The authority and credibility of information is related to the identity of the author(s) and the publication. The quality of information may vary according to the reliability of its source.
Authority of the publisher and the publication
Information sources considered ‘reliable’ are generally those produced under some form of editorial control. Remember the significance of peer-review: peer-reviewed journals published by large academic publishers contain information which is reviewed and accepted by subject experts prior to publication. Although publication by a reputable publisher does not guarantee quality, it does mean that the publisher has high regard for the work. Articles can be published in a variety of publications, such as refereed journals, scholarly journals, trade publications, magazines or newspapers. Refereed and scholarly journals have the most academic credibility.
If you look closely at your source, for example the inside cover of a journal (or ‘about’ page), you should find information about its “authority”, i.e. about its editorial control and reviewing process.
Professional associations and established organisations also produce authoritative information, often on their webpages or reports.
Authority of the author
Some information sources clearly indicate who is responsible for the work. This may be an individual author, a corporate author, or a sponsoring agency such as an association or organization. Others give no indication of authorship/responsibility. Without the basic knowledge of the author of a work, it is impossible to determine its authority.
To establish the author’s reputation carry out the following checks:
- look for the author’s biography on the back or inside of the cover (if available) or in the preface,
- some webpages clearly indicate who compiled or produced the information, usually in a link to About us, or About this site,
- run a search on the author in a database such as Web of Science,
- if the author is an organisation, run a search in a directory of quality internet websites, such as Intute or run a company search in a business database
Ask your librarian for help if you cannot find the author or establish an author’s credentials. If you cannot determine who the author is, or their level of expertise, reconsider the authority of the resource. If in doubt, we would advise that you do not use the information.
Visit each website below. You need to decide whether the journal is an academic, trade or general interest journal.