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Research Tips: Web Sources

Evaluating web sources with The CRAAP Test

If you're not sure if a source is reliable, try applying The CRAAP Test, which was developed by librarians at California State University. This tests asks you to consider these elements of a source:

Currency - When was this source written? Does that date make sense for your topic?

Relevance - Does this information connect with your topic? Is the information at the right level (or is it too basic or complicated) for your topic and assignment?

Authority - Who wrote this, or what organization released this information? Do they have any special knowledge or expertise? What information can you get from the URL (is it a .org, .com, .gov site)?

Accuracy - Are there citations/links to sources? Can you verify the information they discuss with other sources? Does the article have frequent spelling or grammatical errors?

Purpose - Why was this piece written? For example, is the article meant to inform, entertain, change your mind, or sell a product?

Thinking about these questions can help you determine if the source will be useful for your research. For a full list of questions to ask yourself, review the CRAAP Test handout below. 

Using Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a really useful resource in everyday life, but it’s not usually a good fit for academic research. Because the page can be edited at any time, the information may not be correct, and the article may in fact change before your paper is due.

Wikipedia can still be a useful source, but you will use it differently in an academic context. Here are a few ways to utilize Wikipedia to help with your research projects:

  • Use it for background information – You can read the Wikipedia page to learn a bit more about a topic you don’t know very much about. You likely won’t be able to use and cite any of the information you find there, but it will help you come up with keywords and give you an idea of what kind of information there is.  
  • Narrowing your research topic – If you’re working with a fairly broad topic, sometimes it helps to focus on a sub-topic. Browsing through the Wikipedia page headings is a great way to look at aspects of the topic that might be more specific.
  • Use the references section – You may not be able to use Wikipedia as a source, but you can use the sources that are cited at the bottom! Most of the sources here are news articles and websites, so be selective on what sources you use, but this can be a great way to identify important developments and information on your topic.

Government documents online

National Institute of Mental Health - This website features information on mental health conditions including description of symptoms, treatments, and considerations for special population.

CIA World Factbook - This resource provides data on countries worldwide, including literacy and poverty rates, major imports and exports, and other economic and population information. 

Bureau of Labor Statistics - The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on occupations in the United States, including education requirements, median pay, how to prepare for the job market, and future trends in employment. 

Public Laws at Congress.gov - This site features the full text of enacted public laws, as well as timelines, summaries, and amendments for each law.

Department of Health & Human Services - The HHS website provides resources on HIPPAA, social service programs, public health information, and more.

National Center for Education Statistics - The NCES website includes statistics, reports, and more on topics that relate to students and teachers nationwide.

Smart Google searching

When you're searching in Google, you can search more critically by limiting the type of sites your results will come from. You can limit your results to just come from organizations (.org URLs) or government website (.gov URLs). To do this, just add "site: .org" or "site: .gov" after your keywords.
For example: Demographics of Paxton MA Site: .gov

You can also search the different branches of Google for more specific types of sources. If you do this, just make sure you evaluate the sources (and check your assignment) to make sure they're suitable for your research. Here are a few that can be useful to your research:

Online data and statistics

Pew Research - Pew Research is a non-partisan organization that does research on public opinion, demographics, and social trends in the United States.

Statista - Statista provides statistics on a variety of topics including consumer trends, business, and media. Note: We do not have the premium version of Statista, so not all statistics will be available. 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - This international economic organization releases data on topics such as health, education, environmental factors, and technology in countries worldwide.

The World Bank - The World Bank data provides country profiles on the economic standing of countries around the world. 

Fact-checking

Politifact - This organization fact-checks political claims from speeches, interviews, and press releases by linking to reputable research and reporting on what the person has stated in the past. You can browse their website by person, topic, or most recent claims. 

Snopes - Snopes is a helpful site for determining whether shared images and posts on social media are accurate.

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