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How To Evaluate Sources

Published by at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

The vast sea of information is merely a click away in today’s fast-paced, digitally dominated world. With the proliferation of blogs, forums, news outlets, and social media platforms, anyone can become an ‘expert’ and share ‘facts’.

Now, more than ever, there is a paramount need for discernment and the ability to sift through the avalanche of data to uncover the truth. This is why understanding the importance of using credible sources has become a non-negotiable skill.

Credible sources and the ability to paraphrase sources are the backbone of any well-informed argument, research, or discourse. They offer a foundation upon which ideas can stand tall and unchallenged, especially when you understand how to integrate sources seamlessly into your work.

Without credible sources, even the most compelling narratives may crumble under scrutiny. Think of credible sources as the bricks that build a strong and resilient information structure, ensuring it can withstand the winds of scepticism and the rains of inquiry.

Different Types of Sources

Distinguishing between different types of sources is fundamental for academic, journalistic, and personal research. Let’s explore the differences:

Primary Sources

  • Definition: Direct or first-hand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. These sources are contemporary to the events and people described.
  • Examples: Original documents (e.g., letters, diaries, interviews, and raw data), original creative works (e.g., art, poetry, and music), relics or artefacts (e.g., pottery, fossils, and coins), and published results of experiments or studies.
  • Purpose: To offer direct evidence or first-hand testimony without interpretation or commentary.

Secondary Sources

  • Definition: Sources that describe, discuss, interpret, analyse, evaluate, or process primary sources. They provide a second-hand account.
  • Examples: Textbooks, book reviews, critiques, biographies, journal articles that interpret or review research works, and encyclopedias.
  • Purpose: To provide interpretation, analysis, context, or commentary on the primary source material.

Scholarly (Academic) Sources

  • Definition: Works written by experts in a particular field and intended for academic purposes. These often undergo a rigorous peer-review process.
  • Characteristics:
    • Authored by experts, often affiliated with academic institutions.
    • Contain in-depth analysis or original research.
    • Cite their sources, often with comprehensive bibliographies.
    • Usually published in specialised journals, by academic presses, or scholarly organisations.
    • Use jargon or the specialised language of the field.
  • Examples: Peer-reviewed journal articles, academic books, dissertations, and conference proceedings.

Popular Sources

  • Definition: Works intended for a general audience, usually not peer-reviewed.
  • Characteristics:
    • Written in a more casual or general style.
    • Authored by journalists, freelance writers, or the general public.
    • Rarely provide full citations for sources.
    • They are often meant to entertain, sell, or promote a viewpoint.
    • They can be published quickly without rigorous review processes.
  • Examples: Newspapers, magazines, blog posts, and mainstream books.

The CRAP Test: A Handy Acronym for Evaluating a Source

The CRAP Test is a useful mnemonic for source evaluation or evaluating the credibility and reliability of a source. Here is a more detailed breakdown of each point:


The timeliness of the information: This refers to how recent the information is. In many fields, especially ones like science and technology, newer information is often more accurate because it takes into account the latest discoveries, trends, or societal changes.

Consideration of publication, revision, and update dates: It is crucial to check when the source was originally published and when it was last updated. A source that is regularly updated indicates that the information is kept current. However, remember that just because a source is older doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Some older sources provide foundational knowledge or historical context.


The importance of the information to your needs: Is the information presented directly related to your research topic or question? If it is not, it might not be the best source to use.

Does the source answer your research question?: The best sources directly address and provide insights into your specific inquiries. Sometimes, even if a source is credible, it might not be pertinent to your particular topic.


The source of the information: It is crucial to know where the information is coming from. Is it from a reputable institution? A trusted news outlet? A peer-reviewed journal?

Credentials and qualifications of the author or publisher: Who wrote or published the information? What are their qualifications? An article about a medical procedure is more credible if written by a doctor or medical researcher than by someone without any field background.


The reason the information exists: Every piece of information or article has a purpose. It could be to inform, persuade, entertain, or even deceive.

Identifying potential biases and intentions: All authors and publishers have different perspectives. It’s essential to identify these to evaluate the potential slant of the information. Is the source trying to sell something? Does the author have a political or personal agenda? Recognising these biases will help you critically assess the value and reliability of the source.

Beyond CRAP: Additional Methods Of Evaluating Sources

Beyond the CRAP Test, one should consider other essential criteria when evaluating a source. Let’s delve deeper into the additional points you mentioned:


Cross-referencing information with other sources: This is one of the most effective ways to verify the accuracy of a source. No matter how credible a source might seem on its own, it’s always beneficial to corroborate the presented information with other reliable sources.

For instance, if a news article claims a particular statistic, it’s wise to find the original study or report to see if the numbers match up. When various reputable sources agree on a piece of information, it increases the likelihood that it is accurate.


Identifying any potential biases or perspectives: While the CRAP Test’s “Purpose” touches on biases, diving deeper into objectivity is crucial.

  • Be aware of the tone of the source. Is it neutral, or does it seem to lean heavily in a particular direction?
  • Consider the affiliation of the author or the publishing entity. For instance, research funded by a company might be biased towards presenting that company’s products in a favourable light.
  • It is essential to differentiate between facts and opinions. While opinions can provide valuable insights, they are inherently subjective and should be evaluated as such.


