It is important that we understand that not all information is equal. We need to be selective when it comes to information sources. Just because you find it in print or online, do not assume that it is accurate or reliable. It is shown that students have difficulty determining fact from opinion and need help sharpening their critical thinking skills when using and evaluating information sources (Hough 2011; OECD 2011).
Primary Verses Secondary Sources
The most important point to note when using information sources is that primary sources are most reliable.
What's the difference?
Primary Source: A first-hand, original account, record, or evidence about a person, place, object, or an event. Examples of primary sources: Oral histories, objects, photographs, and documents such as newspapers, ledgers, census records, diaries, journals, and inventories, scientific reports and results of experiments.
Secondary Source: An account, record, or evidence derived from an original or primary source. Examples of secondary sources: Textbooks, analysis of a clinical trial, biographies, newspaper articles that interpret, publications about the significance of research or experiments.
Criteria for Evaluating Information Sources
Is it to inform, to present opinions, to report research or to sell a product? For what audience is it intended: general public? children? scholars?
Is the information RELEVANT or suitable for my purpose?
Is the information relevant to the question at hand? Is the information suitable to my age and academic level? Is the depth of coverage adequate?
Who is the AUTHOR?
Are the author's qualifications or experience given? Are they an expert in their field? What credentials or special knowledge does he/she have? Does the author have a certain bias? Are references provided?
Who is the PUBLISHER?
Is it published by an academic institution such as a university? Is the information published by a government agency or by a large commercial publisher, a non-profit organisation or a business? The publisher may give clues as to the reliability and/or bias of the information presented. What does the URL tell you?
How CURRENT or up to date is this information?
Are the statistics and facts cited in the source up to date? Is it current? Is there a "last updated" date shown on the web page?
Is the information ACCURATE? Should I believe this information? What authority does it have?
Does it contain documented facts or personal opinion? Is bias evident? Are there any footnotes, bibliographies, or lists of references that let you check the accuracy of statistics or factual information? Is the documentation from published sources or personal webpages?
What can I tell from an Internet address?
Looking at URL of a website (.com .edu .org .gov etc.) will often tell you something about what kind of website you're visiting. This provides a clue about how trustworthy or objective the information might be.
Examples of sources that are often the most credible:
- Official government websites
- Institutional sites that represent universities, regulatory agencies, governing bodies, and respected organisations with specific expertise
- Peer-reviewed journals
- Reputable news sources
To find out more and to take the online quiz see:
References and further reading
California State University. (2010) Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test. Retrieved from: http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf
Gettysburg College. (2014) How to Evaluate Resources. Retrieved from:
Hough, M. (2011). Libraries as iCentres: Helping Schools. ACCESS, 25(1) 5-9.
OECD (2011), Pisa 2009 Results: Students online: Digital Technologies and Performance, (Volume VI). Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved from: http://www.ecdl.org/media/PISA_2009_Results.pdf
Teacher Tap. (2013) Evaluating Internet Sources. Retrieved from:
Virginia Tech. (2014) Evaluating internet information. Retrieved from:
Cathy Costello 2015