Introduction to Source Analysis

Evaluate methods of analysis to assess the quality and reliability of sources

Doing research graphic analyzeImagine that you have been asked to write an article for your university newspaper about what we’ve learned in the 30 years since the Chernobyl Disaster (when an explosion in 1986 at nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union released radioactive particles into the air over much of the USSR and western Europe). You’ve already done some basic research on Wikipedia, then used Google scholar to investigate some more of the health effects. Finally, you searched in your university health, science, and medicine databases to learn specifics about the impact of the disaster.

How do you know which sources are worth using in your article? How will you know if the sources are even good? Journalists famously cover the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why…and how) in their articles, and these similar questions can be used to evaluate your search results:

  • Who: Who is the author and what are his/her credentials in this topic?
  • What: Is the material primary or secondary in nature?
  • Where: Is the publisher or organization behind the source considered reputable? Does the website appear legitimate?
  • When: Is the source current or does it cover the right time period for your topic?
  • Why: Is the opinion or bias of the author apparent and can it be taken into account?
  • How: Is the source written at the right level for your needs? Is the research well-documented?

If you can answer all of these questions, you’ll understand more about the quality and usefulness of a source for your article.

Dirty radioactive sign handing from fence.In this section, you’ll learn more about tools like this that help you examine the usefulness and appropriateness of information for your research. You’ll use the CRAAP test to evaluate a source and consider techniques to help you synthesize pieces from multiple sources in your writing.

What You Will Learn to Do

  • evaluate┬ástrategies for evaluating the rhetorical context (author, purpose, audience) of a source
  • evaluate strategies for evaluating the authority, reliability, and effectiveness of a source
  • evaluate relationship between a potential source and the writing task
  • evaluate strategies for comparison and synthesis between multiple sources