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Reading at university: Source reliability

"Since so many of our beliefs are based on what other people tell us, in writing, on TV or by word of mouth, [we need] to know how to decide who to believe and in what circumstances"

Alec Fisher, Critical thinking: an introduction

Generally speaking, if you are undertaking reading for your assignments you will focus on peer-reviewed journal articles, books and reputable websites. Depending on your course of study you may also have to read other official material such as law cases, government papers, conference papers, policy documents etc.  Academic sources do not have to be written texts; you may need to refer to images, artwork, maps, film, TV broadcasts, music, podcasts, live performances etc.

Even apparently non-academic written sources such as newspapers, blogs, leaflets, social media feeds etc can be used in academic work as long as you are using them appropriately. For example, to gauge or demonstrate public opinion rather than as an authoritative voice. What is important is that you are able to use these sources critically, showing that you understand when to use them and why.


Evaluation of sources

To identify what sources are suitable for your academic work, you need to consider five important factors that determine source reliability. These are best summarised with the use of the CRAAP model. Working through this model will highlight several important questions that you must ask of any source you are using. 

Currency

When was your source written, developed or last updated?

Relevance

What audience and level is your source developed for? Does it link to your topic? 

Authority

Who wrote this source and who published it?

Accuracy

Does your source use appropriate, academic evidence?

Purpose

Why was your source written? Is there any bias in its purpose?