Bruce Murray, College of Education The Reading Genie

Examining the Motives and Qualifications 
of Writers

As good critical readers, it is important to consider the motives and qualifications of authors.  Authors typically attempt to convince the reader that their point of view is the correct one.  When examining a text, the reader should check to see if: 
1) Facts are provided. 
2) The facts provided have been selectively picked from a broader set of data or factual information and limited to only those that support the author’s opinion or bias. 
3) The facts presented explore perspectives other than the author’s and examine different positions and sides that can be taken in relation to the issue or argument. 
4) The supporting facts pertain to the point being made and prove or support the author’s opinions, arguments, or conclusions.

Regardless of the author’s position and purpose, evidence should be provided to support statements and conclusions, and the sources for that evidence should be cited so readers can check out and judge accuracy of the facts themselves.  When reading critically, readers must be alert to the many points of view that relate to a topic or issue and seek them out if the author does not  acknowledge them. In addition, authors should establish the authority of their claims and arguments. If they don’t, readers must!

Question the authority of writers:

Are the facts straight “from the horse’s mouth” or not? 
How can you tell? 
The only way is to get into that “horse’s mouth” and consider the source.
Is the author identifiable and reliable? Credible? Authoritative? How do you know?

Readers must check qualifications, purposes, and authority of authors.  If, for example, the author of an article on abortion is a practicing physician, the reader should ask critical questions such as: 

  • What is the physician’s specialization?
  • Does the physician’s training and practice in that area of specialization give him credibility as an authority on the topic?
  • Why is the author writing this article? 
  • Does he have ties to pro-life or pro-choice organizations?
  • Has the author included a review of research or conducted research projects to collect evidence that supports positions presented?
  • Is the author attempting to influence positions, choices, and actions taken by readers? 

Critical readers always ask questions and proceed cautiously when making decisions about a course of action indicated or promoted by an author. 
 

Use the following criteria and questions as starters for evaluating the “horse’s mouth” 
and the motives and authority of all authors:

Credibility

 Does the article clearly identify the author(s)? How? Are any credentials, awards, other works by the same author(s) listed to provide evidence of the authority behind claims and reliability of the information presented?

Purpose 

What is the intent of the content? Is the content popular or scholarly, humorous or serious? How do you know? 
What is the purpose of the information? If the document is published on the Internet, what is the URL extension edu, .com, .gov, or .org? What does this tell you about the source and intent of the document?  For tips on reading after the dot and between the letters in extensions, go to 
http://www.ithaca.edu/library/training/think3.html 

If the publication is scholarly and serious, did the document have to meet criteria for quality and credibility applied by a “judge” or “jury” of experts or reviewers before it was published?  Has the accuracy been judged? Does the article appear in a “refereed” journal? (If  a scholarly journal is refereed or juried, the editors always say so, usually on the front or back cover.)

Citations

 Does the author provide sources for evidence and give credit where credit is due? References or sources should be cited to identify sources of information presented and of evidence used to support arguments and claims. These citations  give due credit to the author and provide leads for further investigation and research. References allow readers to check out and evaluate the sources and make up their own minds about issues.

If works are cited, what kind are they? Are they secondary sources that are summaries and analyses of original works, research, and reports? Are they primary sources such as original and authentic texts, documents with first-hand or eyewitness accounts, and research reports?

Corroboration and More Complete Information

 Does the author identify and supply sources for comparable  and more complete information that corroborates and supports claims? Some newspapers and magazines, for example, have partial but not full text information. This “information in brief” format is  especially common for articles published on the Internet. Does the author provide sources for full reports on the topic? Do you have to pay a subscription fee to get to those full-text documents?

Publication or Copyright Dates 

Recency of publication is often a key to accuracy because out-of-date information may be incomplete or just plain wrong!  Is the publication date for the article furnished? Is it recent (no more than three to five years old)? If not, just how old is this piece of work? What is the date of the most recent reference or cited source for evidence that supports claims? Does the author have the latest, most up-to-date, and most accurate information on the topic? If not, you may need to keep looking!

Knowledge changes rapidly, especially when related to health and medical issues or science and technology, requiring that readers be able to critically evaluate accuracy of information. 
 

Here are some Internet sites to explore:

For a real challenge and some fun, check out the Ig Nobel Prizes  “Home Page” and  puzzle your way through questions such as:  Who is the author of this page? What are the author’s purposes? Are the recipients of the Ig Nobel Prizes actual people who really did DO these things? Are the tidbits of information down there at the very bottom of the page linked to “Did they really...” and the references in the descriptions of each prize recipient REALLY for real or just a joke?

As we explore the many possibilities for  evaluating and interpreting facts to find the “truth,” we become more divergent thinkers. Reading different authors with different viewpoints strengthens and enriches our own informed stances as readers, thinkers, decision-makers–if we know what to look for and how to evaluate the credibility of those authors. QUESTION MOTIVES AND AUTHORITY.

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Last modified: January 15, 2019