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FYI 101/2: Traylor

Library resources for Garrett Traylor's First Year Inquiry students!

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual is one of the frames of information literacy basics, and refers to the recognition that information resources are drawn from their creators’ expertise and credibility based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.

  1. What is the context? The given context and audience define the characteristics of authoritative evidence.
  2. Use the right tool/source for the job! How a source is used determines its authority. The practitioner must always consider the contextual evaluation of sources.
  3. Whose voices are being left out of this conversation? Recognize that traditional notions of granting authority might hinder the diversity of ideas and worldviews that get heard and shared.
  4. What are you bringing to this conversation? Evaluate sources using a variety of criteria in order to cultivate a skeptical stance and self-awareness of your own biases and world views.
  5. It’s not all relative! One of the challenges of understanding this frame is falling into subjectivity. However, no matter what the context, there are going to be better and less good sources.

Popular Vs. Scholarly (Peer-Review)

"Peer-review" is one of the primary processes of constructing authority in the academic context.  Scholarly journal articles differ from magazines/newspapers in that they are written by and for scholars (and not for the general public), and most notably they undergo the "peer-review" process.  See the following table to help your distinguish between scholarly and popular resources:

Scholarly (Journals) Popular (Magazines/Newspapers)
Written by scholars, academics, and researchers. Written by journalists, columnists, reporters, bloggers, etc.
Written for (and by) those with expertise in the field. Written for non-experts and the casually interested.
Thoroughly referenced, with credible and reputable sources. Sometimes referenced, but rarely with academic/scholarly sources.
Written to advance scholarship and academic knowledge. Written to entertain, inform, provoke, and make money.
Usually reviewed by academics and scholars (hence “peer-review”). Usually reviewed by an editor, though freelance work may be un-reviewed.
Examples: Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Cinema Journal, American Journal of Education, Nature Examples: Time, Newsweek Global, National Geographic, The New Yorker

There are some other quick indicators that you can look at to help distinguish between a scholarly and a popular source.  One of the first indicators will be the article's title -- a scholarly work will usually squeeze a lot of keywords into its title while a popular work will tend to be much more general or lead with a provocative question.  A reference list (bibliography/works cited) is also usually an indicator of an academic/scholarly work, though often popular news articles will contain links throughout the text.  The language of a scholarly work may also contain a lot of discipline-specific jargon, and may be denser than the language used in popular works intended to be read by a wide audience. Popular works tend to feature more photographs and pictures, while scholarly works may feature more diagrams. You might also ask yourself a question like, "Would I read this on the bus?" Of course, maybe you would study on the bus, but the general idea is to ask whether the source seems like a casual read or not.

Below is a video explaining the difference (and importance of knowing the difference!) between popular and scholarly articles.  I've also included 5 pairs of popular and scholarly articles, where each pair discusses the exact same research study, but in very different ways.  Notice how short and general the popular articles are, while the scholarly articles are extremely detailed and contain a number of references.  *Note: I didn't make this video but am borrowing from a video used at Illinois College's Schewe Library (my previous library) that was itself stitched together from two other videos by different libraries... they already explained it better than I ever could!*