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Charles Sturt University guide for HSC students: Research Tips

Finding and evaluating information

When looking for information for your studies or assessment tasks start by following these three steps:

  1. Understand your question
  2. Search for information
  3. Evaluate what you found

The information below will help you work through each of these steps and lead you to relevant and higher quality information sources.

Understanding your question

Before starting to search for information sources, do a topic analysis to clarify and understand what you are being asked.

Look for these three key pieces of information in your assignment question:

  1. The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.
  2. The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
  3. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content.

To demonstrate let's look at an example question:

Over the last five years social media has changed the way people communicate. Using research you have found online, argue for or against this statement.

Instruction words argue
Qualifying words & phrases last five years
Key concepts social media, communicate

After you have identified the key concepts, try brainstorming as many alternative keywords and phrases as possible.

Thinking about your topic in this way helps you to describe your topic in "other words", which will provide you with some useful keyword alternatives to use when searching for information.

Key concept Alternative keywords or synonyms
social media Twitter, Instagram, social network
communicate talk, share, converse, relate

Effective internet searching

When using the internet for your research make sure you evaluate your sources before you rely on them. The video above and the table below offer some tips on improving your searches to increase the relevance of the results.

Search for an exact phrase, or match

Put your search terms in quotation marks

"social media"

Exclude a word from your search

Put a dash - before any word you want to exclude

"social media" -Facebook

Combine searches

Use OR between your search terms to expand the results to more topics

"social media" Twitter OR Tumblr

Search within a range of numbers

Use two periods .. between the numbers to return results within that date range

"social media" 2012..2017

Search within a website

Use site: to search within a particular web address or to limit your results to a domain type


Evaluating information: The CRAP test

Now that you have found some resources, how can you tell if they are suitable for your use?

You can use the CRAP test to evaluate a range of resource types - websites, books, journals, newspapers, magazines etc. Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the resource against the criteria of Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose.


Is it current enough for your topic?

A general rule is to use resources published in the last 5 years.


Is the source reputable?

Does the creator provide references?

Do those references pass the CRAP test?


Who is the creator or author?

What are their qualifications?

Are they an expert in the field?


Is it fact or opinion?

Is it biased or balanced?

Is the creator trying to sell you something?


SIFT (The Four Moves) is a way to analyse news articles, articles, social media posts, videos, and images. It takes an active approach to evaluating information, instead of just following a checklist like the CRAP test. It was developed by Mike Caulfield. 

The four moves

The information on this page is adapted from his material using a CC BY4.0 License

Think like a fact checker


When you find a website or a post, stop and ask yourself if you know the source of the information or anything about the reputation of the claim, especially if you have a strong reaction to the content. Take a moment to reset, remembering the purpose of your research and what you plan to do with the information you find.

Investigate the Source

It's important to know the expertise and agenda of your source, try and figure out where the media is from before reading it. Search online for the author or publisher to find out what others say about them.

Find trusted Coverage

Look for the best information on a topic or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you to investigate further.

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). Trace the information back to the original source to find out more about the original intent and if it was accurately reported.

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