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Get started with research

Learn how to use RRU Library resources to get started with your research.

Authority is constructed and contextual

Suppose you want to write about a recent world event in your upcoming research paper, but you are having trouble finding academic resources because the event happened recently and it can take a while for new articles to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Where would you find authoritative information?

Let’s consider what authority really is. In academia, authority is influence and expertise recognized and exerted within a discipline. In any area of scholarship there are people who have published influential works and who are considered to be experts in the topics they research and write about. Outside academia, we may assume the government is a source of authority. You might use government reports or stats because the government has a vested interest in collecting and disseminating some kinds of information, and you feel confident that their material is credible. However, evaluating authority isn’t always this simple.

We can’t assume that only people with advanced degrees or  fancy job titles are sources of authority. We need to think critically about  information sources, consider who created them, why they created them, who they created them for, what evidence exists to support the claims, and what bias the authors might hold. You should also examine what bias you might have on a topic. If you want to read about the influence of farming practices on crop yields, for example, do you want to ignore the opinions of farmers over botanists?  Also consider that academia privileges the voices and information from sources of established power and authority structures, which means Indigenous and marginalized authorities and perspectives are often excluded.

It takes time and effort to critically analyze and question authority, and these are just a few points to consider, but questioning the position of authors will help you build the best, well-rounded and credible resources arguments on your topic.