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Research Starter Guide: Can I use this in my paper?

Understanding and Evaluating Information

Some professors will tell you that they want you to use primary sources, or primary works, for your research project. What is a primary source and how is it different than a secondary source? Well, primary sources are going to look a little different depending on what subject you're researching. Essentially, a primary source is a source of original information. If that information were then analyzed, interpreted, or reviewed, then that would be a secondary source.

In history, a primary source could be something from that time period, such as a diary, newspaper article, or photograph.

In english/literature, a primary work will be one written by the author you are researching. For instance, if you are researching Jane Austen, then Pride and Prejudice or Austen's letters to her sister would be primary sources. A criticism of Pride and Prejudice would be considered a secondary source.

In the sciences, a primary source is one in which a researcher is sharing their findings. For example, if "Scientist A" were to conduct an experiment and write an article describing the results, then that would be a primary work. If "Scientist B" analyzed these results for another article, then that would be a secondary work. Primary sources in the sciences will often have an abstract, methodology, results, and conclusions.

Many professors will ask you to use scholarly sources for your research project. What is a scholarly source? A scholarly source may also be referred to as a peer-reviewed source. It is written by experts, for experts. They are reviewed by several experts before publishing. The opposite of a scholarly source is a popular source. It is something that is written using language the general public can understand. Examples of popular sources include magazines and news websites.

So how do you find a scholarly source? Most of our databases have the option of limiting your results to peer-reviewed sources. Make sure the box is checked to limit your results.

It's easy to find information, but how do you know if it is good information?

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 timelineness 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?
  • 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 the 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?
  • 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?


The CRAAP test was developed by librarians at CSU- Chico.