The depth and breadth of the presented information:

Depth: Refers to how detailed the information is. A source that goes into great depth about a particular topic provides a thorough understanding, which is especially important for academic or in-depth research.

For instance, a peer-reviewed journal article on a specific scientific topic will likely provide more depth than a general news article on the same topic.

Breadth: Refers to how wide-ranging the information is. For some research, getting a broader overview is more useful than diving deep into minutiae.

For example, an encyclopedia entry might provide a broad overview of a historical event, which can be useful for someone looking for general knowledge on the topic.

The research done by our experts have:

  • Precision and Clarity
  • Zero Plagiarism
  • Authentic Sources

Practical Tips on How to Evaluate Sources

Here are practical tips based on the pointers you mentioned:

Making Use of Libraries and Librarians

  • Why Libraries?: Libraries, especially academic ones, often curate a selection of reputable sources, including books, journals, and digital resources.
  • Ask a Librarian: Librarians are information specialists. They can guide you to the best resources for your topic, teach you how to use databases, and even help with source-citing methods.
  • Interlibrary Loan Services: If your library doesn’t have a specific resource, they can often borrow it from another library. This service expands the range of available materials.

Leveraging Online Scholarly Databases and Trusted Journalism Outlets

This is an excellent way for better information literacy

  • Scholarly Databases: Websites like Google Scholar, JSTOR, and PubMed provide a vast array of peer-reviewed articles and research papers. Access might be free, or you might need a subscription (often provided by educational institutions).
  • Trusted Journalism Outlets: Stick to respected journalism outlets that have a reputation for factual reporting and adhere to journalistic ethics. Examples include BBC, The New York Times, Reuters, and others. Beware of sources that consistently display overt bias or that don’t cite their information.
  • Paywalls and Access: Some high-quality sources might be behind paywalls. Check if you can access them through institutional subscriptions (like university access) or consider investing in a subscription if you frequently need reliable information.

Using Fact-Checking Websites to Validate Controversial or Questionable Information

  • Why Fact-Check?: In an era of “fake news” and misinformation, fact-checking websites can quickly help determine the validity of a claim or news story.
  • Popular Fact-Checking Sites: Websites like Snopes, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact are known for their rigorous standards and can be a good starting point.
  • How to Use: When you encounter a claim or story that seems dubious or too sensational, input the main points or keywords into a fact-checking site to see if they have analysed its veracity.
  • Caveat: No source is infallible. Even fact-checking websites can make mistakes or might have biases, so it’s always a good idea to cross-reference with other trusted sources.

Diversify your Sources

Even when you have a trusted source, applying critical thinking by consulting multiple sources always provides a holistic view.

Stay Updated

The realm of information is continuously evolving. Trusted sources today might lose credibility in the future. Stay informed about the reliability of your go-to sources.

Trust, but Verify

Even if a piece of information seems plausible, take a moment to validate it, especially if you plan to share or act upon it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Students can evaluate sources by checking their credibility, relevance, and bias. They should consider the author’s qualifications, the publication date, the publisher’s reputation, and the source’s purpose. Cross-referencing with other reliable sources and checking for citations also aids in determining the validity of the information.

Evaluate evidence or sources by examining their credibility, accuracy, relevance, and bias. Consider the author’s qualifications, publication date, source’s origin, and intent. Cross-referencing information with other reputable sources and assessing the quality of citations further ensures the reliability and authenticity of the presented evidence.

To evaluate sources, consider credibility, relevance, bias, and timeliness. Check the author’s qualifications, publication’s reputation, and date. Examine the source’s intent and audience. Cross-reference information with other trusted sources. Look for citations and evidence supporting claims. Question any unsourced or overly biased statements.

Evaluating a source ensures information accuracy, credibility, and reliability. Without evaluation, one risks using misleading or false data, which can lead to misinformed decisions, perpetuate misinformation, and compromise the integrity of research or arguments. Understanding a source’s context, bias, and quality is crucial for discerning truth and making informed judgments.

Evaluation methods include quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative methods involve numerical data and statistical analysis, while qualitative methods focus on descriptive data, observations, and interviews. Common methods include surveys, experiments, case studies, content analysis, focus groups, and ethnographic research. The chosen method depends on the research question and desired outcomes.


  • Prioritise peer-reviewed journals or academic publishers.

  • Examine authors’ credentials and affiliations.

  • Check the publication date to ensure relevancy.

  • Review citations and bibliography for credibility.

  • Ensure the research methodology is rigorous.

  • Prefer sources cited frequently by other scholars.

Lateral reading is a research strategy where, instead of deeply reading a single source first, a researcher quickly consults multiple external sources to evaluate the credibility of the initial information. By cross-referencing and comparing, one can more effectively determine the reliability of online content and avoid misinformation.

  • It originates from reputable institutions or authors with relevant credentials.
  • It’s published in peer-reviewed journals or by esteemed publishers.
  • Its information is current, or historically accurate for older topics.
  • It’s unbiased and free from conflicts of interest.
  • Its claims are supported by evidence.


  • Currency: the timeliness of the information.

  • Relevance: the importance of the information to your topic.

  • Authority: the source’s credentials or background.

  • Accuracy: the reliability and truthfulness of content.

  • Purpose: the reason the information exists.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.