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  • Evaluate Sources: Primary, Secondary, & Background Sources, Scholarly & Popular Sources, and Spotting Fake News

    Evaluate Resources: The CRAAP Test

    When you search for information, you'll find lots of it... but is it good information?
    You must determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. 

    Currency: 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    • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?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?

    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 appropriate (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?
    • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
    • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
    • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?  Can they be verified?
    • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
    • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?

    Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content, and

    • Where does the information come from?
    • Is the information supported by evidence?
    • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
    • Can you verify any information from another source or from personal knowledge?
    • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
    • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

    Purpose: the reason the information exists

    • What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
    • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
    • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
    • Follow the money.  Who stands to gain from this?
    • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
    • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
    • What clues does the format give to the purpose, audience, and quality?

    Note: the CRAAP test was developed by librarians at CSU Chico. 

    Video: Evaluating Sources for Credibility 

    Primary & Secondary Sources

    Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or period. They can also be the results of experiments or research. Primary sources must be factual, not interpretive. Here are some examples of primary sources:

    • Diaries, journals, letters

    • Works of art
    • Newspaper or magazine accounts from the period
    • Photographs, maps, postcards
    • Songs, plays

    Secondary sources analyze and interpret primary sources. These can be second-hand accounts of events or interpretations of sources. Here are some examples of secondary sources:

    • Biographies
    • Literary criticisms, book reviews
    • Interpretive newspaper articles
    • Analysis of scientific experiments

    Background & Topic Overviews

    What are background or tertiary sources? Tertiary sources, also called background or reference sources are based completely on secondary sources and the research of others rather than on primary sources or the author's original research. They pull together existing information on a particular issue or event.

    They are often excellent starting points for research projects because they provide helpful information that is easy to access and understand. A good reference or tertiary source can provide the following:

    • Key dates, places, people, and events related to a topic
    • Useful search terms for further research
    • Suggestions for further reading on the topic

    Note that these types of sources are not peer-reviewed. They are intended to provide you with enough of an understanding of and vocabulary for your topic to successfully find more in-depth, scholarly information (like peer-reviewed books and journal articles).

    The information above is credited to

    Video: Primary and Secondary Sources 

    Scholarly & Popular Sources

    The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both academic and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes, depending on your research question, but research assignments will often require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials.


    Scholarly Popular
    Authors: Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists, not always attributed

    Journal Databases such as Academic Search Complete, CINAHL Plus, Legal Collection. 

    *This is NOT a conclusive list of databases*

    Wikipedia,,; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from famous publishers like Penguin and Random House
    Focus: Specific and in-depth Broad overviews
    Language: Dense; includes academic jargon Easier to read; defines specialized terms
    Format: Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions Varies
    Citations: Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text 
    Before publication: Evaluated by peers (other scholars)  Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all
    Audience: Specialists in the subject area: students, professors, and the author's peers General readers; shouldn't require any particular background
    Design: Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising Glossy images, attractive designs; photo illustrations, and advertising, are more common
    Purpose: Communicating research findings, education;  Entertainment; news

    Video: Popular vs. Scholarly Sources 

    Spotting Fake News

    All news is not accurate, and all news is not real! Fake news does exist, and it can look like the real thing! 

    • How to Spot Fake News
      • Eight tips from the International Federation of Library Associations and institutions. 
      • A project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
      • is the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource. When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust,’s fact-checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. 
    • The Washington Post Fact Checker

    Video: How to Spot Fake News