Be authoritative

Do your research

You don’t need to be academic to be an expert online — but you do need authoritative sources

April 3, 202231 min read

Do your research before you post. You hear that a lot online. But what does it actually mean? Do we need to be an academic to present information on the internet? Certainly not.

Interestingly, academic research is rarely definitive (experts are often wrong) — that's why papers are shared for peer review. Peer review is a stress test of ideas (kind of like social media) and while online discourse may lack the nuance of an academic journal it's common that when you share people will challenge your point. Research is how you back it up.

This is what the internet is supposed to be: the democratization of ideas — and so anyone can should be able to do their research, and present their findings (even if only to be proven wrong). To say otherwise is to gate-keep. That sucks.

Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't something to learn from academia. Good research is good research (regardless of credentials) and there is an authoritative research process we can follow — our due diligence, to ensure we avoid the trappings of being a pseudo-expert online.

What is research?

Oxford dictionary defines research as “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.”

To be clear, nowhere does that say only a certain type of person can do research, or that research need be academic. Research is simply a process of information gathering and investigation. This process is typically for the purpose of making a point and offering sources as evidence.

💡 In this article we'll go over some research fundamentals to help creators of any stripe back up their expertise. Here you'll find an overview of the process, from initial thesis to citing sources (on social media in particular).

Establish a thesis

A thesis is an intuition, something you think is true. The purpose of a thesis in research is to establish a focus of investigation. Is my intuition correct? It may or may not be. Yes, you are trying to prove your point — but you might also prove a point wrong, and so you must maintain a certain openness to that fact to prevent bias. A disproven thesis is a common outcome of research. The point of the research is not to prove a point.

In your research you may find evidence that challenges your fundamental assumptions. you may find new counter intuitive insights, things you just didn't anticipate, or that dispel common myths you yourself had believed. As an aside, this is great content, whether or not it proves your point. Your thesis may be a common mistake others also make — if you can bring that to light — that’s valuable insight (nobody really wants to be wrong).

The take away: A thesis certainly begins with an affirmative point — something you’re sure about, something that you might say in a hot take. However, in research a thesis is just the start — a jumping off point, something you'll stress test against available sources before taking an idea to an audience.

Define your topic

At the core of a thesis is a topic. The topic is the specific term or set of terms that best summarizes the idea space. Our topic is not necessarily our conclusion but the thing it’s about — it is the centre of our mind map from which we branch out into research inquiries (often useful as research keywords).

Is there an "ism", science, school of thought, ideology, discipline, domain or authority at the centre of your point of view?

Examples of topics:

  • Equitable workplaces
  • Design at Apple (the company)
  • Ethics in journalism

Here’s another example — the topic of this article is "academic research for creators". Our thesis? That learning research methods can help creators of create more authoritative content.

Asking questions

From this starting point, we can consider certain key questions:

  • What is academic research?
  • Is academic research necessary?
  • Do creators benefit from academic research?

These questions offer initial search queries for Google (and more authoritative sources) to expand background knowledge of the topic.

As you identify questions, identify keywords. "academic research" is a start for a keyword search — but you’ll want to be more specific to your topic. Add "for non-academics", "for content creator", for "creators" to narrow in. You might get results.

As you your research, you'll encounter terms in the topic space you didn't already know. Capture these in a glossary and add them to you your lexicon of research for future research topics (and content).

Key takeaways

  1. Select a topic: use your thesis to identify your topic of investigation
  2. Ask questions: examine your topic space to identify questions for search
  3. Identify keywords: refine your search terms and create a glossary

Background research

Before you get into it, take a step back. Don't just see the idea, see it's landscape. Any topic spreads out into a spectrum of sub-topics and related concepts. To investigate a topic, yes, we want to dig deep, but we must see the big picture to place it.

Do an initial search — Google, Wikipedia, it doesn't matter where: use your search tools to survey the landscape. What do you find when you search questions and keywords? Whatever comes back tells you something about the general topic space. What resources are available? Who are experts in the topic and who holds the knowledge? From initial definitions to Twitter threads and scientific journals. The context of you topic offers a range of perspectives.

This background, helps you find yourself in the landscape. This is important: broad awareness helps de-bias your sources. Get to know the intrinsic bias. Knowing the initial obvious stance, gives you a jumping off point for something insightful (just look for ideas that are at the fringes or that lack definition) but also helps you see more objectively when you make your argument.

