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Evaluating Information Sources: Authority

Tips for evaluating print and online information sources.

Authority

Authority of the Source

Questions to Ask:

  • What qualifications does this person or organization have to discuss this topic?
  • Does the author have a university degree in the discipline? Or is s/he an amateur, hobbyist, or merely someone with an opinion to air?
  • If an organization is responsible for the pages, is the organization widely recognized as a source of scholarly and reliable information? (For example, the American Cancer Society for information on cancer-related topics.)
  • What other information can you find about the author or organization responsible for the content of this web page?

Where to Look:

  • On a web page, look near the top and the bottom of the page.
  • Is there a link to more information about the person or organization?
  • For organizations, there's often a link called "About Us" or something similar that leads to a page explaining the organization's mission, when and how it was founded, and so forth. Read it for clues.
  • For a single person/author, there might be information about the person's educational background or his/her research or other qualifications for writing on this topic. There might be a link to his/her faculty or professional web pages.
  • Look for links to other articles and publications by the person or organization.
  • Look for an address or a phone number by which you could contact the author(s) if you wanted to.
  • If you can't find any information about the author(s) on the page you're looking at, try deleting the last part of the URL for that page in your web browser's address bar. Keep going until you come to a page that has more information about the person or organization responsible for the pages.
  • Remember that a URL that has a ~ (tilde) in it is almost always someone's personal home page, as opposed to an organization's official page.
  • If you can't find any information about the author(s) anywhere on their web pages, try searching for the person or organization's name using an Internet search engine to see if you can find web pages about them elsewhere.
  • For print material, check the book jacket for a biographical sketch of the author and check book review sources.
  • If you can find no information at all about the author(s), be very wary. If you can't verify that the information is authoritative, don't use it in a class paper or project.

Domain Names

One way to get a quick idea of who is sponsoring or publishing a website is to understand the domain name portion of the URL.

.com  
Commercial businesses and for-profit organizations

.edu   
Educational institutions

.net   
Organizations directly involved in Internet operations

.org   
Miscellaneous organizations that don't fit any other category, such as non-profit groups.

.gov  
United States federal government organizations

.mil   
United States military organizations

~ (tilde)  
Web pages created independently by individuals

country codes
A two-letter international standard abbreviation such as ".de" for Germany or ".uk" for the United Kingdom