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Information Literacy Tutorial: Source Authority

How to use this section

Part 3 of the tutorial consists of 3 sections (A, B & C) containing readings, videos and questions. First read through the information and watch the videos on pages 3A, 3B, and 3C. When finished take the quiz at the end of section C. The content in these sections is best followed from top-to-bottom beginning with the left column.

3A: Organizing & Evaluating Information

3B: Source Authority, or Who says this is right?

3C: Evaluating sources

After completing this part of the tutorial students will be able to 

  • Use their knowledge of the information cycle to help them make informed choices about what sources are relevant to their project.
  • Assess sources for relevance towards their assignments. 

3B: Authority of sources

Authority comes from context. It comes from a particular setting and meets a particular need. Each of these authorities are evaluated the user to determine if it can be believed or used with confidence. 

- A scholar  speaks out of an academic discipline, with its own rules & methods. (Article in peer-reviewed journal)

- An official speaks out of the authority provided by their position. (A FEMA official's statement on Hurricane Sandy)

- An observer speaks from experience. (Tweet from person in Fergurson, Ohio in the middle of the Fergurson unrest)

3B: Peer-Reviewed

Peer review or refereeing is the process journal editors use to ensure the articles they publish meet the standards of good scholarship.  Academic papers, journal articles, research papers etc, are examined by a panel of other scholars in the field -the author's peers.  The panel may decide to accept the paper, recommend revision or reject it completely.

Any resource that passes the peer-review process can be considered to have the highest level of academic credibility although, of course, you still need to consider other elements such as currency and coverage.

Not all journals use a peer review process.  Some professors may specify that only peer-reviewed resources are to be used in assignments.

Searching for peer-reviewed articles in library databases

Some databases allow you to narrow your search to return only peer-reviewed results.  This process differs from database to database and is often as easy as checking a box that says 'Peer-reviewed'.

Verifying peer-reviewed status of journals

You can verify the peer-reviewed status of a print journal  issue  by checking for information about the editorial board at the front of the journal.  Information about print and e-journals is also available from the journal's website. 

3B: On whose authority?!

 Questions to ask

  • What qualifications does this person or organisation have to discuss this topic? Does the author have a university degree in the discipline? Is the author an amateur, or someone using the opportunity to express their own opinions.
  • Does the URL indicate what type of organization the information is coming from?  If an organization is responsible for the pages, is the organization widely recognised as a source of scholarly and reliable information?  
  •  Has the author provided any evidence to back up their information?
  •  Can the information and the references be verified elsewhere?
  •   Is there any evidence the information has gone through a peer-review process?


  What to look for on a webpage

  • Information about the author and the author's contact details – look for a link to a university or professional organization.
  • Information about any organization associated with the webpage – look for a link called "About Us" or something similar.
  • Links to other articles and publications by the person or organization.

 If  you can't find any information about the author on the webpage, do another search to see if it is possible to  identify the credentials of the author and /or organization.


   What to look for in print material

  •  Check the book cover for biographical information about the author.
  •  Check within the source for a list of references, bibliography or footnotes.


        If you can't verify that the information is authoritative, don't use it!

Choose the best information: Apply Authority