Evaluating sources with the CRAAP test
The CRAAP test is a method to evaluate the credibility of a source you are using.
When conducting research, it’s important to use credible sources. They ensure the trustworthiness of your argument and strengthen your conclusions.
There are a lot of sources out there, and it can be hard to determine if they are sufficiently credible. To help, librarians at California State University developed the CRAAP test in 2004.
Asking yourself these questions should give you a good idea of whether your source is credible or not.
Here are some examples using different sources.
While books are often considered among the most reliable sources, it is still important to pay attention to the author, publisher, and motive behind the publication.
Some books are commercially-motivated or sponsored, which affects their credibility. As a general rule, academic publishers and university presses are often considered credible.
When evaluating a book, ask yourself:
Academic journals are one of the best resources you can turn to during your research process. They are often peer reviewed, which means they have undergone a rigorous editing process prior to publication.
When evaluating a journal article, ask yourself:
You can find high-quality journals via Google Scholar or your institution’s library. Your library also may have access to journals behind paywalls.
News articles can be tricky to evaluate. Many news sources are eminently reliable, with long histories of fact-based and trustworthy journalism.
Others, however, can be heavily biased or targeted at a specific audience. Some are poorly-written or researched, while some are mere “clickbait” or satire, designed to mislead or entertain an audience.
In the age of “fake news”, it’s more important than ever to carefully evaluate news articles, especially those found online. News sources are often best used to situate your argument or ground your research, with more academic sources making up the “meat” of your analysis.
When evaluating a news source, ask yourself:
Note that letters to the editor and other types of opinion pieces (often called op-eds) are opinion-based by nature, and usually not credible.
While very common, websites are often among the most challenging to evaluate for credibility.
They are not subject to the peer-review or rigorous editing process that academic journals or books go through, and websites like Wikipedia can be altered by anyone at any time.
While you will undoubtedly use websites in your research, exercise caution here.
A good first step is to take a look at the URL.
Be on the lookout for native advertising on web sources, a sales tactic that has grown tremendously in the last few years. Native ads are designed to look and feel just like the rest of the content on the site. This tricks even the most savvy of visitors into thinking they are reading a credible source, when in fact they are consuming advertising. The rise of native advertising as a source of revenue for news sources is also troubling, and diminishes their credibility.
When analyzing web sources, ask yourself:
Frequently asked questions
- What is the CRAAP test?
The CRAAP test has 5 main components:
- Currency: Is the source up-to-date?
- Relevance: Is the source relevant to your research?
- Authority: Where is the source published? Who is the author? Are they considered reputable and trustworthy in their field?
- Accuracy: Is the source supported by evidence? Are the claims cited correctly?
- Purpose: What was the motive behind publishing this source?
- What makes a source credible?
- The information should be up-to-date and current.
- The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
- The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
- For web sources, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.
- What is peer review?
Peer review is a process of evaluating submissions to an academic journal. Utilizing rigorous criteria, a panel of reviewers in the same subject area decide whether to accept each submission for publication. For this reason, academic journals are often considered among the most credible sources you can use in a research project– provided that the journal itself is trustworthy and well-regarded.
- What is academic dishonesty?
Academic dishonesty refers to deceitful or misleading behavior in an academic setting. Academic dishonesty can occur intentionally or unintentionally, and varies in severity.
It can encompass paying for a pre-written essay, cheating on an exam, or committing plagiarism. It can also include helping others cheat, copying a friend’s homework answers, or even pretending to be sick to miss an exam.
Academic dishonesty doesn’t just occur in a classroom setting, but also in research and other academic-adjacent fields.
- How can you tell if a source is primary or secondary?
To determine if a source is primary or secondary, ask yourself:
- Was the source created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying (primary), or by another researcher (secondary)?
- Does the source provide original information (primary), or does it summarize information from other sources (secondary)?
- Are you directly analyzing the source itself (primary), or only using it for background information (secondary)?
Some types of source are nearly always primary: works of art and literature, raw statistical data, official documents and records, and personal communications (e.g. letters, interviews). If you use one of these in your research, it is probably a primary source.
Primary sources are often considered the most credible in terms of providing evidence for your argument, as they give you direct evidence of what you are researching. However, it’s up to you to ensure the information they provide is reliable and accurate.