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Evaluating Sources Help Guide

You've found a source - but how do you know if it's the right source for your needs? This guide will discuss approaches to evaluating sources for your research.

Introduction to Evaluation

Before you incorporate research material into your assignment, it’s important to think critically about each source. Whether it’s a scholarly article, tweet, or story from a magazine, you should determine if that source is true and useful for your research. Even if the article is trustworthy and verifiable, that doesn’t mean it’s a good source for your specific needs.

This guide will show you how to successfully evaluate your sources before you use them in your assignments.

Why Does It Matter?

Why does it matter if you evaluate a source?

First, it’s important to show that you thought critically about the material you found. Second, it shows that you read the research and are not just padding your paper with quotes you haven’t reviewed.

Scholarly writing builds off of existing academic work. When you evaluate your sources and incorporate them into your assignments, you’re adding your voice to a conversation. Evaluating sources shows that you have original thoughts and ideas that contribute to existing scholarship.

How to Evaluate (CRAAP Test)

There are numerous ways to evaluate sources, but one of our favorites is asking if the information is CRAAP. If the source passes the CRAAP test, it’s a good thing.

CRAAP is a checklist of questions you can use to review the information and author of a resource. CRAAP stands for:

  • Currency
  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Accuracy
  • Purpose

While it's useful to think generally on these different aspects of a source, you can also use this CRAAP Test Rubric for more specific guidance in evaluating a source's merits.

Use these questions to help you evaluate resources.

Current: 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  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?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 (if a web source)?

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 this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

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 typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

Download a printable copy of the CRAAP Test below. 

Where to Find Information

When you’re evaluating sources, where do you find the information you need to determine if the resource is reliable or not?

First, you can ask the following questions:

  • Who is the author? Look up the author to see if their biography and previous work show if they’re an expert.
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the resource written for other scholars or is it directed to the general public?
  • Do they show their work through citations and including original research? Check for in-text citations, footnotes, appendices, and bibliographies.
  • Is it edited? As you read, pay attention for typos and grammar. An academic or scholarly source will be edited to remove these errors.

If you’re evaluating an article:

  • Is the journal peer-reviewed? Peer-review is a process where other scholars in the field review the writer’s work for accuracy. You can find this out by looking up the journal title (here you can try Google) and seeing their process for selecting and including articles. This is also a filter you can select when searching library-provided resources.
  • Is the journal scholarly? If the journal is published through a university or professional organization, it’s more likely to be scholarly. (You can learn more about scholarly versus popular articles elsewhere in this guide.)

If you’re evaluating a book:

  • Check the publication information page. This is usually located on the back of the title page and can tell you who published the book, when it was published, and may even include details from the Library of Congress.
  • Check the back of the book for author biographies, indexes, bibliographies, and appendices. These can all help you determine if a book is scholarly or not.
    • It used to be that publishing a book was a very formalized process - you’d always have an editor and a publisher.. But recently, self-publishing has become accessible and vanity presses have become more common. Once again, googling the publisher can help you determine if they are a well established publishing house or a place where anyone can self-publish

If you’re evaluating a website:

  • Read the About page to help you learn about who created and maintains the website. This can help you determine authorship, purpose, and bias. This page may also show the author or creator’s credentials.
  • What is the URL? Websites that may be appropriate for academic use usually end in .edu, .org, or .gov. That doesn’t guarantee that they’re appropriate for your research needs, but it can help you find out if they are.
  • Is there a date? Check to see if there is a date of publication or last updated date at the top or bottom of the page. If you’re using a news website, the date might be included near the title or author’s name.
  • Is there contact information? Academic websites - like those created by universities, think tanks, and research institutions - will always show you how to contact the author or creator. This information is usually on an About or Contact Us page. It can also be included at the bottom of the website.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are scholarly (peer reviewed) journal articles ?

Scholarly articles are written by recognized experts in their field. The articles are then reviewed by peers who determine if the information in the article is true, verifiable, and, in the case of science, repeatable. These articles share information based on original research and experimentation. They usually focus on one specific academic subject.

What does my professor mean when they say use “scholarly sources”?

This often means scholarly peer reviewed journal articles, but scholarly sources are not limited to articles. Books can also be considered scholarly sources if the information has been verified and reviewed by academic editors. Always check what kind of sources your professor wants you to use. Some require peer reviewed others do not.

What is peer review?

This is a process that articles go through before they are published in academic journals. When an article is submitted to a journal, the editor sends that article out to other academics and experts in that field. They read the item to evaluate the information and research. If the peers approve, the article may be published. Reviewers can also ask for any issues with the research or article to be addressed before it is published

Are all journal articles peer-reviewed?

No. While most academic journals require peer review, not every journal does. That is why you’ll see the “peer review” or “scholarly” filter in our databases. When you check that box, it removes articles from journals that do not use peer review.

Is everything in a scholarly journal a peer-reviewed article?

No. Many journals also include book reviews. These will usually begin with the citation information and price for the book they are reviewing. Book reviews don’t go through peer review.

What are the signs an article (or book) is scholarly?

There are few ways you can tell if an article or book is scholarly. Here are some characteristics to look for:

  • Written by experts for professionals or academics
  • Based on original research
  • Contains extensive in-text citations, footnotes, and/or bibliographies
  • Includes documentation of the research such as appendices or charts and graphs of research results
  • The publisher requires peer review
  • The journal has no or few advertisements (and the advertisements are for scholarly material)

Is a textbook a scholarly source?

Most textbooks are not considered to be scholarly sources. While textbooks do contain academic content, they are considered to be teaching resources.