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Criminal Justice: Researching

Test of Criminal Justice subject guide.

Selecting Sources

There are many types of information and information sources.  Usually, the nature of your project and topic will help determine what sources will be the most appropriate for your research.  Good research usually contains a variety of sources such as books, journal articles, and statistics. Understanding different types of information and information sources can help you be a more effective researcher.  Below are some common information sources and what they are used for.


Reference resources are designed to be consulted as needed rather than read cover to cover. Usually, reference sources are used to gain a firmer grasp or overview of a topic and provide references for more in-depth coverage. They also often contain things like data, statistics, and biographical information.  Reference resources can be found in both print and electronic formats.

Examples: dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, and handbooks.


Library databases contain sets of information that are organized for searching and retrieval. Databases can range in coverage. Some databases provide information on a wide variety of topics; others are limited to a particular subject area.  Databases are a great way to find magazine and journal articles on a particular topic. They can also contain things like eBooks, reference sources, and videos.

Examples: Academic Search Complete, Credo Reference, Lexis Nexis, JSTOR

Academic Journals

Similar to magazines, journals contain articles written on a variety of topics in a subject field.  Unlike magazine articles, journal articles are authored by experts, scholars, and professionals.  Most academic journals require articles to undergo the “peer-review” process. In this process, articles are reviewed by scholars and experts to ensure they meet certain academic standards.

Examples: Journal of American History, Harvard Theological Review


Books are great sources of information for research and can be found in both print and electronic formats.  Books range considerably in audience and depth of topic treatment. Some books are written for a general adult audience. Others are more scholarly and are written for students, professionals, and other experts in a subject area. 

Examples: Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition


News can come from various print and electronic sources such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and the web. News articles are written to inform the general public of current events at either the local, national, or international levels.  Usually, journalists write and produce news.  News can range from brief and informative to in-depth and investigative.

Examples: The New York Times Newspaper, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”, and CBS's “60 Minutes” TV program.


Magazines are composed of articles written on topics of popular interest and current events. The intended audience is usually the general public. While scholars do write articles for magazines, journalists are more commonly the authors. Magazines can be good sources of information, but it is important to remember that their purpose is not scholarly.

Examples:  Time, Newsweek, National Geographic


The internet allows users to find and access information from a variety of sources. While websites may be used for research, their usefulness can be limited. For academic research, data retrieved from the internet should be used alongside other academic resources. Because anyone can put information on the internet, information found on the web should be scrutinized to make sure that it is credible and reliable. Pay attention to the individual or organization that creates or produces the content of a webpage. Websites with a .edu, .org, or .gov address are of higher quality and more trustworthy. It is also a good idea to verify information through multiple sources.



Reference Sources

Reference books provide background information on a topic, such as definitions of terms, key figures and events, and well written overviews. They can be a useful starting point for any research project, because they fill in missing knowledge about the topic or provide you with the language of the discipline.

Where do I start?

How Do I Know I Have a Credible Source?

Evaluating Websites

When researching, especially using internet sources, it is a good idea to evaluate the information to ensure it is “good” information.  Making this determination can be difficult and often depends on the original purpose of the information and how you intend to use it.

How will I know?

One way to evaluate information is to use the CRAAP Test:

Currency: Timeliness

Pay attention to when the information was created or published. Is the information still current or is it outdated? Depending on your topic older sources of information may still be acceptable, in other cases, they may not.

Relevance: Importance

Relevance means how the information relates to your topic. Who is the intended audience of the information? Students, professionals, experts?

Authority: Source

Who created or authored the information? What company or organization operates/maintains the website? What are the credentials of the author, are they an expert or professional?

Accuracy: Reliability

Is the information factual and correct? Are there other types of errors, such as grammar or spelling mistakes? Can you verify the data from other sources? Is the information biased?

Purpose: Reason

What is the goal of the information? Is it to persuade, teach, or sell? Does the info rely on facts and data, or opinion? Is it written with a political or religious agenda?

CRAAP test is adapted from the Meriam Library at California State University - Chico