All sources you find when engaging in research are part of an ongoing conversation about a particular topic. It's your job as a writer and researcher to evaluate your sources to determine their credibility and authority, and their contribution to the broader conversation.
"What is the impact of vaping on public health in the United States?"
Consider these questions as you examine the sources below.
This video from Penn State University explains how to use Wikipedia effectively as a starting point for you research, even if Wikipedia isn't considered an authoritative source.
For an assignment, you may be required to use (or not use) certain types of sources. Source types all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Use the chart below to learn about different types of sources and the information they contain.
|Source||Author||Audience||Best For||Watch for/Consider|
|Journalists, Columnists||General audience||
Daily local, national, and international news, events, and editorial coverage
Statistics and photojournalism
Record of events, and quotes from experts, officials, and witnesses
Authors not typically experts
If a story is breaking, corrections to initial report likely
Editorial bias of the publication
|Magazines||Columnists, freelance writers; little or no information about the authors provided||General audience, or those with a specific recreational interests (sports, fashion, science, etc)||
Short, easy to understand articles
Photographs and illustrations
Authors not usually expertsSources not always cited
|Scholarly/Academic Journals||A professional or expert in the field; usually has an advanced degree in the field||Scholars, researchers, professionals, and university students in the field; audience may have a broad knowledge or understanding of the specialized language||
In-depth research on a topic
Focused, peer-reviewed articles written by experts
Data, charts, and graphs
Bibliographies of other sources
Terminology or data may be difficult to understandMay be 10-40 pages long
|Books||Researcher or professional in the field; look for books published by university or scholarly presses||Varies (general audience through scholar)||
Comprehensive overview of a topic
Background and historical context
Bibliographies of other source
Dated informationBias (dependent on author, publisher, etc)
|Websites||Anyone; expertise or credibility cannot be assured||General audience||
Alternate points of view
Credibility and accuracy cannot be assured
Bias (dependent on author, publisher, etc)
Sources not always cited
Evaluating information, whether online or in print, is an essential step in the research process. The following criteria and questions -- known as the CRAAP Test* -- are useful to evaluating websites and other information sources.
|Currency||When was this book or article published, or when was the web page created or last updated? Do you need more current information? Do links on the site still connect to their destination?|
|Relevance||Is this source pertinent to your research topic? How can you use this information in your research? Could you provide a citation to this source in your research?|
|Accuracy||Does the information presented seem accurate? Are the facts verifiable from other sources? Does the author list his or her sources?|
|Authority||Who is the author? What expertise does he or she have on this topic? Who sponsors the publication or website? Checking the website address may indicate who sponsors that website.
|Purpose||Who is the intended audience? What is the stated purpose of the publication or website? What position or opinion is presented, and is it presented objectively or with a bias or agenda? For websites, check the "About..." link if there is one. What other websites does this one link to?|
* The CRAAP acronym and descriptions are from Meriam Library at California State University Chico. CRAAP Test from the Meriam Library website.
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