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Evaluating for Credible, Authoritative, Reliable Sources

Context and tips for how to evaluate sources, including web sites, so you can use credible, authoritative, reliable sources



"A"is for authority

Authority refers to the credibility of the source's author.

Questions to Ask About the Authority of a Source

Ask yourself these questions when thinking about the authority, or credibility, of a source and its author/publisher:

  1. Who is the author? (Remember that authors can be organizations or institutions.)
  2. Consider the organizational affiliation of the author—respected organizations publish the work of respected authors!
  3. What makes the author an "expert" in the field he or she is writing about? What are his or her qualifications? Does he or she have education or work experience in the field? Has he or she published anything else about the subject?
  4. Can you contact the author? Are there telephone numbers, addresses and/or email addresses listed?

How Do I Do This?

This information is often given in a section labeled “About." If you’ve arrived in the middle of a web site, you may need to make your way to the main page of the author/sponsor to find this information

Your Tasks:
  • It may take some detective work to find information identifying the author/sponsor of the site 
  • Consider the qualifications and organizational affiliation of the author—is the level of authority/credibility solid enough for your purposes? 
  • Look up the organization which produced the web site (if it's unfamiliar) to identify its credentials, viewpoint, or agenda 
  • If the source is an E-journal, discover whether it is refereed (reviewed by scholars) before it is accepted for publication.

photograph of a person taking notesRemember the Context!

It can be very important that the author is trustworthy.

Are you using information for a research assignment? For example, if you are researching about the importance of bilingual education, you would want to use sources written by experts in the educational fields. Likewise, if you were searching for information about how to fix your vehicle, you might consult a local mechanic because he or she is knowledgeable about cars.

Sometimes, though, the authority of the source might not matter that much.

For example, you might use Yelp to read reviews of restaurants in your area. In this case, it doesn't matter if the reviews at Yelp are written by average people who are not "experts" in the restaurant industry.

Image source: "Composition Fountain Pen Hands" by Pexels is licensed under CC0 (public domain)

Common Pitfalls

The information is in a book published by a major publisher. Therefore, the author must be believable!

Think again.

It's possible the educational institution is a high school and that the information you found is a student paper (it may be well written, but it would not be considered authoritative!).

Additional Sources

These open access materials go more in-depth into related issues, strategies, and importance of evaluating information and resources. 

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Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.

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