WR 327 Technical Report Writing: Evaluating Your Sources

Making Your Report Credible

Evaluating the authority, reliability, currency, and usefulness of your research sources is critical in providing a successful report. Will you be basing your argument on the findings of an expert? Is the information you're relying on current? Are you making claims that are consistent with the findings and intent of the sources you're drawing upon?

All these are questions that you should engage when you evaluate the sources you use for your report. The resources on this page will help you do that.  Should you want to really dig in, take the time to review the Library's self-paced tutorial, Evaluate Your Resources.

 

The C.R.A.P. Test in Action Video: Articles

This video demonstrates how you can use the C.R.A.P. test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate articles.

The C.R.A.P. Test in Action Video: Websites

This video demonstrates how you can use the C.R.A.P. test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate websites.

Handout: The C.R.A.P. Test

C.R.A.P. is short for

C. Currency

R. Reliability

A. Authority

P. Purpose/Point of View

Applying the C.R.A.P. Test to a source, such as a book, article, or website,  is one way to evaluate the quality and value of it before you start writing your paper. The quality of your final research project is related to the quality of the sources you use. Check out this handout about the C.R.A.P. test.

Scholarly, Professional, Popular?

When you have a research assignment , note what types of articles are required evidence for your thesis or question. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals while others might allow professional or trade journals and newspapers.

Scholarly article - Peer-reviewed or scholarly articles are written by an expert or scholar in the field and reviewed by peers who are experts in the same subject.

Professional/trade article - Trade or professional journals have articles written by experts in the field or by staff writers. The articles are reviewed by the editor. The articlesusually do not include reference lists.

Popular journals - Popular journals or magazines are written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars. Examples include the New Yorker, National Geographic, and the Rolling Stone.

Critically Evaluating in depth questions

INITIAL APPRAISAL

A. Author

What are the author's credentials--institutional affiliation (where he or she works), educational background, past writings, or experience? Is the book or article written on a topic in the author's area of expertise? You can use the various Who's Who publications for the U.S. and other countries and for specific subjects and the biographical information located in the publication itself to help determine the author's affiliation and credentials.
Has your instructor mentioned this author? Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Respected authors are cited frequently by other scholars. For this reason, always note those names that appear in many different sources.
Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization? What are the basic values or goals of the organization or institution?
B. Date of Publication

When was the source published? This date is often located on the face of the title page below the name of the publisher. If it is not there, look for the copyright date on the reverse of the title page. On Web pages, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom of the home page, sometimes every page.
Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? Topic areas of continuing and rapid development, such as the sciences, demand more current information. On the other hand, topics in the humanities often require material that was written many years ago. At the other extreme, some news sources on the Web now note the hour and minute that articles are posted on their site.


C. Edition or Revision

Is this a first edition of this publication or not? Further editions indicate a source has been revised and updated to reflect changes in knowledge, include omissions, and harmonize with its intended reader's needs. Also, many printings or editions may indicate that the work has become a standard source in the area and is reliable. If you are using a Web source, do the pages indicate revision dates?

D. Publisher

Note the publisher. If the source is published by a university press, it is likely to be scholarly. Although the fact that the publisher is reputable does not necessarily guarantee quality, it does show that the publisher may have high regard for the source being published.

E. Title of Journal

Is this a scholarly or a popular journal? This distinction is important because it indicates different levels of complexity in conveying ideas.  

Content derived from Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis (released under a Creative Commons 4.0 CC BY NC SA license)
Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA

Critical Analysis of the Content

CONTENT ANALYSIS

Having made an initial appraisal, you should now examine the body of the source. Read the preface to determine the author's intentions for the book. Scan the table of contents and the index to get a broad overview of the material it covers. Note whether bibliographies are included. Read the chapters that specifically address your topic. Reading the article abstract and scanning the table of contents of a journal or magazine issue is also useful. As with books, the presence and quality of a bibliography at the end of the article may reflect the care with which the authors have prepared their work.

A. Intended Audience

What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?  

B. Objective Reasoning

Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda? It is not always easy to separate fact from opinion. Facts can usually be verified; opinions, though they may be based on factual information, evolve from the interpretation of facts. Skilled writers can make you think their interpretations are facts.
Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Assumptions should be reasonable. Note errors or omissions.
Are the ideas and arguments advanced more or less in line with other works you have read on the same topic? The more radically an author departs from the views of others in the same field, the more carefully and critically you should scrutinize his or her ideas.
Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Is the language free of emotion-arousing words and bias?


C. Coverage

Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.
Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources. For example, if you were researching Konrad Adenauer's role in rebuilding West Germany after World War II, Adenauer's own writings would be one of many primary sources available on this topic. Others might include relevant government documents and contemporary German newspaper articles. Scholars use this primary material to help generate historical interpretations--a secondary source. Books, encyclopedia articles, and scholarly journal articles about Adenauer's role are considered secondary sources. In the sciences, journal articles and conference proceedings written by experimenters reporting the results of their research are primary documents. Choose both primary and secondary sources when you have the opportunity.


D. Writing Style

Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented? Do you find the text easy to read, or is it stilted or choppy? Is the author's argument repetitive?

E. Evaluative Reviews

Locate critical reviews of books in a reviewing source, such as the Articles & Full Text [Summon] Advanced Search,  Book Review Index, Book Review Digest, and ProQuest Research Library. Is the review positive? Is the book under review considered a valuable contribution to the field? Does the reviewer mention other books that might be better? If so, locate these sources for more information on your topic.
Do the various reviewers agree on the value or attributes of the book or has it aroused controversy among the critics?
For Web sites, consider consulting this evaluation source from UC Berkeley.

 

Content derived from Critically Analyzing Information Sources: Critical Appraisal and Analysis (released under a Creative Commons 4.0 CC BY NC SA license)
Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA