What Are Authoritative Sources and How To Find Them?

Alaina Bradenburger
Published: Sep 27, 2023
Table of Contents
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To rise to the top of search engine results pages (also known as SERPS) and enhance your online presence, you need high-quality and engaging content. Great content is as engaging as it is informative — it hooks your audience and makes them want to read more. But you also need to establish your authority and credibility. Finding and citing authoritative sources in your work accomplishes this goal. So what is an authoritative source? Here’s your guide to weeding out the junk and finding the best resources for your content.

What Makes a Source Authoritative?

Since anyone can publish on the internet, it's crucial to find an authoritative source for data. A source is considered authoritative if it is a recognized, trusted source of accurate information. These sources include well-established institutions, industry leaders, governmental agencies, and university websites.

Scholarly websites including academic databases and university websites are great authoritative sources because academic articles are subject to a rigorous review process before publishing. But you’re not limited to educational websites. You can also find credible information from authors who are credentialed or who are well-known industry experts on various subjects.

Why Should You Care About Authoritative Sources?

One of the main reasons you’re likely writing quality content is for search engine optimization (SEO). Writing credible, authoritative content is a popular way to rise through the SERPS, because Google’s algorithm uses sources as a way to determine quality. Recently, the Google E-A-T algorithm update (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) added an extra “E” for experience. This refers to the firsthand experience of the content creator in regard to their topic.

Quoting and crediting authoritative sources in your content also helps your audience trust that you are giving them accurate and useful information. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of misinformation floating around. Authoritative sources enhance your credibility and help you grow your audience.

The 4 Tiers of Sources and How To Spot Them

When you’re drafting content outlines and looking for authoritative sources, check out these resources as the best places to launch your search. Keep the list of source types handy to save time in your research.

1. Academic Publications Reviewed by Peers

Academic journals and other educational publications sit at the top of the list. Because academic journals put every article through a thorough review process, you can be sure anything you find in one of these journals is a peer-reviewed source.

When writing for an academic journal, you can’t make outlandish statements that aren’t backed up by facts. Anyone authoring these articles is required to provide evidence for their claims, and they should link references to other reliable sources. Find these resources through sites including Google Scholar or directly from educational institutions’ websites.

2. Non-Academic Publications From Credible Sources

Next on the list are articles, studies, and other content from credible sources, which may include governmental agencies, professional organizations, and academic institutions. For example, the Harvard Business Review is not an academic journal, so its content is not peer-reviewed. However, as a respected educational institution, you can reasonably expect this publication to provide reliable information.

If you’re looking for health information, you might rely on information from government sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or an industry leader such as the Mayo Clinic, for instance. These organizations publish articles and studies from experts who can back up their claims with solid research.

You can sift through search results for non-academic sources by adding .gov or .org to your search terms.

3. Short-Form Content From Newspapers or Credible Websites

Well-established newspapers and other websites are also great sources of authoritative information. Stick with short-form content, such as news articles and shorter blog posts on a credible news agency’s website. Newspapers and other media have leeway when presenting facts in long-form stories, including opinion pieces. Before you cite a statistic from an authoritative news source, make sure you can find information to back up the claim.

Other credible websites include well-known publications such as Forbes or Tech Radar.

4. Opinion-Based Pieces From Unknown and Unchecked Sources

When you’re writing content for your business, stay away from digital sources on tier four, including personal blogs, contributor sources, opinion pieces, and other less-than-credible websites. Many of these sites present opinions as fact without any data to back up their claims. They may be slanted to confirm one side of an argument and may twist data to meet their objectives. Keep in mind that if someone is presenting statistics, they should link the original source.

However, not all opinion pieces spread misinformation with malicious intent. Some personal websites actually contain helpful information. You can use these resources as a starting point by looking for keywords or links to peer-reviewed articles and other authoritative websites.

How To Evaluate a Source With the CRAAP Method

Use the CRAAP method to better understand what an authoritative website is and back up your content with expertise. CRAAP stands for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. When you are looking for sources, ask yourself specific questions to assess each site’s authority.

Key Questions To Assess Currency

Currency refers to when the information was published. In general, it’s better to use recent information as a source, because the world is ever-evolving. A statistic that may have been true a decade ago may not be relevant anymore. These questions will help you establish currency:

  • When was the article written?
  • Has key data included within the article been updated?
  • What is the article’s copyright date?
  • How timely is the information related to the topic?
  • What is the publication date of the sources cited in the article?

Key Questions To Assess Relevance

Relevance refers to how an authoritative article or other source relates to your topic. You want to look for information that backs up your claims while remaining relevant to your audience. It’s also important to look for sources your audience can understand. If your sources are too technical for your audience, you may want to cite another source with similar information that is written for the general public. Use these questions to determine relevance:

  • Does the source relate to your topic outline?
  • Who is the intended audience for the information?
  • How complex is the information related to your audience?
  • How many other sources have you evaluated?

Key Questions To Assess Authority

If you want to establish yourself as a topic expert, you should be learning from other topic experts. To establish the authority of a source, you need to understand if the author or publisher is the most credible source of the information. Looking for authority will also help you determine if a source is objective and reliable. Ask these questions to guide your search:

  • Who is the author?
  • Does the author have a biography or is there a link to their profile?
  • Is the author credentialed in the topic?
  • How was the research funded?

Key Questions To Assess Accuracy

Accuracy refers to the truthfulness, reliability, and credibility of information. At this stage, you might start fact-checking claims within the article or study by looking at other sources on the same topic. Click on the original source and read all quoted passages in context to make sure the author isn’t trying to mislead you. Ask yourself these questions to determine if a source is presenting accurate information:

  • How are the sources cited and listed in the article?
  • Are the quotes presented in context?
  • Does the article contain exaggerations or omissions?
  • Does the article contain factual errors?

If you’re looking at information from reputable sources with claims that are backed up by data citing the original sources, you can probably determine that the article is accurate. However, if your source article is quoting a source that is known to be disreputable, or they are taking quotes out of context, you may want to look for similar information from a more reliable organization.  

Key Questions To Assess Purpose

Finally, assess the article’s purpose. An article or blog post’s intended audience dictates how you write it. If you’re writing an article for peer review and publication in an academic journal, you’d likely use technical terminology backed up with a lot of statistics and other factual data.

However, if you’re summarizing the same information for the general public, you would more likely distill the information and use general language so it’s easier to read. You might also highlight parts of your research that are most relevant to your audience. Ask yourself these questions to assess purpose:

  • Why did the author write the article?
  • Did the author clearly state their purpose?
  • Is the article objective?
  • Is the author trying to persuade you?
  • Are there any obvious biases in the article?

How Our Subject Matter Experts Can Help You Boost Authority

Compose.ly’s subject matter experts help you create authoritative content to establish yourself as a reputable thought leader in your field. We can also evaluate your existing content, weaving in expertise and helping you select the most authoritative sources for your topic.

With our help, you can build a relationship with your audience based on trust and potentially move up in the SERPs. Find your subject matter expert today.


How can you distinguish between truly authoritative sources and those that appear credible but may not be?

Go into detective-mode and look for established reputation, peer-reviewed content, credentials of authors, and citations in other reputable works. You can also verify the source’s claims through cross-referencing.

Are there tools or platforms that can help identify authoritative sources more efficiently?

Yes, academic databases like Google Scholar, JSTOR, and specific industry databases, as well as tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs for SEO-related research, can help identify authoritative sources efficiently.

How can the credibility of a source be impacted by its purpose or intent?

The source's purpose, such as to educate, to sell, or to advocate, can skew the information presented. So, assessing the intent behind the content in question helps determine its objectivity and reliability.

What role does the publication date play in the authority of a source, especially in fast-evolving fields?

Marketing and SEO has already been a rollercoaster this year, and we're only a quarter of the way through it. In fast-evolving fields, the publication date is pretty important because older sources may simply contain outdated information. It's important to use the most current data to ensure the source's authority remains relevant.

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