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  • Evaluate Your Sources

    When looking for sources–particularly websites–think about whether or not they are reliable. You want your paper to contain sources written by unbiased and professional experts, not businessmen with commercial interests. Keep in mind that everything is written from a particular social, cultural, and political perspective. Realize that some publications tend to be ‘slanted’ towards a certain viewpoint. 

    Is Your Source Reliable?

    Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if a source is reliable:


    • Who is providing the information?
    • What do you know about the author and their credentials?
    • Are they an expert?
    • Can you find out more and contact them?
    • Search for author or publisher in search engine. Has the author written several publications on the topic?
    • Have other credible people referenced this source?


    • Is there a sponsor or affiliation?
    • Who is linking to the page?
    • Do they take responsibility for the content?
    • Websites: Are credible sites linking to this page?


    • Is the language free of emotion?
    • Does the organization or author suggest there may be bias? Does bias make sense in relation to your argument?
    • Is the purpose of the website to inform or to persuade towards a certain agenda?
    • Are there ads? Are they trying to make money?
    • Why did they write the article?
    • Websites: Is the site a content farm? A content farm is a site whose content has been generated by teams of freelancers who write large amounts of low-quality text to raise the site’s search engine rankings.


    • Copy and paste a sentence into Google to see if the text can be found elsewhere.
    • (Website) Are there links to related sites? Are they organized?
    • Are there citations or bibliography provided? Do they cite their sources?


    • Is the data verifiable and accurate?
    • Is the source comprehensive?
    • Currency
    • When was the source last updated?
    • Does the source have a date?


    • Does the source appear professional?
    • Does it seem like the current design?


    • Was it reproduced? If so, from where? Type a sentence in Google to verify.
    • If it was reproduced, was it done so with permission? Copyright/disclaimer included?

    Keep in mind that everything is written from a particular social, cultural, and political perspective. Realize that some publications tend to be ‘slanted’ towards a certain viewpoint. 

    (The information above is credited to

    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 useful information that is easy to access and understand. A good reference or tertiary source can provide:

    • 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 allow you to successfully find more in-depth, scholarly information (like peer-reviewed books and journal articles).

    Primary & Secondary Sources

    Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or time 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 time 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
    The information above is credited to

    Scholarly & Popular Sources

    The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both scholarly 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 popular 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 special background
    Design: Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations, and advertising are more common
    Purpose: Communicating research findings; education;  Entertainment; news

    The CRAAP Test

    When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it... but is it good information?
    You will have to 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 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?
    • 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 of the information in 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, quality?

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

    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
      • 8 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