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HCTC Library Orientation and Research Guide: Evaluate Your Sources

This guide is meant to help HCTC library users locate and use library resources and aid them in their research.

Learning Activities

CRAAP Test: Determining Quality of Information

Depending on your information need, use the following criteria to determine if a source is providing good information. 

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?
  • 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 .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? 
For more help, check out HCTC Library's Evaluating Sources Guide .

Peer Review v. Popular Sources

Characteristics of a Scholarly Source:

  • Peer-Reviewed, articles have been approved by professionals within the same field
  • Author of source generally has a degree on topic/subject they are writing
  • Intended for audience with basic understanding of topic/subject
  • Sources are cited
  • Text/Graphic Dense

Example of a Scholarly Source:

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Advances in Wound Care: The Journal for Prevention and Healing

  • Available through online database
  • Indicates it is peer-reviewed
  • An online search of an author's name reveals he has a medical degree (related to subject of journal)
  • Few ads, ads present are related to the subject or professional field associations

Characteristics of a Popular Source:

  • Prioritizes profit-prolific advertising
  • Intended for general audience who may not have basic understanding of topic/subject
  • Does not cite sources as a rule
  • Author may not be considered authoritative or credible on topic/subject
  • Picture dense

Example of a Popular Source:

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National Geographic

  • Many ads by popular mainstream companies selling products like cameras, alcohol, and insurance
  • Mix of authoritative authors and authors with little subject authority
  • No indication of peer-review
  • Many pictures with short articles
  • Few to no cited sources


What's in a Scholarly Article?

A scholarly journal article contains several important elements that identify it as scholarly and/or credible for academic research. A scholarly article will usually display the journal title, volume, issue, publication year, and page range somewhere in the margins of the article. It may also include an ISSN number which is a code used to identify that article. The article title and authors will also be displayed prominently on a title page or at the top of the article. Also included in the beginning of a scholarly article, the authors or publishers will include an abstract. An abstract is a summary of the article and is useful for determining if the article may be pertinent to the reader’s information need. The article may also be identified by a DOI or a digital object identifier. The DOI is a string of alphanumeric figures used to link an article to a location like a URL. Another important element of a scholarly article is a section devoted to keywords. The authors pull out keywords that aid in creating metadata as well as providing readers with terms for further research. Finally, scholarly articles will contain in-text citations which are name or organizations in parentheses followed by a year or page number indicating the author(s) have used information previously published or created by someone else to support their research. These in-text citations can be matched to the full source citation in the author’s works cited or references section.

Active Reading


  • Look for keywords and phrases
  • Annotate
  • Think critically about the information you read (i.e. Who is the author? When was it written? Who is the intended audience? etc.).
  • Practice putting the information that you have found in your own words and in your own context.  Also, try sharing the information with a friend to make sure that your interpretation is understandable and accessible.

More tips:

Sometimes it is not practical to read an entire book when only a chapter is devoted to the information you are seeking.

Practice skimming, keyword searches, and review tactics.

Popular Internet Search Resources

Can I use Google for research (or Bing, Yahoo, etc.)?

 Yes, but proceed with caution.

  • Google was cited for a faulty algorithm (along with Facebook) which elevated fake news websites to the top of users' search results.
  • Additionally, there is no guarantee what type of resources Google will return and few top results are likely to be scholarly.
  • Google also allows websites to purchase prime real estate at the top of search results and these will be labeled as "Sponsored." Sponsored links are typically websites in which the company running the site is expecting a ROI, meaning they are probably trying to sell you something.

What to use instead of Google:

  • Google Scholar (not available as a HCTC Database but can be accessed online)
  • Academic Search Complete
  • Academic OneFile
  • Opposing Viewpoints In Context


Can I use Wikipedia as a source?


  • The ability of anyone to edit Wikipedia articles makes this a useful tool for background research but it is without credibility on its own to cite in an academic assignment (unless the assignment is catered towards using Wikipedia).
  • The References section at the end of a Wikipedia article can be a prime spot to find credible sources.
  • Wikipedia is typically the first link (below Sponsored links) on a Google results list so it is a popular general information use tool. 

What to use instead of Wikipedia:

  • Oxford Reference
  • Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia

Academia Online

Chances are you have noticed every organization has a social media account from which they engage with their users and the world at large. They do this through sharing outside articles, images, recommending books, movies, etc. They also share original content on platforms such as blogs, Facebook statuses, Tweets, and Instagram.

These resources are not inherently unreliable because of the platform, if the authority of the author is still verifiable. The APA provides formatting for citing some of these nontraditional sources such as blogs, online forums and discussion boards, and podcasts. The trouble lies in verifying that authority on social media accounts. Public figures are allowed to verify their accounts which provides a public indicator of the validity of their credibility and identity.

On Facebook a verified account looks like this:

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A blue checkmark beside the account name will verify the figure is associated with who they are portraying.

Other social media platforms employ similar iconography to verify identity.

Not every academic is considered a public figure and may not be able to verify their accounts in this method. Some research on the individual (if named) may verify their education, publications, etc.

Open Source academic journals are growing in popularity and these are usually made freely available online, are peer-reviewed, and may be shared on social media or blogs by non-scholarly users (use is still subject to copyright laws and citation guidelines).