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Five Steps of the Research Process

Often you will complete these steps in the order provided; however, there may be times when you will need to return to a previous step or complete multiple steps simultaneously.

Evaluate Your Sources Using the CRAAP Test

The acroynm CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. You can use the CRAAP Test to help evaluate resources you find, including books, articles from newspapers, magazines, or journals, and websites. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. 

Key: * indicates criteria is for Web sources only


Questions to Ask


The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Is the information recent enough to be relevant to your research question. Why or why not?
  • How recently has the website been updated?*


The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • 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 the one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?


The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials, organizational affiliations, and/or other qualifications that make them an expert to write on this topic?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?  examples:  .com .edu .gov .org .net *


The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content.

  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Are there citations or a bibliography included?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
  • Do all the links work? *


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


The CRAAP Test was developed by librarians at California State University, Chino.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify if you are using a primary or secondary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own firsthand experiences or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples
A primary source is a first-person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. This original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.
  • First-person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • Diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.
  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography
A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.
  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog

Academic Journals

Also known as scholarly, refereed, or peer-reviewed journals. 

Appearance: Generally have a sober, serious look. May contain graphs and charts, but few glossy pages or photographs. Use scholarly language with vocabulary specific to their profession or field.

Audience: Written for academics and professionals.

Author/Authority: Articles written by researchers or scholars in the field who report the results of original research.

Citations: Articles include footnotes and a list of citations at the end of the article.

Content: Includes scholarly research for a particular profession or industry. Articles usually contain an abstract, methodology, discussion, charts or tables, results, conclusions, and references.

Frequency: Usually published bimonthly or quarterly.



General Interest Magazines

Appearance: Generally attractive and illustrated with color photographs.

Audience: Written for the general public.

Author/Authority: Articles written by staff or freelance writer.

Content: Includes current events and special features.

Frequency: Usually published weekly or monthly.



Trade Magazines

Also known as industry magazines.

Appearance: Generally attractive and are often illustrated with color photographs.

Audience: Written for industry professionals.

Author/Authority: Articles written by staff writers, though the magazine may sometimes accept articles from industry professionals.

Citations: Occasionally list references at the end of the article or provide footnotes within the text.

Content: Includes current events and special features within a particular profession or industry.

Frequency: Usually published biweekly or monthly.




Appearance: Generally printed on newsprint in black ink.

Audience: Written for the general public.

Author/Authority: Articles written by staff writers and freelance journalists.

Citations: Will sometimes cite sources, a scholar, or a freelance writer.

Content: Includes current events and special features.

Frequency: Usually published daily or weekly.