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RELS-255: Research Methods

Until now, we have primarily been focused on how to find books and journal articles through the Library's resources. Ideally, everything you find through the library's tools would be legit. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Whether you have identified a resource through Google, or a scholarly index you must critically evaluate every source before you use it.

Iowa State University's library have developed a checklist for evaluating scholarly books and articles. To summarize, the following elements should be examined: (1) author, (2) publisher, (3) peer review, (4) purpose, (5) content, (6) usefulness, (7) accuracy, and (8) currency. My advice: trust your gut!

There are also a number of decent checklists that have been developed to help you evaluate websites. One of these checklists, the CRAAP Test, was developed by Meriam Library (California State University, Chico). It delivers a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find.

Currency: The timeliness 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?

For a useful CRAAP worksheet, refer to this rubric attributed to Central Library MCHS. It prompts you to score a site on each of the CRAAP criteria to come up with a final score that could range between a potentially "highly questionable source" to a "excellent source for research."