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ENGL 1010 - Smith

Determining the authority of a information source


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How do you know if a source is authoritative? Consider the following questions:

  1. Who is the author?
    1. Do they have experiential background lending them authority in the subject?
    2. Do they have an educational background lending them authority in the subject?
    3. Do they have corpora, or a number, of publications on the subject?
    4. How has the author been received by their scholarly peers?
  2. Who is the publisher?
    1. Is the publisher an academic institution (example, Duke University Press)?
    2. A scholarly organization (example, Institute of Engineering Thermophysics)?
    3. A non-profit organization or think tank (examples Women with a Vision and the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Brookings Institute and the Heritage Foundation)?
  3. What's the date of the source? 
    1. Is it current? because:
      • Are the time-sensitive author's biases showing?
      • Has our understanding of the subject substantively changed since the piece was published?
      • Does the date of publication provide relevant socio-cultural context to your topic?
  4. What is the purpose of the publication?
    1. Is it to make a meaningful contribution to a scholarly conversation?
    2. Is it to sell something (a product or idea)?


Additional Cues:

  • Can you verify the information being presented by looking at the information resource cited in the book/article? (check for a bibliography or works list)
  • Does the resource include footnotes or endnotes? (not all authors use these but if yes then that could be a quick indicator that you have a thoroughly research and thought-through book or article in front of you)
  • Are there unrelated product advertisements in-line with the text? (certainly some scholarly journals will include adverts for new books, journals, conferences, but advertisements for everyday products is a good indicator that you have a more popular magazine and, due to the imperative of sales and target audiences, may allow certain biases to influence writers).

As an additional tool you can refer to, here is a chart that compares the general traits and characteristics of scholarly, popular, and professional resources.

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