How to do Research for College Assignments

What is Source Evaluation?

Source evaluation is the process of critically evaluating information in relation to a given purpose in order to determine if it is appropriate for the intended use.

Why Evaluate Sources?

        •  Instructors expect students to use scholarly sources: using better sources often results in better grades!

        •  Information can be out-of-date, inaccurate, and even purposely misleading (such as propaganda) 

        •  Some forms of information, such as websites, allow anyone to contribute content or exist only to sell products or ads by generating traffic

All information, especially online content, needs critical scrutiny. Use the CRAAP test to evaluate and determine the credibility and reliability of a source:


                    •  The timeliness (i.e. publication date, revision history) of the information.

                    •  Broken links or old dates indicate a source has not been updated recently.


                    •  The importance of the information for your needs.

                    •  Consider your audience and compare with a variety of sources.


                    •  The originating source (author, publisher, sponsor) of the information.

                    •  Check for contact information and the credentials of the author.


                    •  The reliability (source, evidence, truthfulness) of the information.

                    •  Think about the source and look for evidence of bias or error.


                    •  The reason (teach, sell, entertain) the information exists.

                    •  Identify the type of information (fact or opinion) and the intent of the author.

Use the chart below to apply the CRAAP test to websites and other information sources:

Criteria Questions to Ask Purpose & Tips
Currency (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• Is the information current or out of date for your topic?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 or broken?

• When was the page created?

A recent update does not mean the information is current. The content might still be out of date even if the date given is recent.

To determine if the information is up-to-date, compare the information to other sources, such as scholarly articles found in a library database. This is very important for science, health, business, and technology disciplines where new information is frequently produced. 

Broken links are one indication that a website has not been recently updated. 

Relevance (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)?

• Is the site intended to be general, comprehensive, or selective?

To identify the target audience, look at:

• Reading level (is it easy or challenging? Does it assume previous knowledge with the topic?)

• Design of the page (are there banner ads, flashy graphics, or plain text?)

• Possible target demographics (is the information aimed at academic researchers, kids, consumers, political activists, or another type of person)?

Authority (source of the information)

•  Who is the author, publisher, source, or sponsor?

•  Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given? If yes, what are they?

•  What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?

•  Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?

•  Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?

Go to the "About" page to learn about the website or organization's purpose.

The URL ending or domain will tell you where the information came from geographically or the type of organization that maintains the website:

•  .org - Advocacy website, such as a not-for-profit organization

•  .com - Business or commercial website

•  .edu - Website affiliated with a higher education institution 

•  .ca - Website originating in Canada

• - Canadian government website

•  .gov - United States government website

Accuracy (reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content)

•  Where does the information come from?

•  Is the information supported by evidence?

•  Has the information been reviewed?

•  Can you verify the information in another source or from personal knowledge?

•  Does the language or tone seem biased or emotional?

•  Are there obvious errors (spelling, grammar, etc.)?

Many websites, particularly non-profit organizations or advocacy groups, will have a particular agenda or purpose that results in formation with a bias.

A bias is not necessarily bad, but it is very important to take into account when interpreting or using the given information.

Consider if the author is fair, balanced, or moderate in their presentation or viewpoint. Are they overly emotional or extreme? Is there a conflict of interest due to the author's affiliation or perspective? 

Purpose (reason the information exists)

•  What is the purpose of the information? Does it inform, persuade, sell, or entertain?

•  Are the intentions of the authors/sponsor clear?

•  Does the point of view appear objective?

•  Are there political, cultural, institutional, or personal biases?

Websites may have several purposes, such as to persuade and entertain at the same time. It is important to analyze if one purpose conflicts with the information found on the website.

Consider unstated purposes that are found in clues such as the aim of the organization or the use of advertising on the page. 


This video tutorial explains how to differentiate between popular and scholarly sources and demonstrates how to use them correctly in your research and course assignments. Need help searching for and identifying peer-reviewed journal articles? Go to the How to Find Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles guide


Use the chart below to differentiate between scholarly/academic, trade/professional, and popular mainstream sources:

When conducting research, the ability to distinguish between primary, secondary and tertiary sources is a very useful skill:

  Definition & Common Formats: Currency, Purpose & Tone:

Provide firsthand and unfiltered information, without interpretation, analysis or evaluation:

       •  Historical artifacts, diaries, records, newspapers, letters

       •  Works of art and literature

Tend to come first in publication cycle; immediate to the time period and/or event(s)

Often fits in one of these categories:

        1. Subjective, first-person narration

        2. Creative writing

        3. Neutral, detached reporting


Comment, discuss, analyze, evaluate, and/or interpret primary, tertiary, and other secondary sources:

      •  Essays and reviews

      •  Peer-reviewed journal articles

      •  Textbooks (may also be tertiary)

Tend to come second in publication cycle; vary from close to or far-removed from originating time period and/or event(s)

        •  Tone is argumentative and analytical

        •  Often builds on past and/or current discourse with aim to counter, extend, and/or supplant previous works


Provide general overviews or summaries that compile and synthesize both primary and secondary sources:

        •  Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks

        •  Annotated bibliographies, indexes, chronologies

Tend to come last in publication cycle; far-removed from originating time period and/or event(s)

        •  Factual, objective and concise with focus on distilling multiple sources

        •  Typically has a broad, general focus and lacks any original analysis and critique