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Communication 485: Research Methods: Evaluating

Always evaluate potential sources before using them!

There are some general guidelines and suggestions on this page, but in general, ask questions about each source and seek to independently verify information. Do not rely on a website's url extension, or the "About Us" information provided. Do a search for the name of an organization on the Internet and/or in article databases if it is unfamiliar to you.

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.

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.

Websites

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.
  • .wi.us : A state/local government site, this may also include public schools, community colleges, and public libraries, e.g., http://www.co.rock.wi.us/ is Rock County's site and http://www.janesville.k12.wi.us/ 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 http://icannwiki.com/index.php?title=GTLD

Limit Google results to specific domains such as government sites by adding site:.gov 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.

Search these resources for Authors/Individuals

Ulrichsweb: Is it a scholarly journal?

Search for the title of a journal, newspaper, or magazine to see what type of publication it is using Ulrichsweb.

Articles: Scholarly or Popular?

Scholarly & Popular Articles

When you need to use popular and scholarly articles in your project, do you know how to tell which one is which? Identifying scholarly articles involves analysis of the article's content. The chart below is meant to help you in this process; any one criteria by itself may not indicate that an article is scholarly. For example, a 30 page photo spread about stars at the Academy Awards in People is probably not scholarly.

Length Longer articles, providing in-depth analysis of topics
Authorship Author an expert or specialist in the field, name and credentials always provided
Language/Audience Written in the language of the field for scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students)
Format/Structure Articles usually more structured, and may (especially in social sciences and sciences) include these sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography
Special Features Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs
Editors Articles usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a board of experts in the field (refereed or peer-reviewed)
Credits A bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always provided to document research thoroughly

Check out the Scholarly Journal v. Popular Magazine Articles guide for the full tips. Adapted from chart created by Celita DeArmond.

Different types of articles

This Andersen Library video will describe different types of articles: magazines for a general audience, trade publications written by and for people in a line of work, and scholarly or academic journals containing research articles.

 

This Andersen Library video created by Amanda Howell. The video and a transcript are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDPr4vztyLQ.

What is peer review?

This video from North Carolina State University Libraries (http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/evaluating-sources/) was created by Anne Burke: Project Co-Lead, Script, Storyboards; Andreas Orphanides: Project Co-Lead, Script, Technical Infrastructure; Hyun-Duck Chung: Original Script and Concept; Daria Dorafshar: Graphics and Animation; Kyle Langdon: Narration; Kim Duckett: Team Lead. A transcript is available.

Evaluating Sources for Credibility

This video from North Carolina State University Libraries (http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/evaluating-sources/) was created by Anne Burke: Project Lead, Storyboards; Lisa Becksford: Script, Editing; Daria Dorafshar: Graphics and Animation; Andreas Orphanides: Editing, Audio Production, Technical Infrastructure; and Josephine McRobbie: Narration. A transcript is available.