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Biosciences: Effective Library Research: 6. Evaluate your search results

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research.

Build in a quality control check to assess your research materials. You should always review your search results and assess them in terms of:

1. Relevance to your research topic. Refine your results to enhance relevance or try different search terms, search tips, databases

2.  Academic quality. Not all information is equal!

Critical evaluation is especially important with non academic sources (e.g. news sources).

A brief overview of relevance and academic quality issues is provided below.


A separate Evaluating Information Sources tutorial is also available and offers the opportunity to engage more deeply in academic quality issues.

Online Tutorial

Want to learn more? Click to try our online tutorial on Evaluating Information Sources.

Database filters: ProQuest example

Improving the relevance of your search results

Nearly all databases and search tools will give you a selection of filters on the search results page. Use these filters to help focus your results to the most relevant materials.

Typical database filters include:

  • Publication date: Limit results to those published in a relevant date range.
  • Source type: Filter results by type; e.g. academic journal, magazine, newspaper, conference paper, report, thesis etc.
  • Publication title: View results from specific publication (e.g 'Harvard Business Review').
  • Subject: Filter results by associated subject 'tags'.

Still not got the search results that you need? Try these three tips:

1) Be persistent - Keep trying different keywords and keyword combinations 

2) Use advanced search techniques  - try a range of search tips to tweak your search

3) Change databases - It is rare to find everything you need in one resource. If you are not finding the sources you need, try searching another resource. 

Evaluating sources: academic quality

The ability to evaluate the academic quality of the information you find is a core aspect of scholarly research. 

This is particularly important when searching online and using tools like Google. While textbooks and academic journals will likely have gone through a rigorous review and editing process, there are no such guarantees for much of the information you can find online.

The CRAAP test provides simple criteria for judging the academic quality of information. By asking some questions of the sources you encounter, you can successfully boost the quality of information you use in your work.

The five main CRAAP test criteria are:

  • Currency
  • Relevancy
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Purpose

In an age of misinformation and fake-news, the ability to  evaluate the quality of the information we find has never been more important. 

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the web links functional?

Relevancy: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate academic level?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Accuracy: the reliability and correctness of the content

  • Is the information supported by evidence (e.g. references, research data)?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Authority: the source of the information 

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organisational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

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