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The Research Process :: Step by Step

When doing research, you will use a variety of sources such as books, newspaper articles, magazines or journals, and websites. To ensure you include only valid information in your research, evaluate your sources using the criteria below.

Evaluate Sources with the CRAAP Test

Whether you’re writing a research paper, purchasing a product, or casting your vote, it is up to you to carefully evaluate information sources. One helpful evaluation tool is the CRAAP test, developed by Sarah Blakeslee at CSU Chico, and revised with her permission. The letters in CRAAP stand for five evaluation criteria explored in the tabs above. See below for printer friendly version.

A word of caution: There is potential for error, distortion, and bias in any source. Respected experts disagree with their peers, new discoveries call once-established “facts” into question, and widely-accepted theories are later proven false. It can be both useful and necessary to engage with sources that do not pass the CRAAP test, especially if you critically evaluate the source and address its limitations. So keep an open mind, acknowledge uncertainty, practice skepticism, stay informed about new developments, and seek understanding of multiple perspectives related to the subjects and ideas that matter to you.

CURRENCY:  Consider the timeliness of the information you encounter, when it was published or produced.

  • If it’s an older source, is it outdated?  Or is it timeless? Find out whether the information has historical value.
  • Determine whether there have been important discoveries or developments related to the topic since the resource was created.
  • Check to see if and when the source itself was updated or revised. If you’re evaluating a website, test links to ensure they are still working.

RELEVANCE:  Think about how well the source fits your needs.

  • Does it answer your question? Does it provide information directly related to your topic?
  • Consider the uniqueness, depth and breadth of the information covered; does its treatment of the subject fit your needs?
  • If you’re writing a research paper, make sure you can use the resource to develop, emphasize, support or critique your ideas.
  • Pay attention to the source’s intended audience. In other words, make sure it is neither too advanced nor too simple to suit your purpose.

AUTHORITY:  Question the source of the information. In other words, who wrote, produced, funded or published it?

  • Determine whether the author is an individual, group, non-profit organization, commercial enterprise or government office.
  • Is there enough information about the author—such as her education, experience, or professional affiliations—to gauge her subject expertise?
  • Is the author/organization/publisher respected by other experts in the field?
  • Is the content dynamic? In other words, if someone else views the same source later, might the content be altered?
  • Consider issues of editorial control, including the review process involved before the resource is published or updates are posted.
  • For websites, think about whether the URL domain (such as .edu, .gov, .com, .org, etc.) indicates anything useful about the source.

ACCURACY: Assess how reliable the information is.

  • Is there sufficient evidence to back the author’s claims? Do the arguments or assertions stem from fact-based and logical analysis?
  • Can the information be verified by other reputable sources? Make sure the author cited his sources so you can evaluate their merit.
  • Was the source peer-reviewed or refereed; that is, have reputable experts in the field formally approved the content or research methods?
  • Look for examples of plagiarism, exaggeration, prejudice, or bias in the source. Does the author jump to conclusions too quickly?
  • Does the author acknowledge and fairly assess alternate perspectives and possibilities? Watch out for simplistic yes/no and either/or thinking.
  • Consider the quality of the writing itself; punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors are red flags.

PURPOSE: Determine why the information is presented.

  • Was the source created to educate, inform, entertain, or persuade the audience?
  • Look for evidence of commercial, political, religious, or other motivations. (Hint: Check whether advertisements are clearly labeled.)
  • Consider how upfront the author is about her reasons for creating the source.
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Criteria for Evaluating Sources

 

Criteria Questions to Ask

Authority / Credibility
Determining the author for a source is important in deciding whether information is credible. The author should show some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable and truthful.

  • Who is the author (person, company, or organization)?
  • Does the source provide any information that leads you to believe the author is an expert on the topic?
  • Can you describe the author's background (experience, education, knowledge)?
  • Does the author provide citations? Do you think they are reputable?

Accuracy
The source should contain accurate and up-to-date information that can be verified by other sources.

  • Can facts or statistics be verified through another source?
  • Based on your knowledge, does the information seem accurate? Does it match the information found in other sources?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

Scope / Relevance
It is important that the source meets the information needs and requirements of your research assignment.

  • Does the source cover your topic comprehensively or does it cover only one aspect?
  • To what extent does the source answer your research question?
  • Is the source considered popular or scholarly?
  • Is the terminology and language used easy to understand?
Currency / Date
Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly. It is important to determine if currency is pertinent to your research.
  • When was the source written and published?
  • Has the information been updated recently?
  • Is currency pertinent to your research?
Objectivity / Bias / Reliability
Every author has an opinion. Recognizing this is instrumental in determining if the information presented is objective or biased. 
  • What is the purpose or motive for the source (educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the author pretending to be objective, but really trying to persuade, promote or sell something?

Style / Functionality
Style and functionality may be of lesser concern. However, if the source is not well-organized, its value is diminished.

  • Is the source well-written and organized?
  • To what extent is it professional looking?
  • If it is a website, can you navigate around easily?
  • If it is a website, are links broken?