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Writing Centre: Evaluating Sources

This guide supports academic and professional writing with links to BCIT library and Web resources.

Evaluating Sources

The ability to assess the reliability of a source is a critical academic skill.  On this page you will discover some ideas and approaches to assessing the usability and reliability of sources for your academic writing.  Please be aware that these are general guidelines.  The difference between usable and unusable sources is not a black-and-white choice, it is rather more like a continuum.  For example, there may be situations where a respected business magazine like The Economist may be a better source than an academic journal, especially if your paper discusses very recent events.  If in doubt, consult with your instructor.  

A note on Wikipedia:  Wikipedia is a great source of information, but is not normally considered a reliable source for academic writing.  This is due to several reasons including its lack of peer review, and the ability of anybody to freely edit its content.   So, while Wikipedia may be a great place to start your reading and get ideas for the direction of your research, you should avoid referring to it in your paper.  

The CRAAP Test

Questions to ask when evaluating information:

Currency: The timeliness of the information.
  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Is there a more recent version of this information available?
  • 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 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 .org
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?

adapted from Meriam Library, California State University, Chico

Scholarly vs. Popular Style in Sources

Scholarly vs. Trade vs. Popular

Clues to look at Scholarly Trade Popular
Authors Academics or experts in the field, with credentials and affiliations clearly listed Practitioners or educators in the field Paid journalists
Language Technical or scholarly, often requires knowledge of discipline and jargon to fully understand Has industry jargon, assumes a background in the field Easy to read
Look Usually black and white, sometimes charts or drawings but little colour or pictures Glossy paper, with colourful pictures and industry-related advertisements Glossy, colourful, full of pictures and advertisements
Abstracts (very short summary of the article) Generally present Generally absent Absent
Reference List Bibliographies or footnotes always present, and generally substantial Short bibliographies may be present Absent
Intended audience Academics Other practitioners in the field General public
Article Length Long articles, often split into sections like abstract, introduction, methods, discussion Varies Shorter articles