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Searching the Literature: The Basics

Learn how to effectively search the literature with tips on asking questions, selecting resources, and developing search terms.

Evaluate & Improve Your Search

The literature search is an iterative process.  There are opportunities to improve your search at every step along the way.  One of the best ways to improve your search is to evaluate the results that it is generating:

  • Are the results relevant (do they contain your key concepts)?
  • Are there a lot of irrelevant results?  Review the title and abstract to figure out exactly why they are coming back.
  • Can you identify any "ideal" results?  Looking at the keywords and subject headings of highly relevant results can help improve your search.


The CRAAP Test is a simple guideline for evaluating the appropriateness of a given result for resolving your information need.  Consider each of the following questions as you review your results:

  • Currency  
    • Is the date of publication appropriate?
    • Is all of the content up-to-date?
    • Has the information been revised?
  •  Relevance
    • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Have you looked at a variety of resources to determine this is the one that is best suited for your assignment?
  •  Authority
    • Who is the author/publisher/editor/sponsor?
    • What are the author's credentials or affiliations?
    • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
    • Is there contact information, such as publisher or email address?
    • Does the url reveal anything about the source? Example .edu, .gov, .org etc.?
  • Accuracy
    • Where does the information come from and is it backed by evidence?
    • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
    • Does the language or tone seem unbiased?
    • Are there spelling or grammar mistakes?
  • Purpose
    • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to teach, to inform, to sell, or to entertain?
    • Do the authors/sponsors make their purposes clear?
    • Is the information fact or opinion?
    • Are there any biases?