In practice: background database

Add definitions to your glossary, save bookmarks, make a background database — capture a bunch of links you can reference for context or future search for resources.

Be careful however not to over internalize all this info too soon this is background. You might have a unique insight worth pursuing so don't let initial research bias you until you're ready to dig through a range authoritative sources.

Refine your topic

Now that you have a broad sense of the topic space you can refine. Go back to your initial thinking: what were your research questions and keywords? You skimmed the literature and learn new terminology. Does that change your search, negate certain resources, or change your topic entirely?

If your initial thesis is still standing after background research you should at the very least have new terms to narrow your search and choice of sources.

If needed you might also refine your thesis to incorporate these terms — you may be on to something, but your initial ideas wasn’t quite on target. Refine your thesis based on background — use the most specific keywords possible to give your thesis definition.

Of course — you might also abandon your thesis. This is still refinement, based on what you learn in background research you may have new insight — an intuition, a new thesis to put through this initial process.

Select your sources

Sources may solicit opinions from academics: however not everything is studied in an academic context. We can intellectualize anything — there are endless niches, but not every topic gets studied academically, and so academic sources aren’t always easy to come by.

This an opportunity! If no one has done a lot of authoritative research, you might be the one to go there. That’s great content. However it makes research more complicated — you’ll need to be more academic and carefully select your sources.

The key is to assess sources with some objective criteria. There a range of sources — improve the quality of your sources to improve the quality of your research and as a creator the quality of information in your content.

Types & quality of sources

A source can be almost anything that offers some kind of information on a topic. However, there are certain types of sources which are more authoritative than others.

Academic sources

Peer-reviewed academic publications, for example, are considered a high quality type of source. Credible journals (e.g., Science) offer rigorous research and analysis, with articles including evidence and reference to other high quality sources. Some journals are paid to read, however, you can also find access many academic journals free (and online) through your local library.

A word of caution — not all journals are authoritative. Check the reputation of your sources. There are journals that claim to be authoritative, while printing pretty much anything, for pay. Take note of publications with established reputations (especially those associated with recognized institutions, like Universities).

Other high quality sources

Encyclopedia, and recent textbooks are also considered high quality sources, when from reputable publishers. Again your local library is your friend often with access to these sources online.

What about Wikipedia? Wikipedia does hold a high standard, and authors are expected to offer citation for facts — but quality varies by topic. In general with Wikipedia, you'll want to reference your niche expertise to evaluate the sources provided and determine if any poorly cited information might merit corroboration before you accept it as a source.

Credible non-academic sources

Depending on your niche you may also find high quality sources in government and non-government organizations. Many government bodies offer open data or publish regular reports about their activity (for example the U.S. or City of Toronto’s Open Data). Government departments may also publish useful resources for sectors or individuals under their mandate (for example for UX in government digital services or Canada’s Food Guide).

There are also many reputable non-government bodies (for example, the WHO) who regularly publish authoritative reports (offering evidence with citation).

In any case it’s important to keep in mind the bias of the organization you draw from. Both governments and NGOs suffer from politics that may bias analysis to justify mandate and policy. Again, check the sources cited in any resource to corroborate facts.

Reputable publications

Back at your local library, you'll also likely find a searchable catalogue of books, magazines, and newspapers. As an expert, you should be well versed in current media publication on your topic. These mid-quality sources can also be credible depending on the publisher (or writer). Nationally distributed news magazines or newspapers, for example, may offer rigour in terms of fact checking (and journalism is often fact checked by third parties, like Snopes).

Unfortunately, some reputable publications may also at times publish biased editorials and many non-fiction books offer more opinion than fact. As an expert, you need to spot the difference. Use your discretion and critical eye when sourcing facts for content. In general take special care to check the reputation of non-academic publishers, especially those far outside the mainstream (don't share fake news).

Online sources

Then there is everything else you'll find online. Including this blog! Search nearly any topic online, you'll find millions of articles, videos, podcasts, and social posts. Digital media sources vary widely in type & quality. From an academic perspective, unfortunately, much of it is considered low-quality.

