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America Transformed: Critical Search Tips

Evaluating Sources

You may have noticed that the tabs above do not include information on googling your topic for information aside from seeing what's out there (step 2 of the research process). 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, Urban teachers and I want you to use primarily library sources as you begin your research. When you've developed some expertise in your topic area, you can be a better googler, and be able to evaluate your sources with a more keen lens than you would at the beginning of the process.

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

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, Kennedy Cuban Missile Crisis will find sites with all four words.  Use OR if you want either of two terms e.g., Kennedy OR Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Use quotes to search words as a phrase, e.g., "Cuban Missile Crisis"
  • Use minus sign to eliminate undesirable words, e.g., Kennedy -Robert

Use site to find certain types of sites, e.g., site: gov or site: edu
Be careful: many .edu sites are written by students! Determine authority before reading a .edu source.

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 World Book or Britannica) is not cited as a scholarly source.

What does that mean?

  1. Wikipedia can be considered a tertiary source, which is a consolidation of primary and secondary sources. When you are conducting scholarly research, we expect you to be doing that consolidation!
  2. Wikipedia is edited and added to by many different contributors. This can lead to very lengthy articles that include minutia 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 like names or dates (Step 3 of the research process). Later, after you've collected background information from better sources like journal articles from JStor or Proquest, you may chose to revisit Wikipedia to find more sources in the references 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.