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.

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?

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. 

Books

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:

  • When was the book published?
    Is this the most current book available on the topic that I’m studying?
  • Is there more than one edition of this book? 
    Publishing multiple editions is a signal that the author is motivated to keep the information current.
  • Who is the author?
    Are they a trusted expert in their field?
  • Who is the publisher?
    It should be clear what criteria the publishing house follows for editing, fact-checking, and publishing.
  • Is the purpose behind publishing the book clear? 
    The main purpose should be to educate the reader, not to try to convince them to buy or believe something.

Journal articles

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:

  • Does the journal have a peer review process?
    Who participates on each review panel should be readily available within each article.
  • What else has the author published, and how many times has it been cited? 
    A quick Google Scholar search will show you if the author has published other articles or been cited by other scholars. The function called “Cited By” can show you where the author has been cited. A high number of “Cited By” results can often be a measurement of credibility.
  • Is the journal indexed in academic databases?
    Has it had to retract many articles?

You can find high-quality journals via Google Scholar or your institution’s library. Your library also may have access to journals behind paywalls.

A few examples of databases where you can find well-regarded academic journals are: JSTOR, EBSCO, Sage Publications, PubMed, and Project Muse.

News articles

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:

  • Who published the article? Is it a reputable and established news source?
    Reputable news sources commit to fact-checking their content, issuing corrections and withdrawals if necessary, and only associating with credible journalists.
  • Who is the author? Are they a credible journalist?
    Credible journalists commit to reporting factual information in an unbiased manner, and prescribe to a code of ethics shared within the profession.
  • Is the article fact-based and impartial?
    The article shouldn’t favor one side of the story or one point of view, but present all sides fairly.
  • Does the article link back to, credit, or refer to credible primary sources? 
    Links in news articles can often be a great place to find valuable primary source material.

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.

Web sources

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.

Different URLs denote different types of web sources
  • Educational resources end in .edu, and are largely considered the most trustworthy in academic settings.
  • Government-affiliated websites end in .gov, and are often considered credible.
  • Non-profit or advocacy websites end in .org. These are often considered credible, but be sure that the information provided is unbiased.
  • Websites with some sort of commercial aspect end in .com. While these can be credible, exercise caution here.

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:

  • When was the web page published and last updated?
    If you are studying a topic that is frequently changing, such as cutting-edge research or current events, make sure that the information is up-to-date. If your subject is not as time-sensitive, such as history, the publication date may not matter as much. However, you should still ensure that the website is updated regularly. A website that is out-of-date is often not credible.
  • Are the links on the webpage still working? 
    What kinds of sources do they lead to? Are those sources credible? 
  • Is the layout professional? 
    A website with a lot of ads or sponsored content could signify that it is not credible.
    Flashy fonts, pop-ups, and a distracting layout can also be a sign that the content is not credible.
  • Who is the author of the material? Are they considered an expert in their field?
    There should be an “About” page denoting the author’s credentials and establishing their expertise in the field. Anonymous content is generally not considered credible. 
  • What is the author’s motivation for publishing this material?
    Try to stick with sources published for educational purposes. Sources attempting to sell you something or convince you of a particular point of view or course of action are not considered credible.

Frequently asked questions

What is the CRAAP test?

The CRAAP test is an acronym to help you evaluate the credibility of a source you are considering using.

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?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test, and follow these guidelines:

  • 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.

Always make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.