You’ll always want to know who’s providing the information for a website or other source. Do they have the education, training, or other experience that make you think they are authorities on the subject covered? Or do they just have opinions?
The more you know about the author and/or publisher, the more confidence you can have in your decision for or against using content from that source.
Authors and publishers can be individuals or organizations, including companies. (Web masters put things on the site but do not usually decide what goes on all but the smallest websites. They often just carry out others’ decisions.)
Sites that do not identify an author or publisher are generally considered less credible for many purposes, including for term papers and other high-stakes projects. The same is true for sources in other formats.
Clues About an Author’s and/or Publisher’s Background
If they’re available, first take a look at pages called such things as About This Site, About Us, or Our Team first. But you may need to browse around a site further to determine its author. Look for a link labeled with anything that seems like it would lead you to the author. Other sources, like books, usually have a few sentences about the author on the back cover or on the flap inside the back cover.
You may find the publisher’s name next to the copyright symbol, ©, at the bottom of at least some pages on a site. In books the identity of the publisher is traditionally on the back of the title page.
Sometimes it helps to look for whether a site belongs to a single person or to a reputable organization. Because many colleges and universities offer blog space to their faculty, staff, and students that uses the university’s web domain, this evaluation can require deeper analysis than just looking at the address. Personal blogs may not reflect the official views of an organization or meet the standards of formal publication.
In a similar manner, a tilde symbol (~) preceding a directory name in the site address indicates that the page is in a “personal” directory on the server and is not an official publication of that organization. For example, you could tell that Jones’ web page was not an official publication of XYZ University if his site’s address was: http://www.XYZuniversity.edu/~jones/page.html. The tilde indicates it’s just a personal web page—in the Residences, not Schools, neighborhood of the web.
Unless you find information about the author to the contrary, such blogs and sites should not automatically be considered to have as much authority as content that is officially part of the university’s site. Or you may find that the author has a good academic reputation and is using their blog or website to share resources he or she authored and even published elsewhere. That would nudge him or her toward the Schools neighborhood.
Learning what they have published before can also help you decide whether that organization or individual should be considered credible on the topic. Listed below are sources to use to look for what the organization or individual may have published and what has been published about them.
Tip: Find Out What the Author (Person or Organization) Has Published
Library Catalogs – Search in a large library catalog to find books written by the author.
Web Article Database – Use a free web article database to search for articles by the author. Note: While you can search for free, you may not be able to retrieve articles unless searching through a library.
Specialized Database – Locate articles written by the author by using a specialized database that covers the same topical area as information on the website. Check your library’s website to find databases that you can use for this purpose. (Such databases are also called periodical indexes.)
- Use ERIC to locate any articles published by the author of an education website.
Tip: Find Out What Has Been Written About The Author
Web Search Engine – Use a search engine to find web pages where the author’s name is mentioned. (Be sure to search for the name as a phrase, as in “Jane Doe”)
Full-Text Article Database – Use a database that searches the full-text of articles (not just descriptive information about the article) to find those that mention people and organizations.
- Academic Search Complete
Specialized Biographical Sources – Use directories and indexes provided by your library to find backgrounds of people.
Activity: Identifying Authors
Making the Inference
Consider the clues. Then decide the extent that the source’s author and/or publisher is acceptable for your purpose. It might help to grade the extent that this factor contributes to the site being suitable on a scale like this one:
- A – Very Acceptable
- B – Good, but could be better
- C – OK in a pinch
- D – Marginal
- F – Unacceptable
You’ll want to make a note of the source’s grade for author and/or publisher so you can combine it later with the grades you give the other factors.