Primary and secondary sources form the backbone of research. It is essential to carefully evaluate different resources and their relevance, creating credibility around a research endeavor. Evaluating sources is essential to ensure resources are allocated appropriately, and the research findings are relevant in the field of study under which the research is undertaken.1
Definition: Evaluating sources
Evaluating sources refers to the process of putting different research sources under scrutiny. Evaluating sources is the main component of the initial stages of research, such as a literature review, where researchers identify and analyze the available materials before a research undertaking.
Evaluating sources involves determining
- the credibility of a source,
- its relevance to the study,
- and assessing the arguments presented in the source.
It is important to formulate a research topic and understand it comprehensively when evaluating sources.2
Evaluating sources: Credibility
Assessing the credibility of a source is important to avoid inaccuracy or misrepresentation of facts. Evaluating sources aims to filter available sources to identify accurate and verifiable information. Some of the methods of evaluating sources include:
The CRAAP test is one of the most commonly used techniques for evaluating sources. The acronym CRAAP stands for:
||Is the source consistent with recent research on the topic?|
||Does the source relate to the topic of research?|
||Is the source from a respected institution or an expert in the area of study?|
|Accuracy:||Does the source present convincing evidence for its proposed ideas or arguments?|
||What does the author intend to convey?|
Evaluating sources using the CRAAP criteria depends on the research topic. Researchers should know the various types of sources and how they apply to the specific field when evaluating sources.
Lateral reading refers to evaluating sources by comparing them to other sources on the research topic. This enables a researcher to:
- Cross-check evidence
- Put the information in context
- Find any gaps, weaknesses, or inconsistencies in the source3
Evaluating sources: Relevance
Selecting the relevance of a source comes down to the research topic and scope of the study. Evaluating sources during the early stages of research helps to eliminate irrelevant sources and identify the relevant ones.4
In most cases, researchers have many potential sources. In the interest of time, personnel, and other resources, researchers are limited to only a few sources as it is impossible to evaluate every potential source. A preliminary evaluation is an elimination process to identify the sources that are more likely to be relevant to the research topic.5
You can do a para textual analysis, i.e., an overview of other material outside the author’s main ideas within a source rather than the text itself. This can be done by:
- Studying the table of contents to identify the main areas discussed in the text.
- Reviewing key terms in the index or names of reputable scholars involved in the publication of the work.
Additionally, you can analyze the preface, abstract, and conclusions in a source. Reading these areas when evaluating sources should convey a general idea of the argument proposed in the text, the scope of the work, and notable conclusions by the authors.
The benefits of preliminary evaluation in evaluating sources include:
- Ascertaining if a source should be shortlisted for an in-depth analysis.
- Saving time by identifying relevant sources faster.
- Ensuring quality sources are used for research.
When evaluating sources from online platforms, sort your results by “relevance”. This will present results that conform to the number of times a source has been used, keywords, and other metrics that reliably provide the most relevant results. However, the results should be treated as an initial step for evaluating sources further.
A good approach for in-depth evaluation is to examine watershed studies in your field of study in conjunction with sources that have been earmarked as relevant to the research topic. When determining links between the sources, highlight the following:
|Notable debates||Which issues have an effect on current research? How does your source align with these debates?|
|Key publications or oppositions||Which publications or critics have transformed the field? How does your source respond to their ideas?|
|Trends||What are the dominant themes influencing current research? What is the relationship between your source and these trends?|
|Existing gasps||Can you identify any gaps in the research?|
It is important to also consider sources you disagree with, as they may offer an alternate conclusion that may solidify your argument.6
Evaluating sources: The final steps
Sources that appear vague in their conclusions may not offer the in-depth conclusions that a credible research publication should portray. The conclusions by the authors should be backed by evidence from the applied research methods.
Researchers should evaluate how authors use primary and secondary sources in their arguments. A valid argument should illustrate a logical relationship between supporting evidence and findings based on critique and analysis. You can determine the strength of an argument by asking the following questions:
- Does the presented evidence support the argument?
- Which models or theories does the author use to present the evidence?
- Where does the author stand in his arguments? Does he concur, support or oppose other arguments proposed by other scholars?7
Evaluating sources is based on evaluating a source’s arguments, relevance and credibility. This ensures the best sources are used to inform research.
The CRAAP test is a method of evaluating the credibility of sources. It is a good technique for flagging misinformation and assessing the eligibility of a source.
A credible source should initially pass the CRAAP test. Furthermore, the source should be from a trusted and unbiased authority or scholar in the field.
You can analyze the preface, abstract and conclusion. Examine the table of contents for keywords that apply to your research topic.
Begin by doing a preliminary review. If the source matches other criteria, such as the validity of its argument and credibility, you can subject it to an in-depth review.
1 Columbia College. “APA Citation Guide (7th edition): Newspaper Articles.” Septmeber 7, 2022. https://columbiacollege-ca.libguides.com/apa/newspapers.
2 Easybib. “How to Cite a Newspaper Artivle in MLA.” October 31, 2011. https://www.easybib.com/guides/citation-guides/mla-format/how-to-cite-a-newspaper-mla.
3 The University of Western Australia. “Chicago referncing style: Indtroduction.” October 21, 2022. https://guides.library.uwa.edu.au/Chicago_referencing.
4 Columbia College. “Chicago Citation Guide (17th Edition): Newspaper Articles.” October 19, 2022. https://columbiacollege-ca.libguides.com/chicago/newspapers.