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Information Literacy: Authority is constructed and contextual

Provides resoures on information literacy standards, handouts, and research guidance to support students' needs at various points through the program.


The information literate student is able to:

  • Define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g. scholarship), societal position (e.g. public office or title), or special experience (e.g. participating in a historic event)
  • Use research tools and indicators or authority to determine the credibility of sources, understanding the elements that might temper this credibility
  • Understand that many disciplines have acknowledged authorities in the sense of well-known scholars and publications that are widely considered "standard," and yet, even in those situations, some scholars would challenge the authority of those sources
  • Recognize that authoritative content may be packaged formally or informally and may include sources of all media types
  • Acknowledge they are developing their own authoritative voices in a particular area and recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability, respecting intellectual property, and participating in communities of practice
  • Understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time

Evaluating Sources

Consider the following factors when evaluating your information sources:

  • Purpose
    • What is the purpose of the information source? (i.e. educational or commercial)
    • Is it trying to sell you something?
    • Is the information based on fact or opinion?
    • Who is the intended audience?
  • Authority
    • Can you identify the author?
    • What is the author's background?  This includes his/her credentials, education, experience, etc.
    • Are the author's sources cited?
  • Currency
    • What was the information published and/or last updated?
  • Reliability
    • For websites, will this information source still be available if you try to access a month from now?  A year from now?
  • ​Coverage
    • What information is included or omitted?
    • Is the resource complete or is it still being constructed?

Cornell University Library. (2009). Source evaluation checklist. Retrieved from 


Information literate learners:

  • develop and maintain an open mind when encountering varied and sometimes conflicting perspectives
  • motivate themselves to find authoritative sources, recognizing that authority may be conferred or manifested in unexpected ways
  • develop awareness of the importance of assessing content with a skeptical stance and self-awareness of their own biases and worldview
  • question traditional notions of granting authority and recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews
  • are conscious that maintaining attitudes and actions require frequent self-evaluation

Confirmation Bias

When conducting research, there can be a, often unintended tendency to gravitate towards scholars and data that support the researcher's existing opinions, rather than remaining objective.  This is referred to as confirmation bias and can result in contradictory evidence being overlooked.  Confirmation bias presents problems in treatment as well as research, leading to diagnostic errors, inaccurate treatment, or improper treatment management.

Rather than denying or ignoring confirmation bias, it is important to recognize that such bias is inevitable to a certain extent. Researchers can overcome confirmation bias by making a targeted effort to evaluate all evidence objectively, particularly evidence that may be contradictory to the researcher's preconceptions.  In medical research studies, the use of well-designed study protocols, including blinding or masking, are essential tools to overcome biased results.

Althubaiti, A. (2016). Information bias in health research: definition, pitfalls, and adjustment methods. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 9, 211-217.