That’s not to suggest you ignore all online sources — there are experts online, academic or not, sharing content. As sources they may offer novel insight, diverse perspective, or meta analysis on a topic. They may also have access to the latest research, or exist outside of the academic mainstream for a good reason (for example they are cutting edge in their niche). Ignoring these sources in favour of only the most academic may limit both the currency and relevancy of our content.

As an authoritative creator, it’s ultimately up to you to select your sources (with specific consideration for your niche). What sources do you trust? Keep in mind that academic sources can also be wrong, or biased. No source is above reproach, and no source should be dismissed without reason.

Looking at expert creators as a source? Exercise your best judgement. Experts should qualify their credentials, and back up their statements with evidence. Never be afraid to fact check your peers (sometimes challenging another expert in your niche is the best way to establish your authority).

Figure: table of types and quality of published sources

Often highPeer reviewed publications, encyclopedia and text booksSome journals and encyclopedias are more authoritative than others — check for reputation in your niche
Sometimes highGovernment and non-government (.gov and .org)Some organizations are biased by mandate or politics. Check for bias and corroborate facts.
Sometimes high, occasionally lowBooks, magazines, newspapersDepends on the publisher and writer. Check sources, fact check and note and editorial bias.
Often low, occasionally highBlogs, podcasts, videosDiffer to your expertise. Check sources, fact check and corroborate.

Empirical evidence

Outside of institutions and publications in many topic spaces your investigation may also benefit from a more hands on approach. Experimentation, first-person observation, interviews — gathering evidence from the real world is an essential task of research.

As a creator consistently capturing media — photos, audio, and video is the name of the game — to be authoritative, you must consider how what you capture acts as evidence for or against your thesis. Treat it as empirical data. Observe, capture and catalog.

For some topics, observation may mean observing people. Contextual research, or observing people in the context of their experience (e.g., at work, simply doing what they do) is a great way to learn. When investigating the experience of others ask questions — interview primary sources for their perspective. Be sure to contextualize this qualitative data: it's a primary source, however, it represents experience (not necessarily fact).

Primary & secondary

Another way to evaluate sources is by proximity — how many degrees of separation are between you and the original source? Experts cite experts, who cite experts, who cite experts... all the while bias is incorporated through analysis at every step. This can make it hard to track ideas back — typically, the greater the distance from its point of origin, the harder it becomes to corroborate a fact.

As part of background we should identify the most cited research in our niche. This is usually where you’ll find data at its primary source. Working from the foundations we are free to offer our own analysis less biased by other experts — useful especially if we intend to offer a new perspective.

On the other hand, some creators we may actually be more interested in summarizing or critiquing the the analysis of other (often called meta-analysis) — maybe this content will be in response to other creators in our niche. While our research will focus on secondary sources we’ll still need a basis for comparison, and so being well versed in the primary sources remains key.

Primary sources

What are primary sources? Primary sources offer direct evidence: first hand accounts (gathered via interview, or through historical media) or direct observation (gathered through experimentation or study).

In different topic spaces, primary sources vary, primary sources may include both quantitative and qualitative data. In the “hard sciences” where systematic observation and measurement is the rule quantitative data is fundamental, for example, measurement of the chemical composition of a star with a spectrometer is direct evidence — so a paper about this observation by those monitoring the spectrometer would be a primary source.

That doesn’t however limit “soft sciences” from offering primary sources — for example, for past events historical sources might include letters that describe the event, photographs that offer evidence to its occurrence, or even paintings, novels, or poetry which reflect on the event (from the empirical perspective of those who witnessed it).

For contemporary considerations — in topics like pop culture or society we can be more direct, going out and sourcing opinion and perspective (i.e., interviewing), or by capturing media of events ourselves as evidence.

While the term “primary sources” comes with a certain air of authority, context is key. Just because they are primary doesn't mean they represent facts, merely evidence. Sometimes primary sources offered out of context (for example, a partial or redacted quote or a selective slice of the data) prove a point which differs from reality. Be careful not to offer primary sources out of context — capture evidence objectively and consider it wholly and without alteration.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources on the other hand offer evidence by citing primary sources. They are not the direct source of the information, but a take on it — an interpretation, perspective or analysis. These sources include text books, encyclopedia, academic papers — just because they are secondary, doesn't mean they are non-authoritative. Secondary sources may aggregate many primary sources as evidence to a central thesis, offering authoritative proof for a point.

As an authoritative creator, secondary sources will be essential to our research — the key here is how we use them. In our research we can reference the citations in secondary sources to surface primary sources, or we can reference arguments made in secondary sources as a jumping off point to make our own.

We can certainly cite these sources directly in these cases, but again, context is key: don't present secondary sources as direct evidence, instead — reference them as also providing additional context to your content (e.g., "for more information...") and the conversation on the topic.


In research search is the process of looking for relevant sources based on your topic and identified keywords. Your search strategy likely begins with Google, even if that's just to search the features of your local library. Experts of all stripes rely on Google for research, as the go to index of everything online.

The challenge is that searching a vast index of information (like Google) for authoritative sources requires careful navigation. Specificity is key, but we can't always just precisely search our thesis. A search strategy requires nuance and expertise. We need to reference our glossary and apply logic get exact results with search.

Google search

The quality of sources in initial results in a Google search depends on a few factors. Results can be largely dependant on context — for example, is your niche primarily academic or commercial? Commercial topics like brands or products often attract a lot of attention from content marketers (when compared to say, hard sciences where you’ll find more academia).

That’s not to say content marketers can't be authoritative. Any well executed content with domain authority can certainly point you in the right direction, especially with citations — but we also want to find our own primary sources (to corroborate).

Then there are your topic keywords — are they unique to your niche or common to other domains? Often certain words have different meanings in different contexts. If there is any ambiguity in your keywords than your search may return mixed results.

In general you need to niche in your search — precisely. This requires more nuance than simply plugging in your topic and keywords. You need a strong understanding of the context and terms in your context but you also need a search strategy. Luckily Google offers some robust features to dial in your search for authoritative results.

Examine your keywords

When you established your topic, and glossary of terms, your background research likely uncovered some ambiguities in the topics space (unrelated topics that use similar terms, or results that skew commercial, for example).

As you revisit these search queries, take note of the results. What are the most or least relevant sources? What results might wish to filter out of your searches? Are any of your keywords, or phrases ambiguous in the meaning? How might you get disambiguate?

Use operators

To narrow in on more exact matches in your search you can use google's advanced search operators. Whats an operator? Search operators are additional keywords you can add to your search to ensure more explicit results. Operators define the logical relationship between terms — for example, we can quote text (e.g., "like this") to ensure only results that contain that exact phrase in our search.

There are many other basic operators (for example, AND, OR, parentheses and wildcards) that if you are at all familiar with basic programming (like using a spreadsheet) should be intuitive to use. Simply add these operators to your search terms (here's a great guide) to narrow to more specific results.

Use parameters

Parameters are like operators: syntax you add to your search to modify results. Different from operators, parameters allow us to filter based on specific attributes of the results (instead of operating more generally on the text, title or keywords of the results).

Parameters use a query syntax (typically, the parameter followed by a colon, e.g., site: ). Place keywords in a parameter and this will filter returning results only where the parameter matches your query. For example if we’re looking for result only from educationally institutions adding will return results only from sites that use a .edu domain. Google offers many powerful parameters you can use to unlock more specific results from your keywords.

Used together, parameters and operators can be a bit hard to wrap your head around. These advanced search queries are effectively algorithms so don't feel overwhelmed if it seems technical, it is. It’s also highly necessary in getting more authoritative search results. Start with the basics, and take notes and your search strategies will develop over time.

Other search sources

As you leverage Google, you'll likely start to identify quality sources in your niche. Take inventory of domains that keep popping up in your search and especially those that also allow you to narrow your results with their own on site search.

Academic journals, forums, news sites and blogs — most sites have some kind of built in search to (or you can use Google search to narrow in results on that domain). In fact many will also have their own filters and sort options you can use to further hone your search.

As you explore sources (and bookmark searches) you may note the way your URL changes as you sort, filter, and add keywords. Like with google these parameters and logical operators are the raw input of your search. Don’t be afraid to play around with the logic in the URL bar. Get to know the search syntax, hands on — try to break it to learn how it works. This is how you get technical with search to get interesting and relevant results.

Searching in a book

Of course all this isn't to fully omit traditional sources. Books! Libraries are typically digitally catalogued, and so the above guide to honing your online search applies. however — at some point it may require you actually open a book and index for yourself. Hopefully this is intuitive to you, but if you're used to the convenience of search online, you might forget that books also often offer great tools to help you index the contents from keywords:

Parse the index

Read the index, (at least its high level sections) to index for the top level categories of a book. Consider your keywords, and flag page numbers for sections of the book which may contain insights on your topic.

Reference the glossary

Many books have a glossary. For short books you might read the glossary in full (either before or after you've read the book) to become better acquainted with the general terminology. For longer books skim for robust definitions you can use to bolster your own glossary (and future keyword searches).

Check the sources

Any good non-fiction book has citations. Secondary sources can be a great source for primary sources, so scan the back of book for data and deep dives.

Keep track

As you search it's important to consider how you keep track of all your sources. As an authoritative creator you'll site these as evidence to your point, and more generally, as a reference database of authoritative sources on your topic.

Gather sources

You're got your search strategy, you’re searching. You find all kinds of content relevant to your topic and authoritative sources in your space. Depending on your topic, there could be a lot. Academic papers and open data, it's easy to be overwhelmed by input — am I actually going to read all of this? You need a moment to gather your thoughts (and all these inputs) before you know what to focus on.

That’s a good strategy. Take a step back — at the beginning we’re just gathering sources, expanding on background and narrowing our search. Whatever meaningful results you get — just collect what’s of interest, and in a way you can easily parse.


To gather sources so you can easily index you'll want to capture certain details. Create a research database (a simple spreadsheet or table will do). Start gathering links then elaborate with additional information necessary to potentially cite each source.

What's important for citation? Start with title, author, publisher, publication, and date. You can create columns in your sheet for each attribute. Useful for citation these details will also help you evaluate sources — Is the source up to date? Is the publisher or author reputable? Is the publication high quality?

You might also categorize sources by type (e.g., journals, news articles, blogs), source quality, or if they are primary or secondary sources. In this way you can use these categories as a filter for only the most authoritative sources.

While this might seem like extra work, this database will serve a purpose beyond your current research — so take time to organize sources accordingly. Consider your your niche, thesis and topic. Use the terms in your glossary. Apply your selected keywords. Organize, tag, and sort using your own terminology to help you index sources effectively. A well categorized research database will serve you well for ongoing reference and inspiration in creating authoritative content.


As part of the process of taking inventory of your sources from search results, you'll want make a tertiary evaluation of each source to place it in your priorities (in terms of what you'll actually read and reference) and vet sources that are dubious.

Evaluation shouldn't be time consuming and as an expert in our niche we should have (or be in the process of developing) a keen eye for dubious information. However, to further develop our evaluation criteria we can create a checklist to quickly evaluate our sources. Consider the following:

  • Currency: is the content recent?
  • Recognition: are you or others in your niche familiar with the source?
  • Scholarly: are they academic in terms of institution or research approach?
  • Credible: does the source offer citation, evidence and authoritative proof?
  • Accuracy: are there facts cited that are in dispute which might compromise the source?
  • Relevance: is the content specific to your thesis topic?
  • Intent: what is the motivation of the work? is it possible the information is biased by intent?

Checking bias

Be wary of intent — news sources while seemingly authoritative are often more editorial than is immediately obvious. Sponsored or commercial content even when authoritative often aims to make their point to sell a product. Check sources and always ask “can these facts be corroborated?” before citing a single and potentially biased source.

Stand the test of time

Special consideration might also be given to ensuring the source will stand the test of time. Content online can come and go — will your source hold up?

In research we consider sources with staying power archival i.e., content that is accessible to to others and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. This will allow others to check your citations for the long term.

Checking credentials

Finally, it may also merit digging in to the original creator of the content you cite: does the author have appropriate expertise? You know you niche, compare their credentials to your own and others. If they are speaking out of turn you might not want to cite them as source (even if their own sources check out).


In the process of evaluation we've narrowed our sources. Now we can begin to process the material and really dig into research. So what does that look like?

Consider your thesis

Before we get right to it, however, it's good to take a second to revisit your thesis. What's the point of all this again? In your background research and through evaluating your sources it's possible your questions have changed. Is your thesis still fundamentally relevant?

Make sure you're clear on the questions your asking before you get into the research as this is the context — (you're why,) so it's good to not lose sight while you process all this research.

A good way to keep your thesis in focus is to keep your notes outlined with the same key questions you first identified. As you read, answer those questions as much as you can (while not remaining constrained to them entirely).

