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Political Science: Evaluating

A guide to selected resources for political science research.

Evaluating Your Potential Resources

Critically evaluate sources to decide whether to use them for a research assignment! While you are deciding on a topic and narrowing its focus, you may collect resources that you don't use in the end.

Apply the CRAAP test below to evaluate potential sources. Some of these criteria apply only to web sites, but others can be applied to any resource. When evaluating websites, methods linked from Evaluating Internet Resources may provide additional guidance in determining the authority, scope, currency, accuracy and bias of a website. Do not rely solely on information provided within the sources themselves! Use "lateral reading" by consulting other sources to verify information and see what the other sources say about the ones you are considering using. For example, trace citations to their source; search for information about authors, publishers or organizations responsible for your source; and seek out what other sites say about your source.

Evaluation Criteria

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • FOR WEB SITES: Are the links functional?

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 citing this source in your 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?
  • FOR WEB SITES: 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?

Print copies of this checklist may be made and distributed provided that 1) They are used for educational purposes only and 2) The content of the page is reproduced here almost in its entirety. For any other use or for permission to make electronic copies, please contact the authoring library. This CRAAP test has borrowed (for educational purposes only) from Meriam Library @ California State University, Chico.

Scholarly, Trade, & Popular Articles

Identifying scholarly articles involves analysis of the article's content. The chart below is meant to help you in this process; however, any one criteria by itself may not indicate that an article is scholarly. For example, a 30 page photo spread in People about stars at the Academy Awards is not scholarly, even though it is long.


Journal Cover  Image result for scholarly journal cover  

Scholarly Journals

Image result for trade magazine cover    

Trade or Professional Magazines

Magazine Cover     national geographic cover      Popular Magazines

Length Longer articles (often 10+ pages), providing in-depth analysis  Mid-length articles (often 2-8 pages), providing practical guidance Shorter articles (often <1-5 pages), providing broader overviews
Author An expert or specialist in the field (often a professor), name and credentials always provided Usually someone working in the field, with hands-on experience; some staff writers Usually a staff writer or a journalist, name and credentials often not provided
Language Professional language, jargon, theoretical terms Some jargon and technical terms Non-technical language 
Likely Audience  Scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students) Other people working in the industry  Anyone
Advertisements Few or none Some -- products to sell to practitioners in that industry Many -- products for the general public
Format/Structure Usually structured, with likely sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography Sometimes has sub-sections for organization No specific format or structure
Special Features Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs Some illustrations; practical guidelines, best practices, lesson plans, how-to, or other hands-on direction Glossy/color illustrations or graphics, usually for advertising purposes
Editors Reviewed and critically evaluated by several editors. Often refereed or peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Editorial board of other practitioners or professionals in the field, but no external peer review Not evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors or other journalists on staff
Credits Bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always present to document research Usually no formal bibliography, although references to other research are often mentioned in-text No bibliography, although references to other research are sometimes mentioned in-text

Still can't tell the difference? These resources can help:
Ulrichsweb  (periodicals directory) -- look up a journal's name, and look for the row called "Content type" -- it should say Academic/Scholarly, Trade, or Consumer (popular).

Think Tanks' Web Sites

Think before you use these! Read: "What to think about think tanks?" (National Public Radio) and "FAIR Study: Think tank spectrum 2012" (Fariness & Accuracy in Reporting).


You've all searched for web sites with search engines like Google before, but don't just take the first few results! Take the time to evaluate each site.

Some web sites are more authoritative than others, such as government sites (.gov). Others, such as those ending with .org, .com, or .net need to be used with care.

  • .org : An advocacy web site, such as a not-for-profit organization.
  • .com : A business or commercial site.
  • .net: A site from a network organization or an Internet service provider.;
  • .edu : A site affiliated with a higher education institution.
  • .gov: A federal/state/local government site.
  • : A state/local government site, this may also include public schools, community colleges, and public libraries, e.g., is Rock County's site and is the Janesville School District.
  • .uk (United Kingdom), etc. : A site originating in another country (as indicated by the 2 letter code).
  • More listed and explained at

Limit Google results to specific domains such as government sites by adding to a search.

There are also some ways of adding precision to a web search, e.g., put phrases in quotes (""). For more help with Google, see the Google Search Tips guide.