Skip to Main Content

College Success: Evaluating Sources

This guide is intended for all those studying CEP and related disciplines.

Evaluating Sources

Whether you are finding sources on the Web or accessing them through the library, it is important to evaluate your sources. Instructors often require that you use “scholarly” sources, but how do you know if the article you found satisfies this requirement? There are several criteria you can apply to evaluate sources for your assignment.

The first chart below discusses the differences between scholarly and popular sources. Then, the CRAAP Test shows additional criteria that you can use when evaluating information for an assignment. 

Scholarly vs. Popular

Consider the following elements when determining whether a source is scholarly or popular. 





Usually a researcher or academic scholar (i.e. professor) who is an expert in the subject area.

The university, research center, or academic credential (Ph.D., M.S.) is generally given.

Typically reporters or freelance writers who may or may not have academic expertise in the subject matter. Author’s affiliation is generally not given.


Academic faculty, professionals, researchers, and students. General public; people who work in a particular industry or trade.

Length & Language

Use of jargon/specialized vocabulary related to subject area.

Longer in length (5 + pages) typically.

Simple, everyday language; layman’s terms.

Shorter in length (1/4 page – 5 pages) typically.


Articles may follow a predictable structure: abstract, introduction, literature review, methods, results, analysis/discussion, conclusion, and references.

May contain tables, graphs, and charts.

Limited or no advertisements.

Slick, attractive appearance.

Often tells a story as a narrative.

Often contains lots of pictures or advertisements.

Information Checking

Content typically reviewed by several experts or editorial board in the subject area (peer review) to ensure accuracy and research quality. Content selected by editors employed by the magazine or trade publication.

Location of Information

Academic and research libraries, other medical, scientific, and research settings.

Online in academic databases or at publisher web sites requesting password for access (Hint! start at NSC's library web site to avoid paying).

Newsstands, grocery stores, airport bookstores. Trade magazines get mailed to members of professional organizations.

Some popular and trade magazines are searchable in library databases.


Yes. Lists the sources where quotes and information was taken from. Can be verified. Probably not. May refer to other sources but it is difficult to verify.


American Journal of Sociology, Child Abuse Review, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, American Economic Review.

Popular Magazines: Time, Newsweek, Ebony, People, Scientific American, The New Yorker

Trade Magazines: Architectural lighting, Cement Americas, Frozen Food Age

Newspapers: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Las Vegas Review Journal


The CRAAP Test

CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.  

Use the following questions when evaluating a source for your assignment.

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • If on the web, 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?
  • If on the web, does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (Examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)

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?