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How to Research: 6. Evaluating Your Sources

Evaluating Your Sources

Information about almost any subject is easy to find; however, not all information is good information. An essential part of academic research and writing is learning how to critically analyze and evaluate your sources to eliminate old, incorrect, or irrelevant information. The CRAAP Test provides a good guide for analyzing your research sources.

The CRAAP Test

Currency

The timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published?
    • For print resources, check the copyright page. The most reliable online sources should have the publication date clearly displayed.
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
    • Check the edition of the book. A librarian can help you determine if a more recent edition is available. Some Web sites note the date of the most recent update.
  • Does your topic require the most current information available?
    • Most college-level research requires current sources. However, topics dealing with rapidly-changing fields such as science, current events, politics, technology, etc. may require especially current information.

Relevance

The usefulness of the information for your research

  • Does the information relate to your topic?
    • Your sources should have direct relevance to your research topic. If you're having trouble finding relevant information, your topic may be too broad or too narrow. Consider revising your topic or ask a librarian for help finding additional sources.
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is the source written for a fellow scholar or for the general public? Determining the audience can help you choose scholarly materials.
  • Is the information at an appropriate level and scope?
    • Your sources should be detailed enough to provide complete, useful information, but should not be so detailed that you cannot understand the information. For example, an encyclopedia entry can provide a quick, easy-to-read introduction to your topic, but is usually not detailed enough to cite in a college-level research paper.

Authority

The source of the information

  • Who is the author or publisher?
    • The person or group responsible for the information should be prominently listed. Remember, sometimes an author may be a corporation or organization rather than a person. If no author or publisher is obvious, this may be a red flag that the source is not appropriate.
  • How is the author qualified to write on this topic?
    • In scholarly publications, the academic credentials of the author should be prominently listed. Check the front and back pages of books for an "About the Author" page, and look for an "About the Author/About Us" link on Web sites.
  • Is there contact information for the author or publisher?
    • Publisher contact information for print materials can usually be found on the copyright page. Reliable Web sites should have a least a contact e-mail address.

Accuracy

The correctness and reliability of the information

  • Is the information supported by evidence?
    • Scholarly articles and essays should provide citations or original research for information. While magazines, newspapers, and some books usually do not provide formal citations, any factual information presented should still be supported by verifiable evidence.
  • Can you verify the information from another source?
    • If the information you wish to cite does not support its information with evidence, or if you find conflicting information on a topic, you may need to do additional research to verify the information. Ask a librarian if you need help finding additional sources.
  • Has the information been peer-reviewed or refereed?
    • Peer-reviewed or refereed articles can be found in certain scholarly journals in which the information has been verified by other experts in the field. Although NOT ALL scholarly journals are peer-reviewed, you can be fairly certain that the information found in peer-reviewed journals is accurate.

Purpose

The reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To teach? To inform? To sell? To entertain?
    • The purpose of the information can have an important impact on the reliability of the information. For example, an article that compares fuel efficiency in different car models from Consumer Reports magazine may be more reliable than an advertisement from a car company whose purpose is to sell the reader a particular brand of car.
  • Is there any potential bias from the author or organization responsible for the information?
    • Know where your information is coming from. For example, an article about gun control in the United States published by the National Rifle Association may be very different from one published by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. (The library has several databases which allow pro/con searching for topical issues.)
  • Is the information fact or opinion?
    • If the information cites no evidence or is in the form of an editorial, letter to the editor, blog post, personal essay, etc., it may be an opinion piece. You may need to do further research to verify information presented in an opinion piece.

This information has been adapted from "Evaluating Information-Applying the CRAAP Test" by the staff at Merriam Library, California State University-Chico.

Understanding Wikipedia

This video by EasyBib teaches students to analyze Wikipedia articles.
Playing Time: 4:22

Using Wikipedia for Research

This video by North Carolina State University Libraries shows the interworkings of Wikipedia, so they can use it more effectively to begin their research.

Running time: 6:41

Website Evaluator

Video: Evaluating Sources

This video by Penn State briefly illustrates why you should evaluate your resources.

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