Author Authority

When you’re researching a topic, you’ll read and synthesize tons of sources of information. The question is, how do you know which are the good sources and which are not? One key factor to sizing up a source is author authority. Does the author know what they are talking about? Do they have the right credentials, the right type of authority to be worth considering? What is author authority, anyway?

Author Authority Author Authority

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Table of contents

    Definition of Author Authority

    Author authority refers to a person’s jurisdiction over a particular subject and the right they have to claim their expertise as an author on the matter.

    Who or what is an author? An author can be a person, organization, or institution that creates a literary work (i.e. novel, scholarly journal, website, autobiography, etc.). More generally, though, an author can also be someone who begins or creates something. For example, one might say Elon Musk is the author of civilian space exploration.

    The degree to which a person has a right to claim authority over a subject can vary and depends on a few factors. The way to measure an author’s authority is to ask yourself a series of questions that fall into two overarching questions about the author.

    1. Who wrote it?

    2. What makes them an expert?

    AuthorAuthority, Concepts of Author Authority, StudySmarterFig. 1 - You should only allow authorized authors to influence your research or discussion on a topic.

    Types of Author Authority

    When you’ve selected a written work that has significant information for your research or assignment, your next step is to consider who wrote it. Why? Because regardless of how well that information fits into your narrative, you need to understand the author’s motivation for writing it.

    To learn more about the author’s motivation, you can start by looking for a short biography or “About the author” section that will tell you a little about them and what, if any, authority they have on the subject.

    You can often find the author’s bio at the top or bottom of most articles and in the back of most books. When that’s not available, you can always do a Google search for the author’s name and see what comes up about the person. You’re looking for concrete details about the author, not necessarily other people’s opinion of them. This is an excellent way to learn more about the author’s authority on the subject of interest.

    Author Authority from Extensive Study

    There are a few different types of author authority. Some people gain authority through extensive study in a particular field. This can be formal education, as evidenced by degrees and titles, or it can simply be knowledge gained from thorough personal research.

    Someone who has devoted their life to studying the works and person of C.S. Lewis holds more authority on the subject than the average admirer of his books.

    The author who writes about C.S. Lewis is given a fair amount of respect simply for focusing on one subject and learning it thoroughly.

    Author Authority From Experience in the Field

    Another type of author authority is produced by a person’s knowledge of a subject by way of experience in the field. Without (or in addition to) a degree or education on a subject, a person can gain invaluable knowledge through experience working with or on something.

    The same C.S. Lewis scholar gains more authority by traveling to Belfast to interview the remaining family members and descendants of Mr. Lewis.

    A person receives respect and authority on a subject for their time spent interacting with it. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the fact that almost all employers want their employees to have experience, and those candidates with more experience are likely to beat out those with less experience.

    Author Authority from Respectability in the Field

    The last type of authority that you might use to determine how much authority to give an author is their respectability in the field. Have their peers ever quoted their work? Does the author have any credentials or titles to suggest their high standing in the field? These are indications that the author is a respected authority on their subject, and therefore a trustworthy source.

    Now let’s say our C.S. Lewis admirer publishes a book based on his interviews with the living relatives of Clive Staples. The book is highly regarded and even used in classrooms to teach students about the British author. The respect of others in the field of study boosts this person’s authority for future works on the subject of C.S. Lewis.

    Author Authority Examples

    Something to keep in mind is that not all authors are individuals. Sometimes you’ll come across an article or publication that isn’t assigned to a person, but a particular organization or website instead. You'll need to consider whether the organization is authoritative on the subject, much like you would if it were a single person author.

    Author Authority, example of an anonymous author, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Sometimes the author of a piece of writing is anonymous—investigate the publisher for authority, in this case.

    For example, let's say you're researching autism for an essay on autistic literary figures. You find a page on the American Pediatrics Association about detecting Autism Spectrum Disorder in children, and there are some facts you'd like to use. You want to determine whether the information is trustworthy, so you start to examine the source, but there isn't a single author attributed to the information. Should you trust it?

    Start by asking yourself, does the American Pediatrics Association have the knowledge of Autism in children by way of education and/or experience on the subject? Yes, they do. Is it a respected organization in the field? Yes, it is. This is a trustworthy source with high author authority on the subject of children's medicine and disorders.

    Here are a few other ways you can tell whether a company or organization is a trustworthy source of information:

    • Go to the "about us" page to see how they describe themselves.
    • What is their purpose? Do they have a mission statement? This will tell you about their values.

    When trying to measure the authority of something you find online, start by looking at the URL for the website. Web addresses ending in .gov are associated with government entities, and web addresses ending in .edu are associated with educational institutions. These will be trustworthy sources.

    Generally, you want to look for clues that the author or source is unbiased and objective on the subject at hand. This is because no matter how educated or experienced an individual is, if they are biased toward a particular way of thinking, what they say loses credibility.

