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SOAN 101: Introduction to Sociology: Evaluating Sources

Types of Sources: Popular and Scholarly

Scholarly sources present sophisticated, researched arguments using both primary and secondary sources and are written by experts. Journals are examples of scholarly sources.

Popular sources aim to inform or entertain and are intended for a general, non-specialized audience.  In academic writing, popular sources most often are analyzed as primary sources. Magazines are examples of  popular sources.

To determine the difference between these two types of sources, ask yourself:

  • Who reads them?
  • Who writes them?
  • Who decides what gets published in them?
  • What's in them?
  • What do they look like?
  • When are they available?
  • What can you use them for?

 

Types of Sources: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

For your research assignments, professors may request that you use different types of sources, including primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources are the raw materials of research. They provide firsthand access to words, images, or objects created directly by the persons involved in the activity or event. The value of primary sources is that they allow the researcher to get as close as possible to the original work. It is important to note that the types of information that can be considered primary sources may vary depending on the subject discipline, and also on how you are using the material. Time is also a defining element.

Primary Source Examples: works of art, music, fiction or poetry, statistics, original scientific research, letters, diaries, and interviews.

Secondary sources discuss, report on, or provide commentary about primary sources. They are important to researchers as they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources.

Secondary Source Examples: journal, magazine & newspaper articles, biographies, monographs.

Tertiary sources  present summaries, condense, or collect information from primary and/or secondary sources. They can be a good place to look up facts, get a general overview of a subject, or locate primary and secondary sources.

Tertiary Source Examples: encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, handbooks, timelines, bibliographies.

 

 

The CAARP Test

The CAARP Test

The CAARP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.  Many of these questions can be applied to books, journal articles and/or web sites.

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 or academic discipline?
  • Are any links functional?

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 given?
  • 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 or plausibility of the information

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Is there a bibliography of consulted sources and/or notes?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic?
  • 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?

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? argument? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Adapted from CSU Chico

 

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Andrea Klyn
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