8 Question Authority

Question Authority

In today’s information world, everybody is an expert – or at least it can seem that way. Publishing, remixing, and sharing information online is easier than ever before; so is claiming to be an expert!

Which information sources can you trust?

Statistics show that we spend an average of twelve hours a day with media (Media Use). With so much time spent sending and receiving information, it’s important to stop and think about why something was created, who created it (was it you?) and whether, or not, the creator has authority.

“In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness” (Marshall McLuhan). (1)

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

As a new researcher, determining the authority of any one source may seem like an onerous task. (Just as learning the conventions of citations styles may seem!) In truth, understanding your research information needs is the key to recognizing authority.

“Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used.

  • Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.
  • Authority is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required” (ACRL). (7)

In Module 1 you learned about various characteristics of information and the importance of gathering credible information. This module explores how authority is constructed and contextual and how the authority you seek changes based on the purpose of your research.

Authority is an important measure of credibility, but authority is a construct, not an absolute. In other words, authority is recognized in an academic community or discipline based on agreed upon criteria. Different communities recognize different criteria for granting authority. In the academic community, for example, a doctorate degree confers more specialized subject matter authority than a master’s degree.

Let’s consider what authority means, why it matters, and how to evaluate it. (1)

Why Does Authority Matter in the Research Process?

Have you ever wondered why your instructors make such a big deal about finding credible sources to use in your papers? Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and they are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used.

President Barack Obama is a recognized authority on the U.S. government based on his position as a former U.S. president. (8)


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Introduction to College Research by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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