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CAAMP-PADL Source Evaluation: Author/Authority


Page header stating author / authority


Imagine that you are an astronaut aboard a space shuttle bound for the International Space Station. How would you feel if a team of undergraduate students configured the flight's trajectory? Conversely, what if a team of experts with advanced degrees and a combined 200 years of experience made the flight path? You'd want the team of experienced researchers! 

Anyone is able to generate and publish online content. Freedom of speech and the press is legally protected in the U.S. Bill of Rights, but when using information to make important decisions or to develop your research, consulting authorities in the field is the best option

Author and/or authority can be considered simultaneously or separately

  • Author: An individual who authors a work 
    • Example: James D. Watson and Francis Crick 
  • Authority: A body that writes and publishes information and/ or an individual who has substantiated experience in the field  
    • Examples: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Agriculture, the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis S. Collins 

When we ask questions related to author and/or authority, we are digging deeply to discover whether or not the author and/or authority is qualified to write on the topic. 

Guiding questions: 

  • Is the author an expert in the field?  
    • Consider educational, workplace, and research experience within the discipline 
  • Does the author use a systematic research approach? 
    • Works written by authorities will describe the study's research methods, data collection practices, provide supplemental data where appropriate, and will contain ample citations to other scholarly sources. 
  • What makes the author and/ or authority a leader in the discipline? 
    • Does the author and/or authority have demonstrated experience in conducting this type of research or writing on this specific topic? Consider looking at other publications from the author and/or authority to see their research history. 

Ethical Authorship

You may have noticed that many scholarly articles list more than one author. Deciding who, or who is not, listed as an author has ethical implications. Fairly assigning authorship is critically important, as all team members who make a demonstrated  contribution to a work should be considered for authorship or acknowledgement. 

Furthermore, when evaluating for authority, it can feel daunting to be greeted by a long list of names. Rather than looking into each individual researcher's background, look at the group as a collective. Pay particular attention to the first and last authors, to ensure that they have creditable research experience, and then skim the middle author's credentials. This will provide a snapshot of the work's authorship. 

Common author designations: 

  • First author:
    • As the name implies, first authors have their names listed first on a scholarly publication. First authors are the lead contributor to the project. They usually oversee the research project, study design, data analysis, and the writing process.
  • Co-First authors
    • When two or more people have made equal contributions to a project, the group can elect to have their names listed as co-first authors. 
  • Last author
    • Some, but not all, research projects will be directed by a senior author. Senior authors are experienced researchers and/or principle investigators who supervised and directed the research project. This type of author is usually listed last, and a designation, such as an asterisk, is used to denote the researcher's role. 
  • Middle authors
    • Authors listed between the first and last authors. These authors had different roles during the research and writing process, but each middle author is recognized has having made significant contributions to the project. Some middle authors might provide specific assistance such as data analysis or technical writing skills. 
  • Corresponding author
    • Corresponding authors are responsible for managing communications between the journal and the researcher(s). Corresponding authors are also responsible for making revisions and fielding any post-publication queries from readers. For example, if you wanted to as a question about a project, you should email the corresponding author for assistance. Corresponding authors can also simultaneously be the first author. 
  • Contributing authors
    • Contributing authors made smaller contributions to the research, but are not listed as first, middle, or last authors. For example, contributing authors may have assisted during the data collection process or offered project feedback. Contributing authors may be listed in the acknowledgement section.