Not everyone is an expert on every subject. That's why you're in college, after all -- to get a degree in a field of study that will help you get a job. As you gain experience in your chosen career, you grow in expertise. You may even publish articles and books of your own! But until you're an expert yourself, you'll need to rely on the publications of those who have gone before you.
How can you tell which articles or books are written by an authority in the field?
Take note of the author's name. (Don't see one?)
- Are any advanced degrees listed with the author's name (M.D., M.S., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?
- Is the author's affiliation or place of employment listed? Do they work in a field that's relevant to the subject they're writing about?
- On an article, you can usually find this information on the first or last page. In a book, there may be an "about the author" section at the end, or on the book cover.
- Workplace or affiliation not listed? Search for them in Google (hint: put their name in "quotation marks") to find out -- you'll often come across their CV or a personal page on their workplace's website.
- Have they published other articles, web pages or books on this topic, or related topics? Use our library to find out.
What if no author is listed? Learn about the publisher, instead.
This often comes up when you're searching the open web...you may find a web page with information you'd like to use, but there's no author's name. In cases like this, you'll need to take a look at the organization that is responsible for the overall website. You'll usually see the publisher/host name at the top of the page, or at the very bottom (sometimes with a "copyright" statement).
- Look for an "About" link at the top or bottom of the page. This should explain the mission of the organization who's hosting the website, as well as the purpose of the information that is being published there.
- The website's domain (the three-letter suffix in the web address) can give you a quick clue about the organization. But, remember that you must always keep a critical eye out for accuracy and bias -- no matter what kind of website you're reading.
- .edu sites are educational in nature, most often school websites (including universities). A .edu domain is always a good sign, but remember that faculty (experts) and students (novices) alike may be publishing information to their school's site, so look carefully at the content before using it.
- .gov or .mil sites are for government and military agencies. These sites exist to make government information available to the public, and they are generally considered authoritative.
- .org sites are for nonprofit organizations. These sites may be educational, research or advocacy-based. You will need to read about the organization to determine whether or not the information it publishes is likely to be biased or not.
- .com is the most familiar domain. It stands for "commercial," and can be used by any company, for any purpose. .net is a common business domain as well. On sites like these, you will see news, entertainment, social networking, and even some educational products (like the APUS LibAnswers site!). Look carefully for author information, or read about the publisher/host to decide whether it is trustworthy for your research purposes or not.
Save yourself some time! If you limit your searches to scholarly or peer-reviewed publications, then you can feel confident that the authors are experts in the field. Read more about peer review to find out why.
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