The Library has limited operations this fall. Visit our Return to Operations guide for information on available services.
Please Ask Us!, email email@example.com, or text 479-802-0570 if you need assistance.
Who created the information? Affiliations, qualifications/credentials, reputation, contact info, etc. Who published it? Who paid for it? Does the creator or publisher have a bias or a point-of-view that might affect the information?
What is the evidence? Do the claims make sense? Can claims be fact-checked? Are stories, hearsay, or innuendo used as “proof?” Do the facts given logically lead to the conclusions made?
When was the article published? When was it revised or updated? Is timeliness important for the topic or not?
Where is it published – popular magazine, academic journal, blog, news, website, etc.? If it’s a website, what kind? Newspapers, magazines, and some journals web publish. Was the information edited, reviewed, or refereed? By whom? Where did the author get their information? Are they citing sources? If so, are those sources credible?
Why was the information created? How is it meant to affect its audience? Why are they telling me this? To inform, teach, sell, entertain, persuade, or something else?
Who or what is missing that might change the interpretation or understanding of the information?
Source: Who is providing the information?
Motivation: Why are they telling me this?
Evidence. What evidence is provided for generalizations?
Logic: Do the facts logically compel the conclusions?
Left Out: What’s missing that might change our interpretation of the information?
Currency: How timely is the information?
Relevance: How closely does the information meet your needs?
Authority: Who or what is the source of the information?
Accuracy: How reliable, truthful, and correct is the content?
Purpose: Why does the information exist?
Primary sources are original documents, objects, or media created during the time of the event being researched, or by an individual(s) who directly experienced an event, made a discovery, or created a new work of art. They are raw materials with a direct relationship to whatever is being studied.
Examples: photographs, speeches, diaries, editorials, letters, interviews, historic artifacts, works of art, musical scores, performances, literary works, survey research, legal documents, proceedings, patents, video or audio recordings of events being studied, etc.
Secondary sources are a step removed from the original source. They may comment or build upon original primary sources.
Examples: second-hand reports on events, research, or works created by someone else at a different time or place; criticisms; reviews; interpretations; citations; etc.
Tertiary sources typically compile and condense a range of primary and/or secondary sources into an easily-digestible format.
Examples: encyclopedias, almanacs, timelines, bibliographies, directories, fact books, etc. (Note: Many of these are also considered secondary sources.)
Across disciplines, contexts, and perspectives, the definition of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources differ. Some scholars consider encyclopedias secondary sources, while others consider them tertiary sources. In today’s environment of digitized content, most would contend an online image of a primary document or transcript is sufficient, while others might argue the original physical copy is essential for primary research. Like many areas of study, distinctions are fuzzy and subject to interpretation. When in doubt, clarify your instructor’s expectations.
Start here to get when you don’t know much about the topic to find basic information and get context. These sources help you find angles, search terms and approaches to your topic. Find background in:
These sources help you clarify for your audience why they should care about your topic. Find current events in:
These sources help you demonstrate how your topic impacts and affects others. Find data and statistics in:
Most everyone has opinions that tell you what they think or feel. These sources can be useful to portraying lived experience and are easy to find in:
Analysis is credible and reliable interpretation of events, data, or research filtered through expertise and/or education. It can be easy to confuse with opinion; anyone can have an opinion about football, but a former professional football player or coach might offer in-depth, expert analysis. Find analysis in:
In college classes, research is the platinum level source. Research can be presentations of new information or facts from studies, investigations, interviews, or scholarship done by academics, scientists, scholars, or other researchers. Find research in:
Intended Audience: Scholars, researchers, professionals, and university students in particular field
Watch for: "Predatory" or "pay to publish" online journals
Intended Audience: Professional organizations or professionals/scholars with similar interests
What For / Consider: Has characteristics in common with both popular magazines and scholarly journals
Intended Audience: Varies (general audience through scholars)
What For / Consider: Information may be dated due to the time it takes to publish a book.
Intended Audience: General audience or those with a specific, recreational interest (e.g. sports, fashion, science, etc.)
What For / Consider: Potential editorial bias
Intended Audience: General audience
What For / Consider: Contains both fact-based reporting and editorial content (opinions). Opinions may be biased.
Intended Audience: General audience
What For / Consider: Governmental and educational websites have higher credibility than commercial websites
Intended Audience: General audience
What For / Consider: Use the reference list to find other sources that can used
Intended Audience: General audience through scholars depending on the source
What For / Consider: High potential for bias. Usually informal.
Whether you’re writing a research paper, purchasing a product, or casting your vote, it is up to you to carefully evaluate information sources. One helpful evaluation tool is the CRAAP test, developed by Sarah Blakeslee at CSU Chico, and revised with her permission by NWACC Library. The letters in CRAAP stand for five evaluation criteria explored in the tabs above. See below for printer friendly version.
A word of caution: There is potential for error, distortion, and bias in any source. Respected experts disagree with their peers, new discoveries call once-established “facts” into question, and widely-accepted theories are later proven false. It can be both useful and necessary to engage with sources that do not pass the CRAAP test, especially if you critically evaluate the source and address its limitations. So keep an open mind, acknowledge uncertainty, practice skepticism, stay informed about new developments, and seek understanding of multiple perspectives related to the subjects and ideas that matter to you.
CURRENCY: Consider the timeliness of the information you encounter, when it was published or produced.
RELEVANCE: Think about how well the source fits your needs.
AUTHORITY: Question the source of the information. In other words, who wrote, produced, funded or published it?
ACCURACY: Assess how reliable the information is.
PURPOSE: Determine why the information is presented.