What is Authority?
Authority, generally, represents the right to give orders, make decisions or have control over something. In information, a source that is authoritative contains credible, reliable evidence and conclusions typically from some sort of expert in that area. In truth, it is a rather complex aspect of information to assess.
Constructed and Contextual
Authority is constructed and contextual meaning that we as humans, members of societies, cultures and systems, create authority and that it changes in different circumstances.
According to the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education:
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. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required. There is no simple tool to tell you whether or not a source is authoritative or not.
There are a multitude of strategies you can take to judge the authority of a resource and many have evolved over time, as a person's information need has changed. Within this guide, you will find information about many different pieces of authority in addition to the the various voices present within publications. You will also dive into the peer review process and become acquainted with several ways to evaluate information.
Other Types of Authority
Key Aspects of Authority
What is the context?
Consider your research topic and what types of information you need. The given context and audience define the characteristics of authoritative evidence. This can be difficult to determine when you first begin research, but talking to your professors or a librarian can help. This is one of the reasons many assignments require certain types of sources.
Use the right tool for the job!
How a source is used determines its authority. The practitioner must always consider the contextual evaluation of sources.
For example, a YouTube video from a professional repairman would be an authoritative source to consult for making repairs to a home appliance. Your urban planning research paper on green space in urban environments might require authoritative data collected by researchers from city governments.
Whose voices are being left out of this conversation?
Recognize that traditional notions of granting authority might hinder the diversity of ideas and worldviews that get heard and shared. Check out the World Views and Voices page for more.
What are you bringing to this conversation?
Evaluate sources using a variety of criteria in order to cultivate a skeptical stance and self-awareness of your own biases and world views. Check out the Evaluation pages for tips on this and how important you are to the scholarly conversation.
It’s not all relative!
One of the challenges of this concept is falling into subjectivity. However, no matter what the context, there are going to be better and less good sources.