Think Like a Metaliterate Researcher:
Verify expertise but acknowledge that experts do exist. (A, C)
Distinguishing between experts and others is critical for finding quality information and being an effective researcher. Metaliterate researchers evaluate all forms of content with a critical eye. It is important to recognize that some people are experts while others are not, and to select your information sources accordingly.
Notice that both the affective (or feeling-based) and cognitive (based on thought) domains are involved in following through on this learning objective. When you are evaluating sources for your research, you need to consider the source and authority of the information. You also need to acknowledge your own feelings and biases that can affect your interpretation of the information, as we will explore further in Part 2 of this tile.
Authority refers to an author’s level of expertise and credibility. Investigating where an author’s expertise comes from can go a long way to help determine if a source is credible or not.
Methods for Investigating an Author’s Authority
Investigate an Author’s Official Credentials
Credentials (e.g. academic degrees, awards, or professional titles related to the topic) indicate that the author of the information has been recognized as an authority in a specific field, which may make them more believable. However, just because someone has an official seal of approval doesn’t mean that everything they say is automatically true. It is the researcher’s responsibility to follow up and to verify the information with other sources. Also make sure the author’s expertise matches the topic. Is the author an expert in music, but writing an article about politics? In that case their music expertise may not be relevant when evaluating that particular article.
Examine an Author’s History of Publishing About the Topic
Looking for other information sources by the same person can be very informative. If they’ve written many articles on the same topic this can indicate deep engagement with and understanding of the topic. Consider checking to see how the sources have been received by others in the field (have they been cited frequently, ignored, or even debunked by other scholars?)
Consider How the Author Gained Authority
Along with more traditional credentials, there are other ways of becoming an authority. For instance, authority on skateboarding might have been earned through extensive practice culminating in competition wins, or from impressing other skateboarders on the street.Everyone has some area where they have developed expertise, and these “non-official” or informal authorities are just as valid as “official” or formal ones in the right context.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- Do the author’s credentials convince you that they are an expert on the topic you are researching? Did the author provide any biographical information? If not, a quick Google search can help you find this information on their credentials and experience.
- Are the ideas presented supported with evidence? Is there a list of references?
- What has the author published in the subject you’re interested in? How was their work received by other experts in this field of study? How many times has the work been cited by others?
Resources on Assessing Authority
In Part 1 of this tile we focused primarily on the cognitive and behavioral aspects of research, or the ways in which you understand and conduct research processes. In Part 2 it’s time to revisit the affective domain, which involves checking in on how you feel as you learn, share, and create new information. Let’s continue our walk-through of the decision-making process of a metaliterate researcher.
Sometimes it is easy to tell from someone’s title or job description where their authority lies, but often someone can have authority in areas that are less obvious. The following short exercise illustrates this point.
Everyone has authority in some contexts. For instance, if you have several years of experience studying a certain topic, you are an emerging authority in that area. You can teach those with less authority than you even as you continue to learn from those with more.
Take a few minutes to list areas where you might already be considered an authority. Is your authority in these areas recognized?