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How to Search for Sources and Manage Them

How to develop a search strategy

What is an Authoritative Source?

Supreme court statue of justice, CC By Mark Fischer
Photo CC BY-SA Mark Fischer

“A source that is official. Also, a work known to be reliable because its authenticity or integrity is widely recognized by experts in the field.” (Reitz, Joan. ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science)

Authority is constructed and contextual. 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.” (ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, adopted 2016)

In the general context of academic writing, authority partly derives from current academic research activity and employment in the designated field. The following are necessary to consider a work as a valid scholarly publication:

  • Claims are referenced and a bibliography is included
  • The work is published by a recognised institution/publisher
  • The work is peer-reviewed

But other people and media can be authoritative sources in the appropriate context.

What Source Types Can Be Considered Authoritative?

The source type provides a preliminary idea, but it is not sufficient to determine authority. The expertise of the author matters even for traditional scholarly publications, and verification grows more necessary as we go further down the categories and gatekeeping decreases.

  • Scholarly publications - must be used as references
    • Peer reviewed books and journals
    • Non-PR academic books and journals (lesser value)
  • Grey literature - can be used as references
    • Preprints, working papers, etc. - non-published academic research
    • Reports and publications from groups and institutions
  • Popular and trade/professional sources - require careful consideration before using as references
    • News, magazines
    • Books (non-academic)
    • Other websites
  • Public conversation and social media - should not be used as references
    • Discussion forums
    • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)