    Biased authors lose authority when they allow their biases to inform what they're writing or talking about. But, how can you spot bias? You can tell a source is biased if it is heavily one-sided, excluding other valid perspectives. You can also find bias when an author offers their opinion instead of facts, or only uses select facts and outcomes that suit their narrative. Another indicator of a biased author is the use of extreme or inappropriate language; fair-minded authors tend to keep their emotions in check when they're writing, so extreme language can be an indicator that they are biased in a particular direction.

    For example, let’s say you’re researching material for an essay on which novel has more symbols of patriotism, Les Misérables or The Red Badge of Courage. You come to a blog post that argues that The Red Badge of Courage is the most patriotic book of all time. Great! This aligns with your point of view, and you’d like to quote some of it in your essay.

    But first, you read the author’s bio and notice it expresses some American-centrist ideas. So, you Google him and find that he is a major figure in an online group that believes America, and all things American, are superior to all other nations and the things they produce.

    Do you trust that this person is offering an objective, unbiased discussion of your topic? Probably not. His motivation for writing the blog post is not strictly based on an evaluation of the novels. This author was motivated by his biased opinion that anything that comes out of America is superior to things produced in other countries, including literature. He is certainly no expert concerning literature.

    Concepts of Author Authority: A Closer Look at Author Authority

    To determine what makes someone an authority on a subject, ask yourself the following questions:

    • What are their qualifications and/or titles?

    • Are they educated in the field?

    • Do they have a lot of experience with the subject?

    • Have they published anything?

    • Are they trusted in their field (have any peers quoted their work)?

    These are all indications of whether someone is an expert.

    What Makes an Expert?

    People, especially true experts, tend not to put in their bio, “I’m an expert!” So, how can you tell if someone is an expert in their field?

    An expert is someone who has extensive knowledge of a particular subject due to a great deal of experience in studying and/or performing the work.

    An expert often has things to show their standing in their field, such as titles or affiliations.

    Let’s say you’d like to find an expert in the field of linguistics to support your viewpoint about near rhymes in poetry. You find two sources in the same periodical, both with the information you’re looking for; one is written by a tenured linguistics professor at Harvard and the other is written by a graduate student. Which are you more likely to find trustworthy? Regardless of the content of the articles, the professor at Harvard’s opinion on the topic holds more weight than the graduate student’s.

    In the above example, the professor at Harvard probably has a lot more education and more experience in the field of linguistics than the graduate student, which gives them more authority.

    Importance of Author Authority

    An author’s authority on a subject is always relevant in academic and professional writing because it’s important to use sources that are above question or reproach. The level of the author’s authority is the level to which you can trust their perspective and use it to inform your own opinion.

    It’s essential to be vigilant about author authority while conducting research for essays and other assignments. Misinformed authors can easily skew your research, reducing your credibility with your audience.

    While it is always important to question an author’s authority on something, the delivery of the information is not always as important.

    The White House produces a tweet stating the president’s support for a bill on immigration.

    Who is the author here? The President of the United States (or someone from his staff who represents him in the public). Based on author authority, would you use this information in an essay about this president’s treatment of immigrants? Sure! While the format isn’t exactly “official” the author holds a lot of authority on the subject.

    Thanks to the internet, everyone has immediate access to information that can come from a variety of authors. The need to remain critical of author authority is pressing for students and professionals alike, who must be sure they put their trust in credible, authoritative sources.

    Author Authority - Key takeaways

    • Author authority refers to a person’s jurisdiction over a particular subject and the right they have to claim their expertise as an author on the matter.
    • The way to measure an author’s authority is to ask yourself a series of questions that fall into two overarching questions about the author: Who wrote it? What makes them an expert?
    • Determine author authority by asking questions about the author's motivation for writing, and then examining their credentials.
    • Organizations and companies can be authors, too. You can evaluate their authority much the same way as if they were an individual; ask yourself what are their motivations for writing something, and what do they value?
    • It’s essential to be vigilant about author authority while conducting research for essays and other assignments.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Author Authority

    What is author authority?

    Author authority refers to a person’s jurisdiction over a particular subject and the right they have to claim their expertise as an author on the matter. 

    What is an example of authority?

    An example of authority is a handwriting expert called to the stand in a trial to testify about whether a note was written by the defendant. Their opinion on the matter carries more weight because of their authority on handwriting. 

    Why is author authority important?

    The need to remain critical of author authority is pressing for students and professionals alike who need to be sure they put their trust in credible, authoritative sources. 

    How do you claim author authority?

    In order to claim author authority, you have to prove why you are an authority on the topic at hand. Your proof might be your credentials, experience, or affiliations in the field. 

    How does an author show authority?

    An author shows authority by their affiliation with established and trustworthy organizations in their field. An author can also show their authority by referencing any credentials or titles they hold. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: An author can be an individual, or it can be an organization or institution.

    The two main questions to ask when trying to determine author authority are:1. Who wrote it2. ______________

    Which of the following represents a website associated with an educational organization?


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