The Importance of Secondary Sources

In research, secondary sources are often the easiest and most useful sources.  A good secondary source often uses multiple primary sources and then provides analysis of those sources — essentially, a secondary source does the exact kind of work you’re expected to do for a research writing assignment.

Evaluating Reliability

However, this does not mean all secondary sources are “good” sources.  Like all forms of writing, secondary sources are affected by the biases and limitations of their authors.  Before using a secondary source, you want to make sure it’s a reliable source.  For this, one useful tool is the CRAAP test.  And yes, it’s pronounced like that stuff you flush down the toilet.  Because some sources are.

The CRAAP Test

As explained by the Benedictine University Library, the CRAAP Test evaluates five aspects of source reliability:

I also recommend the CRAAP Test Video by Western University (also featured on the Benedictine website.)  It offers a quick rundown on these key concepts.

Now, let’s be clear: the CRAAP Test is only a starting point for evaluating your sources.  No source is ever perfect — instead, every source will fall somewhere on a spectrum of “useful,” “not useful,” and “flat out wrong.”  And yes, some sources will be wrong — some sources will provide information that is biased, incorrect, and possibly deceptive.  Even factual information can be misrepresented — or, to quote Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”