Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Westminster College Logo

HIS 410

Resources for HIS 410, specifically focused on Civil Rights in the North.

How do I know if a source is relevant to my topic?

Remember the CRAAP test from your first-year Inquiry class?

C - Currency: How recent was a source created/researched? Do you need items from a particular time period?

R - Relevance: Does the information in the source meet your needs? Is it the right type of source for your assignment?

A - Authority: What are the author’s credentials and expertise related to the topic?

A - Accuracy:

  • How does the source use data or craft arguments?
  • How do they back up their claims?
  • Are there factual inaccuracies?

P - Purpose: What is the intent of the author or sponsoring organization?


There may be thousands of articles that are from the correct time period, that are accurate, written with authority, and published by reputable journals with an academic purpose - but that doesn't mean they are relevant to your topic or your assignment. 

Relevance might be the most tricky part of the CRAAP test.  It really depends on your specific assignment, topic, and research question.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What are the specific requirements of your assignment? If you aren't sure, review your assignment carefully and speak to your professor.
  • Does this source directly address your research question? If not, you can choose to change your research question, or you may need to find a different source. 
  • Does it provide necessary background information on your topic?
  • Is it from an appropriate field/discipline for your assignment? (Example, if you are supposed to write about the psychological aspect of a topic, the economic aspect of the same topic may or may not be relevant). 

When in doubt, review your sources with your professor.

How do I make sure I'm understanding the source well enough to use it in my paper?

Reading and understanding academic sources can be one of the most challenging parts of the research process. Even if you're reading popular or general sources, close reading requires critical thinking and analysis. 

When you're reading, you'll want to try to understand the source on multiple levels.

  1. Understanding what individual words and sentences mean.
  2. Understanding what argument and the evidence presented.
  3. Understanding the context, audience, scope, and purpose.


This can be challenging, especially if you're trying to work on all three levels at once.

Ideally, you'll read a source three times, focusing on each element respectively in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd read-throughs.  This takes time, so it is best to start your research early. 

For more information on the three levels of understanding, see our Understanding Your Sources guide.

Taking Notes on Primary Source

Taking notes while reading is a very important part of doing research. Not only will this help you to understand and evaluate your source, having good notes will make writing your proposal, outline, and paper SO MUCH EASIER! 

What makes notes "good" (or effective)? 

Good notes should record all of the information you'll need when you cite the source as well as providing a space for you to reflect and evaluate what you've just read. Having this level of detail in your notes from the beginning will help you see how your sources fit together and relate to one another. 

Your notes should have three sections: Bibliographic information (Title, Author, Publisher), Contextual Notes, and Quotes (with page numbers!).

Contextual Notes - try to answer these questions about each of your Primary Sources

  • What is this about?
  • Who wrote this?
  • What is this a reflection of?
  • Why did the author write this?
  • What may have caused this?
  • What was the impact?
  • Why is this important?
  • What was the reaction to this at the time?
  • How do scholars think about this today?


There are many different formats and templates you can use to take notes and you should use what works best for you! If you don't currently have a favorite note-taking format, you can download the Primary Source Notes Template provided below.

Taking notes on Secondary Sources

You should follow the same practice of taking good notes (Bibliographic information (Title, Author, Publisher), Contextual Notes, and Quotes with page numbers) as you review your Secondary Sources. The only thing that changes is what type of questions you should be answering in your Contextual Notes section.

Contextual Notes - try to answer these questions about each of your Primary Sources

  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Why did they write this?
  • Does this reflect current scholarship or is it a past way of thinking?
  • What is the author saying?
  • Why are they saying it?
  • How are they making their case?
  • Do they acknowledge any biases or discuss any other viewpoints?


If you don't currently have a favorite note-taking format, you can download the Secondary Source Notes Template provided below.