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University Libraries Breadcrumb Trail. Information Literacy Breadcrumb Trail. Authority: Questions to Consider

Authority: Questions to Consider

One thing to look for when trying to determine if a resource is credible is the authority of the person/people who created that resource. Look not only to see how much authority you would ascribe to the information creator, but also to determine the context and derivation of that authority. The following examples and questions may help you understand some possible methods of approaching this issue.


Why is your teacher an authority?

In most cases, when you walk into a new class, you generally accept that the teacher standing in front of you has some authority, at least in the relevant subject areas, and you respect what they tell you.

  • Why do you accept this?
  • What are the external markers of authority that you can easily check for?
  • What types of evidence could you search for to make yourself more confident in your teacher’s authority?
  • In the past, has your assessment of your teachers’ authority tended to increase or decrease as a course progresses? Why?
  • Why do you believe the creator of this playlist is an authority in determining the credibility of information sources?


Once an authority, always an authority?

Sometimes it is easy to tell from someone’s title or job description where their authority lies, but often someone can have authority in areas that are less obvious. The following short exercise illustrates this point.

Areas of Authority

Everyone has authority in some contexts. For instance, if you have several years’ experience studying a certain topic, you are an emerging authority in that area. You can teach those with less authority than you even as you continue to learn from those with more. Take a few minutes to list areas where you might already be considered an authority. Is your authority in these areas recognized?


How did the authorities become authorities?

Ideally, the authority of a source is based on the expertise of the author(s) in the relevant subject area and on the influence their work has had. For a novice researcher this can be hard to determine, but a few things are usually good clues:

  • What has the author published in the subject you’re interested in?
  • Has it been substantial scholarly journal articles, or un-reviewed blog posts?
  • Was it only one article, or have they been researching and refining their knowledge for many years?
  • How often have they been cited, and in what contexts?
  • These questions can be answered by searching in library databases as well as online in general . A visit to the library’s reference desk can save you a lot of time here.