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UGS 303 Grey is Good (R. Hughes)

Who is an Expert?

An Expert Is. . .

As with so many other things, determining what constitutes expertise in a subject is dependent on context. For example, if you were writing a history paper, which of these people would you call an expert?

  • A faculty member with a PhD in French history
  • A local amateur genealogist
  • The creator of a YouTube series about the history of social justice movements

The answer is that any of them could be a valuable expert. It depends on their specific backgrounds and what information you need!

In general when you are determining whether or not someone is an expert, you are looking at their:

  • Educational background (What degree(s) do they have in what subject?)
  • Profession (Does their job pertain to this subject? Does someone or some organization trust them enough to pay them to do something related to this field?)

Let's look at each of our examples in terms of these two questions.

Faculty Member:

Pros

  • In most fields, a PhD (sometimes called a doctoral degree) is the highest level of education you can obtain. So the faculty member obviously has a lot of education in French history.
  • They have a job in the field.

Cons

  • Is your paper about French history? If it isn't, this is not the expert for you. 

Amateur Genealogist:

Pros

  • Many local historians and genealogists have some educational background in history.
  • They also usually have a lot of first hand knowledge about the area they are covering. 

Cons

  • They are an amateur, which usually means they do not hold a job in the field.

Some professors will be fine with you using amateurs *as long as they can demonstrate their expertise in other ways.* If your paper is about what life was like in a small Texas town in the early twentieth century, an local genealogist can be a great resource! 

YouTube Presenter:

Pros

Cons

  • Not all YouTube videos are made by people who know what they are talking about!
  • Sometimes content creators put more emphasis on the entertainment value rather than the credibility of the information they are presenting

Red flags for YouTube videos include:

  • Not indicating where they got their information
  • Creator gives username only with no more information about their background
  • Video seems designed to make you angry or otherwise emotional

As with the amateur genealogist, you should check with your professor before you rely on a YouTube video. If your professor has said that you may only use scholarly resources for your paper, neither information from an amateur researcher nor the YouTube will be allowable as a source.

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