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Legal Resources Subject Guide: Research Help

Evaluating Resources

When using resources from the web, you must carefully evaluate the source before utilizing its content. The following criteria can help you evaluate resources: 

Domain - The quality of information and the type of URL are interrelated. A ".gov" or ".edu" URL is more trustworthy than a ".com" or ".net". A ".org" URL will require deeper investigation, as it then depends on the type of organization. 

Authority - Is the author's name visible? What are the author's credentials? Is contact information for the author available?

Currency - Is the website up to date? Websites with information that is updated regularly are preferable to those that are left out-of-date or recycled too often. 

Bias - Anyone can create informational content online. Look out for a works cited list and advertisements to evaluate the bias and possible inaccuracies in the information. 

Origin - How did you find this source? Was it recommended by a faculty member, cited in a scholarly journal article, or linked by another trustworthy website? Where you got this information can indicate how reliable it might be. 

Functionality - If the website contains broken links, is difficult to navigate, and malfunctions often, then it reflects poorly on the credibility of the information. 

How do you know if you have found reliable information? The CRAAP Test is a list of questions that you can use to evaluate the information that you find.

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)

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

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Scholarly vs. Popular Resources

Scholarly sources, typically academic journals and articles, are written by researchers and/or experts in a field and undergo the peer-review process before being published. The peer-review process requires authors to submit their research to a publisher who will then share their work with other experts in the same field to review and evaluate. These experts will then determine if the information the author is presenting is credible. 

Examples of scholarly sources include:

  • Journal of American History

  • Psychological Review

  • Nature

  • Annals of the National Academy of Science‚Äč

  • Journal of the American Medical Association

Popular sources, typically periodicals such as magazines and newspapers, are written by journalists and/or staff who often write about a broad range of topics without necessarily being an expert on that topic. Outside of an editor making sure the article is well-written and some basic fact-checking, there is not an extensive process regarding what information gets published. Information found in a magazine or newspaper may still be trustworthy and accurate, but additional evaluation is needed.

Examples of popular sources include:

  • The New York Times

  • Newsweek

  • National Geographic

  • Psychology Today

  • Wall Street Journal

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Additional research materials may be found freely and openly through Open Educational Resources (OER). Please watch the following video learn about what OER are and how to use OER. For recommended resources and for more information, visit our Open Educational Resources (OER) page.

Video: What Are OER? Created by Algonquin College Library under a Creative Commons license via YouTube.

Books on Research