Web sources should be authoritative in nature. Two questions are especially important to answer the issue of authority.
Question 1: Who is the author?
An important question to answer is who wrote the document. The author of the document should be a person (or persons) recognized as an authority (or authorities). Ideally, the author will list information like his or her job title, occupation, educational background, affiliations, and any other credentials. Essentially, you want to answer the question—What makes this person qualified to write this information and why should I believe him or her? Additionally, you may find information written by an authoritative source but without an individual author. Locher (2002) suggests asking the following question in this case, “Is it backed up by an authoritative source, such as [a] government agency, professional association, or education[al] institution?”
Question 2: Who is the publisher?
In the traditional print world, it’s easy to spot the publisher. You’ll find it on the cover or within the first few pages of the book. The “publisher” on the Internet “means the server (computer) where the document lives” (Kirk, 1996). You may need to learn more about the organization sponsoring the page to decide whether the source is authoritative (or is biased). Oftentimes this will be easy, the web source will be clearly identified as belonging to a reputable institution, organization, or agency. You may have to do some investigation to learn more about the sponsoring organization, though. Look for web pages that describe the purpose of the organization as well as contact information (a physical address and phone number for the organization) to assist you in evaluating the authority of the publisher.
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