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Election 2020: Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources: The CRAAP Test

The critical evaluation of information is a basic skill you need to develop to conduct quality research. Critical evaluation combines common sense, knowledge, skepticism, and verification. Remember, not all of the information you find will be suitable, and using inaccurate or inappropriate information will weaken your research results.

With so much information available, in so many formats, and from so many sources, it is essential that you carefully review and evaluate each piece of information you select to ensure its quality, authority, perspective, and balance. As you can imagine, this process can be overwhelming. So, what exactly should you look for?

One very helpful strategy is the CRAAP Test. CRAAP is the abbreviation for:

  • Currency
  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Accuracy
  • Purpose

View the video below for an explanation of how you can apply the CRAAP Test to evaluate information sources.

Evaluating Primary Sources

Primary sources are extremely valuable because they provide first-hand, contemporary evidence of events or studies. This does not mean, however, that all primary sources are accurate or reliable. Learning to evaluate primary sources is as important as learning to search for them.

When evaluating primary sources, ask the following questions:

  • How does the author know these details? Was she or he present at the event or soon on the scene?
  • Where does this information come from - personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others?
  • Are the author's conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or has the author taken many sources into account?


The links below will take you to websites that will help you to assess whether the primary sources you find are appropriate for your research. 

Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

As you conduct your research you will encounter three types of sources: primary, secondary, and tertiary. This brief clip will help you understand the differences among these three types.

How to Find Primary Sources

The Internet provides access to an almost unimaginable number of primary sources. Click on the links below to discover a number of sites that contain valuable collections of these materials.

Why Should I Use Primary Sources?

You should incorporate primary resources into your research for a number of reasons:

•  Scholarly research should be based on fact and observation, which involves the use of primary sources.

•  Primary resources encourage you to form your own opinions, based on the facts.  They also help you understand how people felt, at the time, about an event or about other individuals.

•  Using primary sources demonstrates to your professor that you have done the research required to produce a quality paper. It also shows that you are able to take the facts, interpret them, and draw your own conclusions, rather than simply regurgitate other people's work.

•  You generally will produce a better-quality paper if you use primary sources to back up your thesis statement.

In most cases a mixture of sources produces a more substantial paper. Therefore, you should use primary and secondary sources; scholarly and popular; paper and electronic, ideas and artifacts; fact and fiction, etc.

Reproduced with permission from Carol Oshel, Reference Librarian, Eugene McDermott Library, UT Dallas.

What are Primary Sources?

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are documents or physical objects which were created--in many formats--during the time an event happened. We can think of it as a "first-hand testimony." Examples of primary sources (hover over any in bold face to see an image from Adelphi Archives and Special Collections!):

Collections., manuscripts, correspondence Letter from Gertrude Stein to Albert S. Kelley, circa 1940s. Albert Kelley, who was chairman of Adelphi’s Art Department, met Gertrude Stein while


. ,


Secondary sources offer evaluation, discussion, or analysis on primary sources and are usually created some time after the original time of the event. Examples of secondary sources:

  • biographies
  • books, magazine, journal, or newspaper articles about people or events
  • editorials
  • discussions, commentary, and analyses of primary sources
  • book, film, theatre reviews
  • literature reviews
  • textbooks

The key to determining whether an item may be considered to be a primary source is to ask how soon after the event was the information recorded. This can be a problem with an autobiography, memoir, reminiscence, etc., if the author is working several years with only the memory of what happened. If you're not sure whether something is an acceptable primary source, ask your professor.

U.S. National Archives Administration home page provides helpful information when starting archival (primary source) research.