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Research Starter - McNair Scholars

This guide was created to help McNair scholars advance towards their goal of graduate education.

The C.R.A.P. Test

When choosing a resource, it is important to determine the credibility and reliability of that resource.  To do that, we recommend the CRAP test: 

Currency

  • What is the publication date?
  • and how does this date impact your topic of research?  
    • If you are evaluating a website, the publication or copyright date will help you determine if the site is current.  If you can't find a date on a website, beware; the information on the site might very well be out-of-date.  Broken links are another sign that the site has not been updated recently.  

Relevancy/Reliability

  • Does this resource actually deal with your topic?  
    • Be careful that you aren't choosing a resource just because it has your keyword somewhere in the title or contents.  Make sure the work has a substantial portion that directly addresses your research topic.
  • Does the resource provide references for included information?
  • When you are evaluating a website, web addressed that end in .gov and .org are typically more reliable than .com sites.  

Authority/Accuracy

  • Who is the author of the resource?  
  • Do they have substantial academic or professional experience and credentials that give them the authority to speak on this topic?
  • For websites, consider the organization associated with the site or publishing the site.

Purpose/Point-of-view

  • Why was this resource written?  To inform or persuade?  
  • Be aware of any bias that the author may have toward your subject that could taint the authority and reliability of the information provided in their work.  

Example

For example, let's perform the CRAP test on the following resource:

Bertini M, Tavassoli N. (2017). Case study: When you have to choose between core and new customers: An extreme sports company considers a VIP tier. Harvard Business Review, 95(5):143-147.

Research Topic: Promoting Customer Loyalty

Currency: This article was published in 2017, so it is very current. This article is going to provide up-to-date information pertaining to current customer loyalty initiatives. Depending on your research topic, you may want only the most current information. However, some aspects of research, such as looking at the history of customer loyalty initiatives, may require you to look at some older materials. So, the currency need of your sources depends heavily on your research topic.      

Relevancy/Reliability: The main subject headings of this article are customer loyalty and business expansion, both of which deal directly with our research which is concerned with promoting customer loyalty.  Another way to make certain that the resource is relevant to your research is to ensure that the resource's conversation centers around your topic, for example, an entire article should address your research topic or at least a whole chapter in a book.  Resources that only briefly mention your topic are not providing you with enough relevant information to truly impact your research. 

Authority/Accuracy:  It is important to know who is authoring the information you are reading.  Do they have the academic and/or professional experience to speak authoritatively about this subject area?  Authors that have academic and professional experience in the field they are writing about can be trusted to provide more accurate information.  

Sometimes, the article or book will provide a brief bio which informs us of the author's credentials.  This particular article does have that information (quoted below) and it appears that both of our authors hold faculty positions at business schools. If the resource you are evaluating does not provide biographical information about the author, perform an internet search for the author in order to learn a little bit more about them. 

  • "Marco Bertini is an associate professor and heads the marketing subject area at ESADE Business School."
  • "Nader Tavassoli is a professor of marketing at London Business School and the nonexecutive chairman of the Brand Inside."

Purpose/Point-of-view: This particular article was written to share with readers a case study that students in the authors' classes used to determine how best to go about maintaining satisfaction among loyal customers while also reaching out to new customers. As a result, we can be assured that this article was written to inform the audience about the topic being discussed.   

This resource has passed the CRAP test and can be confidently used as a credible and reliable resource for our research!

Primary vs. Secondary Resources

Sources are divided into two main groups; primary and secondary.  

Primary sources provide a firsthand account or insiders look at a specific person, a specific time period or a specific event.  If a primary source could speak to us it would say, “I was there; this is my experience or my experiment.”  Examples of primary sources include diaries, personal journals, autobiographies, memoirs, personal correspondence, interviews, speeches, newspaper articles or news footage from a specific time in history, official records, original photographs, creative works such as plays, poetry, music or art, and also original research data.  Primary sources can be documents, photographs, film or video footage, and objects/artifacts.

A secondary source is an interpretation or analysis of one or more primary sources.  If a secondary source could speak to us it would say, “I wasn’t there but I have researched, studied, and analyzed this topic and these are my thoughts on the matter.” Examples of secondary resources include such publications as biographies, commentaries, criticisms, textbooks, articles, and critical essays. 

Example:   

      

The first book on the left, I am Not Spock, was written by Leonard Nimoy and is his personal account of his experiences of portraying the character of Spock in the television series Star Trek.  The next book, Star Trek: Movie Memories, was written by William Shatner who portrayed the character of Captain James T. Kirk and discusses his experiences during the creation of the Star Trek films.  Each of these sources say to us, "I was there; this is my experience."  These are primary sources.

The last book, Star Trek as Myth, is a collection of essays about Star Trek.  This book is comprised of the different authors' interpretations and analysis of the mythology of the television series and films.  This book says to us, “I wasn’t there but I have researched, studied, and analyzed this topic and these are my thoughts on the matter.”  This book is a secondary resource.