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Gordon-Conwell Writing Center

Choosing the Best Sources

So What?

Most academic writing and many types of non-academic texts require the integration of outside support as justification for a writer’s ideas. But not just any support will suffice. A writer must evaluate the strength of every source to determine its effectiveness. Failure to properly evaluate sources means a writer might end up with weak support, which reduces the logic and credibility of a writer’s ideas. If a writer wants to be taken seriously, then he/she must be serious about evaluating support. 

Summarized Explanation

  • Evaluate sources using the CRAAB test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Bias).

Detailed Explanation

Currency Relevance Authority Accuracy Bias

Is the source current? The age of a source must be current for the given topic. Timeliness is relative. For example, writing about a historical topic may allow for older sources. However, writing about a current event will likely require contemporary information. If a source is not current enough, then look for other sources by the same author to see if there are more recent publications.

Is the source relevant? The subject matter of a source must be relevant for the given topic. It is important that a source supports a writer’s ideas in a fluid way. If a source is not relevant enough, then keep looking. Do not settle for a mediocre source that must be forcefully integrated and seems out of place. Sources should contribute to the text in a seamless way, and each source should have a clear purpose.

Is the source authoritative? The author of a source must be authoritative. The authority of a source can be determined in many ways. For example, consider the author’s credentials, education, background, and other published work. The author must be an expert on the topic. Note that journalists typically are not experts on a topic. And oftentimes, there may not be a clear author. In that case, evaluate the authority of the group or organization that has published the source.

Is the source accurate? The information presented in the source must be accurate. Nowadays, the prevalence of fake news and poorly reviewed publications requires writers to thoroughly check the accuracy of a source before using it. Consider if the author has included references so that the information can be easily verified. The information in a source should be substantiated elsewhere by other authoritative sources. Also consider if a source has been peer reviewed. Lastly, you might check how many times the source has been cited or downloaded (if this information is available). Is the source biased? The tone of the source must be objective. Many authors have ulterior motives and, therefore, do not present well-rounded arguments. Even scholarly, peer-reviewed articles can be biased. It is important to consider the author’s purpose. The information should be presented in a fair, neutral, impartial tone. And it is important to note if the author has included counterarguments for his/her ideas. If none are provided, the source might be biased. Furthermore, as you skim the text, pay attention to the types of evidence that the author uses as well as any logical fallacies or potential conflicts of interest.