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Introduction to the Research Process: Evaluate Sources

Evaluating Sources

Evaluate each source carefully to be sure it is accurate and reliable.

Types of Periodicals

In general, there are three types of periodicals: popular magazines, trade or professional sources and scholarly, professional, or refereed journals. The type of periodical you use will depend on the type of information you need.

The following chart lists the typical characteristics that differentiate these three kinds of periodicals. Keep in mind, however, that some periodicals defy easy categories.




Scholarly (refereed or peer-reviewed)


commercial firm

commercial firm or association

university or association
(large scientific & academic publishers)

Frequency of Publication

weekly, biweekly or monthly

weekly, biweekly or monthly


Intended Audience

general readers

special readers
(persons employed in that field)

special readers
(academics and researchers)


colorful, illustrated

colorful, illustrated

plain, mostly text

Article Type

short, nontechnical
with photos and graphics

short, technical
with photos and graphics

long, research style
with tables and charts

Writing Style

informal, journalistic

informal, journalistic

formal and/or scientific


staff writers

staff writers and persons employed in that field

academics and researchers

News Content

covers broad issues and popular and/or business affairs

covers narrow trade or professional issues

no news coverage


ads for business or consumer products

ads for specialized trade/professional products and services

ads for books, if any

Research Apparatus



extensive bibliographies and advanced statistics


Sports Illustrated, People, Newsweek, National Geographic

Advertising Age, Variety, Women's Wear Daily

Animation Journal, American Art Journal, Burlington

Why We Evaluate Information

It is important to think carefully about information, no matter where you find it.

Science News Cycle

Source: PHD Comics

How to Evaluate Information

The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to determine if the information you have is accurate and reliable. Keep in mind, the type of source your need will depend on the situation. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your 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 qualifications 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 informational 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 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?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

More help is available: The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides an in-depth guide to evaluating sources and information, including print and internet sources.

CRAAP test developed by Meriam Library, California State University, Chico