Part 4. Evaluate your Sources
14 Question Authority
In terms of evaluating a source of information, the expertise or credibility of its author is extremely important. This is the case not only for your university assignments, but also your personal information needs; in general, we want to know that our sources are reliable, our information sound.
But this idea of authority can be complicated. Within the academic publishing world, determining someone’s expertise is somewhat straightforward in that advanced degrees, a publishing record, and an affiliation with an institution of higher learning or research are the conventional indicators of authority.
Outside of the scholarly community, there are other indicators of an author’s credibility; other communities may recognize authority or expertise by means of specific credentials or practical experience. For example, we rely on articles in the mainstream press because professional journalists generally abide by a code of ethics and have a lengthy publishing record. We see a certified physical therapist to address a sports injury.
When it comes to verifying an author’s credibility within the scholarly literature, library research tools can help us to make a quick determination of authority. Recall that in the last module we looked at using the scholarly or peer reviewed limits in Summon and databases to find results that are published in academic journals.
But looking a little more closely at the author and the journal, and perhaps doing some quick Google searching, can help us to make a better decision about the author’s expertise in a particular area. Having an advanced degree in theoretical physics does not necessarily make someone an expert in evolutionary biology.
Activity: Check the authors
Take a look at the record for an article from the library’s Academic Search Complete. Click on the hotspots.
Tip: Go one step further
Going a step further to search for your author on Google Scholar will lead to their publication record. What else have they written?
You might also do a quick Google search for the journal’s homepage. Look for author submission guidelines where a peer-review process should be described, and the scope and aim of the journal.