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HIS 420: Historiography

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?


Relevance

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.