We may not find direct answers to our questions — we may actually find data that disproves our position entirely (forcing you to restart the research process). That's ok — discovery part of the research process. In the meantime keep your thesis and questions in focus to parse inputs most relevant to your point.

Do the reading

At this point the key is to focus on the content of our sources. In evaluation you likely identified certain priority sources — start there. Read thoroughly, Take notes, and keep a browser open to make tertiary searches. Work to understand and internalize the content you've earmarked as authoritative.

It's possible some of your sources point to primary sources — data you can use to dig deeper. Add these sources to your inventory for evaluation — but stay focused. Process one source at a time — aim to understand the thesis and data of each even you find information beyond your specific expertise.


If in gathering sources you identify authors, researchers, and primary sources that are accessible (i.e., people you can speak to directly) consider reaching out. If you can interview a source or expert doing primary research you can bring your questions directly to them.

While people might not always respond, reaching out for interviews is a good habit of research. A conversation with an expert or source may not confirm your thesis but may offer all kinds of novel insights. Authoritative interviews are also great content for a podcast — so don't forget to record your conversations as part of your research.


In the process of processing sources you'll want to take notes. Take a moment to consider how to best organize your thoughts:

Books, papers, and articles, are often organized with headings to denote sections; they use figures, tables, and lists to visualize and structure information; they use glossaries and footnotes to disambiguate concepts. Take note of these patterns and follow suit.

Drawing from your sources and thesis begin to organize your thoughts informed by what you find in the topic space. Use your own headings to capture the various high level topic areas. Use lists and indentation to to reflect the hiearchy of concepts (i.e., the taxonomy). Populate your glossary. Visualize data. In general, keep things concise (you’ll focus on content later) and parsable.

An organized outline offers an overview useful for research and bucketing information, and as it develops, will begin to reflect the structure for your argument.

Copy and paste

As you capture notes you may want to quote or copy and paste content directly from your sources. To avoid plagerism, be careful to embed links to sources throughout your notes (or make reference via a footnote). For future citation be disciplined keeping sources inventoried in your research database.

Modeling the topic

As you process sources you'll start to identify information patterns intrinsic to the topic space. There may be many common mental models referenced in the literature — frameworks or standards which inform how data or ideas are organized.

Different mental models will offer benefits and trade-offs toward a conceptual understanding. It’s worth considering your topic space carefully — What are they key concepts? How do concepts correlate? How are concepts ordered or structured to form an hiearchy?

As we organize research it offers an opportunity to explore different mental models. Leveraging existing models gives us models we can reference, but we must not feel especially bound to them — organize the topic space informed by your thesis and point of view. It’s possible your model will offer unique insight, an execellent source of original content to draw from.


Through processing sources and organizing notes you may gather a little, you may gather a lot of content. In either case (and however ever you intend to render your inputs as content) you'll want to wrap the research process with a concise summary (an abstract) which distills your research to a point.

This is a practical step — whether it's in a video description, an article tagline, or the substance of your point in short for social media, a summary aims to distill content down to it's smallest irreducible form.

How is this done? Revisit your thesis, your key questions, and research. Then merely make your point concisely. State your thesis and answer the key questions citing evidence from research. Assuming that your thesis holds up, most ideas worth sharing can be distilled to a single paragraph (or sentence). Do that.

For longer form content a summary may serve as a teaser to draw people in to watch or read. Don’t bury the lead: make your summary pointed. Affirm to yourself and your audience that you're able to synthesize. From there you can expand on the topic — but begin with a strong synthesis to peak interest and establish your authority.

As you move from research to creating content this summary should serve as both a clarifying statement and the substance of what you're going to say. The structure of any good authoritative content will rely on first presenting an argument, then over subsequent sections, presenting key points with evidence (clearly outlined) that back that argument up. A clear summary is your north star for content that is to the point — so as you elaborate on your thesis keep your summary top of mind.


When you make a claim you need to back that up with something — offer evidence. Citation allows others to do their research to corroberate.

When it comes to creator content citations are often be ad hoc. It's the nature of media that moves quickly that you can't always include citations in 280 characters or a 30 second videos. However, working in citations wherever possible (in comments, replies, or captions) will enhance your content authority. Where difficult to work into to content it’s still good to have citations at the ready — as experts people will question your authority, it’s best to come with receipts.

