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Service Learning Research: Critical Search Tips

Evaluating Sources

Information on google is vast! You MUST evaluate your sources.

The free web is chock full of great information, but it can be difficult to sift through the sheer amount of results to find meaningful information that is reliable, accurate, and top quality. For that reason, be aware that you'll need to evaluate your sources with a more keen lens than you would with library sources.

Below are a few hints to becoming a more critical researcher, especially when you are searching the free web.


Use CRAAP detection to evaluate sources

  • Currency: When was it written?
  • Relevance: Does it answer questions you need answered?
  • Authority: Is the author or creator an expert in the field? Is there an author listed?
  • Accuracy: Is it accurate? Do the authors cite their sources?
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the site?

Click here for more on CRAAP

Politically Varied Sources

Advanced Searcing

Google can offer you, the researcher, a lot more than a simple results list based on a keyword search.

The basic Google search assumes AND between each word.

  • For example, San Francisco education assessment testing will find sites with all the words listed words.  Use OR if you want either of two terms e.g., San Francisco education assessment OR testing.
  • Use quotes to search words as a phrase, e.g., "San Francisco education" 
  • Use minus sign to eliminate undesirable words, e.g., San Francisco education assessment -testing

Use site to find certain types of sites, e.g., site: gov or site: edu

Use filetype to find specific formats, e.g., filtetype: pdf or filetype: doc

Use intitle to find sites where words are in title of the page, e.g., intitle: google search tips
This may help you find more relevant results

Use the advanced search to narrow your results using the above tips and more and get better results!

How to do it: click on the gear on the right side of the results page.


Wikipedia can be a useful site for finding information, however, it (along with other broad encyclopedias like WorldBook or Britannica) is not cited as a scholarly source.

What does that mean?

  1. Wikipedia is a tertiary source, a consolidation of primary and secondary sources. Whe you are conducting scholarly research, we expect you to be doing that consolidation!
  2. Wikipedia is edited and added to by many different contributers. This can lead to very lengthy articles that include mintutia about your topic that may not be relevant to your research. Because there are so many editors, the articles are not cohesive, making them more difficult to read.
  3. Sometimes information on wikipedia can be unreliable, depending on the topic.

If you really love wikipedia...

I advise students to use wikipedia to find basic information. Later, after you've collected background information from better sources like Health and Wellness, you may chose to revisit wikipedia to find more sources in the referneces section of the page. By this time you will have developed your own expertise on the topic and will be better equipped to sift through wikipedia's information.