Who wrote this? Are they authoritative?

In the digital era, anybody can publish a research article, a news item, or an opinion piece online. If we want to prevent the spread of misinformation, we should usually ensure any publication we use comes from an authoritative source.

What is an authoritative source?

An authoritative source can range from an expert in your field of study, to a renowned organisation, to a published literary author. If you plan on using an unverified source in your academic work, check the author’s credentials. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. What other publications has the author had? Are they on similar topics to the one you’re reading, or are they writing about something they know little about?
  2. Has the author cited other reliable sources or have they just presented their own opinion entirely?
  3. Does the piece sound fair, or slanted to a certain viewpoint? Consider bias – is there an agenda?
  4. Check other sources – what do they say? Do they confirm or debunk what the author has stated?
  5. Is there a conflict of interest? Has the author declared any funding towards their piece? Where from?

What tools can help with this?

Starting from your module reading list or LibrarySearch rather than Google can be a good way to find authoritative sources.

The search box in Web of Science has an authors tab. You can use this to search for journal articles written by a person. It may not pick everything up, but is still useful.

Learn more

We’re writing a series of blog posts encouraging you to ask questions about what you read. If you’ve found this one useful, do have a look at the others in the series.

Aaron Worsley — Academic Liaison Librarian

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