Anatomy of a good citation

So what's a good citation? Most simply, a citation identifies your source and makes it easy for your audience to track facts down. Online thats pretty easy: provide the most direct link available (i.e., a web URL) to the source.

Of course, context is also important. Nobody likes clicking a blind link and so your citation should also include enough information to identify the link and qualify the source.

As a baseline, a good citation would offer the following (in order of importance):

  • Link: a URL to the resource itself for easy access, or if the resource is gated, a link to where the resource can be purchased from a publisher
  • Title: the precise name of the resource as listed to allow for others to search it
  • Date: a publishing date to help quantify the currency of the resource
  • Author and or publisher: the author or authors, and if available the publisher (i.e., the organization that published resource, e.g., a specific domain, organization, or channel)

These are data points you should already be tracking for your sources so simply keep those close at hand when creating content.

Where possible incorporate sources in your content body or as a appendix. Doing a live video, or posting up in a social thread? Keep citations top of mind, be ready to reference your sources accurately, and on demand — nothing settles debate better than accurate facts or statistics, well cited.

Citing content online? Try the Citation Machine to offer API format citations from web URLs.

Citation in practice for creators

As a creator, content doesn't always take shape as a long form article where you can stash sources in a appendix or offer subtext. Most content today is off the cuff, even if it's coming from an authoritative source offering well researched content.

To avoid citation slowing you down, you need to incorporate it smartly. There are a few ways you can do this, that vary by platform and medium:

Social posts

On social media where content is short-form links are an easy citation. Most sites will parse a link, and pull and image, title and other data for display in a feed. Just be certain you've read what you're posting — to be an authoritative, you have to do the reading. You should also be adding something valuables to the conversation — as an expert, offer analysis.

If citing another creator you can @ them directly (i.e., use the @name syntax as a platform allows) or simply, share their post directly. Yes this is citation, and it's much better than sharing a screenshot (as while a person could delete a post) if your giving credit, your contributing to others also discovering their content — generating social capital. Refer to experts and experts might even reference you back.


In video, there a number of ways you might cite. First, you can just shout out the source of a fact you provide (adding citations to your script). Incorporating citation is a great way to project authority as it demonstrates confidence in your information.

Quotation with attribution can also be a way to incorporate citation seamlessly and accurately. Is there a meaningful quote you can pull to make your point? Read the quote, and state the author (publication and publisher) making it easy for individuals to search, while also adding the accurate quotation to your transcript, captions, and even in the description below make it accessible. Where possible you might even consider adding links in the description (or in your bio) following the anatomy of a good citation.

Citation can also be included through editing and production. Add a screenshot to your video and if the platform allows it link directly to the cited content. If your source is concise take a soundbite or clip and share it as part of your content . Depending on the platform you might first request permission but in most cases online this kind of sourcing is expected — simply offer an attribution and ensure it is as clear and direct as possible (i.e., provide a link to the source directly).

Articles and long form

Long form web content offers creators direct opportunity to offer sources and citations — the web is built on the concept of the hyperlink. Embedded links in text are a great way to cite facts and link to sources. It can also offer a way to offer clarification for common concepts while avoiding superfluous definition or over-explanation.

In many blogging platforms you can also embedded social or video content directly allowing sources to be included directly along side your points. You might also include snippets from text based content via a direct copy and paste (as long as you provide attribution) — a formatted quote with a link to the source (along with other attribution information) is also a perfectly strong way to source and cite.

Something to keep in mind — whenever you link or embed content be careful to not distract from the point (or worse send users away chasing sources). To offer evidence linking or embedding content provides a very direct citation — but ensure your content also stands on its own.

It can also be a best practice to ensure additional context for any link you provide as blind links can misdirect users. To offer a strong citation don't just link a line of text, cite the source: name the link with a title and give it an author, publisher, or other details to help users gain context.

Finally it’s worth noting that traditional citation methods totally apply to long form content. An essay is kind of an academic format so feel free to use footnotes if you're publishing platform allows its. Otherwise, you could also simply add an appendix to your content with sources. Whatever works best for your content strategy. The key is simply to avoid offering evidence without a source, regardless of method — to be authoritative always strive to offer citation.

Article by Sean Rioux