The sources and evidence you select to use in an academic paper should be of a higher caliber than what you use in your daily life and need to be verifiable, accurate, objective and authoritative. Before integrating research into your paper, follow these guidelines to select the best sources and evidence from those sources to support the ideas in your paper.

 

Selecting a Source

When choosing sources, note that scholarly articles and books are considered appropriate for academic use, while other types of sources require further evaluation.  When evaluating research to use in an academic paper or professional documents, consider the following criteria and apply the C.R.A.A.P. test.

Currency: The timeliness of the information

As a general rule, choose sources published within the last five years when possible. While there are some exceptions to this rule, it is good practice to choose current sources to obtain the most up-to-date information about your topic.

Questions to ask:

  • Is this source current?
  • Does my topic require current information or will older resources work?

 

Relevance: The importance of the information to your needs

Sometimes a source may relate to your general topic, but not to the specific aspect that you are exploring. Choose sources that support the specific ideas you are addressing.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the source relevant to the specific aspect of my topic?
  • Is this source right for an adult and educated audience?

 

Authority: The Source of the Information

Read an author’s bio or a publication’s “About Us” page to find out more information about an author or publication. A quick Internet search can also help you find out more information about the reliability of an author, organization, or publication. The URL can also provide insight into the source of information.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Is this organization or publication qualified to write on this topic?
  • What makes this author or organization reliable and credible?

 

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

Use sources that contain verifiable facts to support the information provided. Look to see if the source includes citations that show where the author obtained the information used in the publication.

Questions to ask:

  • Is this information reliable and supported by evidence?
  • Is the information biased? Is the information factual or emotion-based?
  • Has the information been reviewed by other experts?

 

Purpose: The reason the information exists

Use sources that provide fact-based information rather than opinion-based information. Avoid biased materials that are tied to a commercial product or political campaign, for example. Avoid emotional arguments that are not supported by facts. It can be helpful to examine the advertisements (if any) or endorsements associated with the source to see if the publisher has something financial to gain by presenting the information.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the purpose of this information?
  • Is the author or organization biased and attempting to persuade the audience of his or her point of view?
  • Does the information attempt to sell you a product or ideology?
  • Does the author have something to gain by providing this information?

To view an interactive tutorial on choosing the best sources, view this library tutorial on Evaluating Sources.

Evaluating Sources

 

Selecting Evidence from a Source

Now that you have credible and relevant sources, be sure to select the best evidence from these sources by evaluating and critiquing the evidence itself.

Here are the different types of evidence found in sources and questions to consider for each:

Statistics refers to data collected such as numbers and percentages. Numbers may seem like hard facts, but they still must be considered and interpreted to know if they are useful and accurate.

Questions to ask:

  • Are the statistics recent? Statistics change over time.
  • Is the source of the statistics credible and unbiased? Don’t believe everything you read. Be skeptical first.
  • How do the statistics relate to your claim? Do they support the argument you are making?

An expert opinion refers to someone who is an expert on the topic and his or her conclusions or decisions about the topic. An example of an expert would be a heart doctor who is discussing heart health.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the person/organization an expert on this topic? Find out more about the person’s credentials.
  • Is the person/organization unbiased or do they have something to gain from their opinion? Be skeptical about why this person or organization is trying to persuade you.

Research studies refer to research that was done by a person or group to test a theory or to reach some conclusions about a research question.

Questions to ask:

  • How recent was this research study done? The data may change over time.
  • Who did this research study and are they credible and unbiased? Again, be skeptical first.
  • How does this research study relate to the claim you are making? Be sure it supports your specific claim and isn’t just related to your overall topic.

Historical evidence refers to a situation in the past that works to support a claim about a current situation. Or this evidence could also be a physical artifact that works to support a claim.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the historical situation similar enough to the current situation? It should be relevant and similar enough so that it supports your claim.
  • Is this historical event or artifact a single isolated occurrence? If so, is this information enough to support your claim? A single occurrence is likely not enough to establish efficient support.

Anecdotes refer to personal stories about yourself or another person.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the anecdote a highly unlikely occurrence, or is it something that regularly occurs to others, too? A very isolated occurrence cannot act to support a claim. It needs to be common enough to show that it could continue to happen.
  • Is the anecdote similar enough to the situation you are writing about? Be sure there are no other factors at work that could have led to the anecdote.