Authority refers to the perceived validity of a rhetor’s knowledge claim. Evaluating the authority of a resource means to consider the whether the author is qualified to write on the topic and if the publisher is trustworthy.

  • Who is the author and what are his or her credentials? Is it written for an academic or for a general audience?

The Authority of a text may be considered independently from its Currency.

Authority is one of the five critical reading concerns proposed by Sarah Blakeslee (2004): Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose.

Evaluating sources of information that you are thinking of using in your writing is an important step in any research activity. When considering using a website as a source, it’s especially important to examine the authority of the site’s authors – whether the organization providing the information can be identified easily, whether or not there is another source that can confirm the information on the site, and maybe most importantly, what the purpose of the information is (education? persuasion? sales?).

Authority: Critical Reading Questions

  • Who wrote or published the resource?
  • Is there a clear author, either a person or organization?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic? (What are their credentials? Do they have a title? Degrees?)
  • Have other writers cited the resource?
  • If the resource comes from an organization, are that organization’s purposes and goals stated clearly and openly?
  • Can the author or publisher be contacted?
  • If using the free web: does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net.

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

There are a few key differences between popular and scholarly sources. One of the biggest reasons for the distinction is that your academic writing will most likely need scholarly work to support your thesis. Scholarly sources generally support their claims with research and other works that have been peer-reviewed. The peer review process allows for other experts on a particular topic to assess the claims of an article and, in many cases, ask for the author to revise the writing to the standards of their respective field.

This table refers to both print and online resources. You will probably access scholarly journal articles via your library’s online database rather than in print form.

Bibliographies or references are includedBibliographies or references are generally not included
Authors are experts in their fields, often educatorsAuthors are usually journalists or amateurs
Articles go through the peer review process (meaning an article is reviewed by others in the author’s field before it is published)Articles do not go through peer review
Articles are signed by the authors and include information about the author’s credentialsArticles are sometimes unsigned (especially on the web)
Audience is the scholarly reader, such as professors, researchers, or studentsAudience is the general population
Standardized formats are usually followed like APA, MLA, etc.Various formats which are often unstructured
Written in the jargon of the fieldWritten for anyone to understand
Any illustrations support the text, such as maps, tables, photographsOften profusely illustrated for marketing appeal
Includes articles in professional journals in both print and online formatsIncludes articles in popular magazines, in newspapers, and on the internet

* Table adapted from: Whitmore, Marilyn P. Empowering Students; Hands-on Library Instruction Activities. Pittsburgh: Library Instruction Publications, 1996. 6. Print.

Works Cited

Whitmore, Marilyn P. Empowering Students; Hands-on Library Instruction Activities. Pittsburgh: Library Instruction Publications, 1996. 6. Print.