDx events, a screening of TED Talks videos — or a combination of live presenters and TED Talks videos — sparks deep conversation and connections at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a free license granted by TED.

Whether or not Joe Smith lives up to that stated purpose is something that you as the researcher have to assess. However, the stated purpose of TEDx videos is a good baseline. Quality multimedia sources often have this kind of baseline for comparison.