The sources and evidence you select to use in an academic paper should be of a higher caliber than what you use in your daily life and need to be verifiable, accurate, objective and authoritative. Before integrating research into your paper, follow these guidelines to select the best sources and evidence from those sources to support the ideas in your paper.

Selecting an Appropriate Source 

It is common in academic research to see sources grouped into three main categories: Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed, and Other Credible Sources. The category for each is determined by considering who is publishing the source and what level of editorial review the source goes through before it can be published. The Hierarchy of Sources guide can help you when examining the level of credibility for a source.

When choosing sources, note that scholarly articles and books are considered appropriate for academic use, while other types of sources require further evaluation.  When evaluating research to use in an academic paper or professional documents, consider the following criteria and apply the C.R.A.A.P.O. test.

Currency: The timeliness of the information

As a general rule, choose sources published within the last five years when possible. While there are some exceptions to this rule, it is good practice to choose current sources to obtain the most up-to-date information about your topic.

Questions to ask:

  • Is this source current?
  • Does my topic require current information or will older resources work?


Relevance: The importance of the information to your needs

Sometimes a source may relate to your general topic, but not to the specific aspect that you are exploring. Choose sources that support the specific ideas you are addressing.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the source relevant to the specific aspect of my topic?
  • Is this source right for an adult and educated audience?


Authority: The source of the information

Read an author’s bio or a publication’s “About Us” page to find out more information about an author or publication. A quick Internet search can also help you find out more information about the reliability of an author, organization, or publication. The URL can also provide insight into the source of information.

In general, URLs ending in .gov or .edu tend to be more credible because they are published by government or educational institutions. URLs ending in .org or .com can be registered by anyone, so those should be closely evaluated for credibility.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Is this organization or publication qualified to write on this topic?
  • What makes this author or organization reliable and credible?


Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

Use sources that contain verifiable facts to support the information provided. Look to see if the source includes citations that show where the author obtained the information used in the publication.

Questions to ask:

  • Is this information reliable and supported by evidence?
  • Is the information biased? Is the information factual or emotion-based?
  • Has the information been reviewed by other experts?


Purpose and Objectivity: The reason the information exists and the impartiality of the content

Use sources that provide fact-based information rather than opinion-based information. Avoid biased materials that are tied to a commercial product or political campaign, for example. Avoid emotional arguments that are not supported by facts. It can be helpful to examine the advertisements (if any) or endorsements associated with the source to see if the publisher has something financial to gain by presenting the information.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the purpose of this information?
  • Is the author or organization biased and attempting to persuade the audience of his or her point of view?
  • Does the information attempt to sell you a product or ideology?
  • Does the author have something to gain by providing this information?

To view an interactive tutorial on choosing the best sources, view this library tutorial on Evaluating Sources.

Selecting Strong and Relevant Evidence

Evidence must be evaluated based on its relevance to your argument and its overall strength. 

Relevance of Evidence to Your Argument

The evidence you use from sources must be more than simply related to your topic--it should DIRECTLY support or back up the idea or claim made in the topic sentence of the paragraph. 

The following examples illustrate relevant evidence and not-so-relevant evidence when directly supporting an idea/claim/argument that could be a topic sentence of a paragraph: 

Claim: Students experiencing anxiety need support to help them succeed academically. 

Relevant evidence: Tyznik (2022) found that anxiety correlates with lower motivation and effort and higher rates of absenteeism. 

The above evidence is relevant because it is specific to anxiety and indicates strong reasons that anxiety could negatively impact student success. Both of these elements are necessary to directly support the claim made. 

Not-relevant-enough evidence: Jones (2018) found that as much as 13% of children and 22% of adults suffer from anxiety.

The above evidence is not relevant enough because it provides rates of anxiety but does not indicate a direct relationship between anxiety and academic shortcomings. It does not directly support the claim made. 

Irrelevant evidence: Doom and Haeffel (2013) found depression can impact the health and wellbeing of students. 

The above evidence is irrelevant because it focuses on the impacts of a mental health condition but not on anxiety, which is the idea presented in the claim. It also does not directly relate to academic success. It does not directly support the claim made.  

Strength of Evidence

There are various types of useful evidence that can be used, but not all evidence is strong enough to use for academic writing. 

Below are different types of evidence and questions to consider for each to determine the strength of the evidence:

Statistics refers to data collected such as numbers and percentages. Numbers may seem like hard facts, but they still must be considered and interpreted to know if they are useful and accurate.

Questions to ask:

  • Are the statistics recent? Statistics change over time.
  • Is the source of the statistics credible and unbiased? Don’t believe everything you read. Be skeptical first.
  • How do the statistics relate to your specific claim? Do they support the argument you are making?

An expert opinion refers to someone who is an expert on the topic and his or her conclusions or decisions about the topic are based on their expert knowledge and experience. An example of an expert would be a heart doctor who is discussing heart health.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the person/organization an expert on this topic? Find out more about the person’s credentials.
  • Is the person/organization unbiased or do they have something to gain from their opinion? Be skeptical about why this person or organization is trying to persuade you.
  • Does the opinion of the expert directly relate to and support your topic and claim?

Research studies refer to research that was done by a person or group to test a theory or to reach some conclusions about a research question.

Questions to ask:

  • How recent was this research study done? The data may change over time.
  • Who did this research study and are they credible and unbiased? Again, be skeptical first.
  • How does this research study directly relate to the claim you are making? Be sure it supports your specific claim and isn’t just related to your overall topic.

Historical evidence refers to a situation in the past that works to support a claim about a current situation. Or this evidence could also be a physical artifact that works to support a claim.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the historical situation similar enough to the current situation? It should be relevant and similar enough so that it supports your claim.
  • Is this historical event or artifact a single isolated occurrence? If so, is this information enough to support your claim? A single occurrence is likely not enough to establish efficient support.

Anecdotes refer to personal stories about yourself or another person.

Questions to ask:

  • Is the anecdote a highly unlikely occurrence, or is it something that regularly occurs to others, too? A very isolated occurrence cannot act to support a claim. It needs to be common enough to show that it could continue to happen.
  • Is the anecdote similar enough to the situation you are writing about? Be sure there are no other factors at work that could have led to the anecdote.

Remember that evidence cannot speak for itself. As the writer, it is your responsibility to explain to the reader how the evidence connects to the topic sentence and the argument you are making. To see examples of strong evidence in use in an academic paragraph, review our Integrating Research guide.