Foster Courtney, Steven Grant

Learning Objectives

  • Understand what authority is and how it is determined.
  • Be able to identify writer’s identity and recognize how it is used.
  • Understand the different ways to speak “authority”.
  • Recognize an appropriate amount of mushfaking and how it can properly be used.

Authority can come as many different things in different situations, however, in writing, it comes through what you do know, what you fake to know, and what you credit to others as what they know. It is simply given or earned in the workplace and can be kept if standards are maintained through what you say and do.  In this chapter all of the things just mentioned will be covered.  Authority is often faked, although  it is needed to be understood where to  attempt to fake the authority, and where to draw from a third-party source.
Authority is not something that can just be thrown around but rather needs to be used in a very careful way, but more of something that is given or earned that must be maintained based on words and actions. Overstepping authority can cause a loss of it, however, underusing it can cause people to not take the writing seriously.   This brings us to the concept of belonging.   If you feel as if you
do not belong then attaining authority can be next to impossible. Belonging can be transcribed, or
shown, from how you act around certain groups of people, or even how you write.

Types of Authority

When it comes to writing one can speak AS an authority or speak WITH authority. The difference is that when one speaks as an authority they are basing stuff off of prior knowledge, as well as keeping in mind the fact that there are other possibilities. In other words this means that you are considering other possibilities and outcomes, as well as your instincts.  For example, many daytime talk show hosts discuss issues and have their own opinions, but acknowledge there are other points of view and have value.

Speaking with authority is disregarding the other possibilities and only looking at the one outcome, which is usually your own thoughts and ideas. Politicians often speak with authority because they impose their ideas, and only their ideas, onto others.  There is a lack of communication or acknowledgement of any other side.   

When asked to write examples of speakers that speak as or with authority, most people placed heroes in the “as” category, and villains in the “with” category.  To be clear, speaking with authority is not necessarily bad, it is just more determined to have its way.

How is it used?

Authority is a simple subject that can often be misunderstood by over complicating the thought process involved in analyzing authority. Authority is a concept that does not always have to be concrete. Contrary to other writing concepts, authority is one that can be both oral and written and is constantly changing. We all experience it in every day encounters without even realizing it.

 Authority is focused on how the presented genre is understood and used in interactions between people. For example, imagine your most recent visit to a sit-down restaurant. As expected, there is always conversation between the waiter and the customer about the menu and certain meals. The authority is being given and taken between the waiter and customer like a “tug-of-war”.  Despite different restaurants having different menus and contents, the menu is almost always a key role in the interaction between the waiter and customer. The authority is constantly changing between the waiter and customer as they each have methods of taking authority in their interaction. A customer may not know what a certain word means or meal consists of, and by them asking the waiter to translate for them, they are presenting the waiter the opportunity to take authority. Whether or not the waiter is able to take the authority is based solely upon their past experience and ability to answer the question in a fashion that will satisfy the customer.

On the other hand, the customer also has opportunities to take the authority from the waiter. If a customer requests a special item that is not on the menu, such as a certain topping on a pizza, they can gain authority because they are attempting to raise the interaction away from the genre, the menu, and have the waiter please their specific appetite. However, this also presents another opportunity for the waiter to take authority, depending on how they answer. Because the situation has moved away from the menu, it is now based on how the waiter is able to read the customer and answer according to what they think might satisfy that specific customer.

Because authority is a dynamic concept, it may be lost temporarily or permanently if the reader or listener requests an explanation, that is, if they are questioning the authority of the writer or speaker. Specifically, this can apply to newcomers in a community. While newcomers are generally allowed a grace period to adapt to the community’s style and practices, they must soon learn how to appropriately express their authority to other members of the community. If misused, the newcomer may lose the authority they gained when joining the community.

Contrary to popular belief, the key to being able to write with more authority is not centered on gaining more knowledge in a specific genre or field of study. It may seem as though writers struggle to write with authority on a subject they are not familiar with, which may be true, however they should focus on the rhetorical knowledge and  become proficient at analyzing where they can take authority before focusing on the subject matter itself. Writers should be able to read and further evaluate a text so they are able to question or respond to the text with their own opinion. One real life example of this concept is a basic in-class discussion.


Being one of the most common paper writing strategies for students, mushfaking can be useful for writing an effective paper. Mushfaking is essentially used as an attempt to display an authority that a subject does not specifically possess. For example, a student may write a research paper based on information gained from other sources to portray gained knowledge. While this may sound like a negative attribute, mushfaking can be beneficial if it is used properly.

Mushfaking can allow writers to improve their own writing skills by imitating those with a greater authority. Therefore, your own writing may gain authority later on with gained knowledge and experience. While this may sound like copying another writer’s work, mushfaking should be used appropriately to truly gain authority and not to simply get by.

Key Vocab Terms

  • Authority: A continually negotiated concept that is determined by how the presented genre is understood and used in interactions between people.
  • Mushfaking: Using false authority to attempt to display greater authority than one realistically possesses.
  • Belonging: A way of understanding how to speak and interact appropriately in different settings.



Identity is one of easiest writing concepts to understand. It is the newcomers’ perception of themselves and their roles within an existing community. It is a dynamic concept that is constantly reconstructed through the newcomer’s experience and others’ understanding of this experience.  For example, J.K. Rowling’s is widely known to readers and writers as being the author of the Harry Potter series. Because of her experience and reputation, she is identified as a well-respected author. Her identity ties together both her genre and her expertise as a successful professional writer.

Identity is formed by the shaping and changing of genres by the writer. Writers can challenge a certain genre position and express their opinion. This is referred to as a “resistance”, which stems from the writer’s opposing previous contradictions in past experiences. This resistance is what forms and changes the writer’s identity and genre, contrary to choosing between the genres. By writer’s changing genres, they allow themselves to become familiar with new concepts and exercise their creativity in a different setting and audience.

               While a writer’s identity may be easily understood by outside sources, writer’s must choose their own levels of engagement, otherwise known as modes of belonging. People who are new to a subject or community must conform to the conventions of the new community. This creates an initial loss of authority, however, the newcomer has the authority to choose between their own ways of thinking, writing style, and how invested they are. They use the three modes of belonging: engagement, imagination, and alignment, to create a sense of acceptance in a new community.


Engagement requires newcomers to find ways to engage in work the other community members do or are involved in. They work with the existing community members to outline a common task or objective. For example, if a high school student were to join a ski club, they would be expected to attend meetings and participate in events and discussion among group members.

Imagination is a newcomer’s ability to imagine their work as being an important part of the wider community. As a newcomer joins a community, a crucial aspect of their belonging is being able to “connect themselves to an extended identity” (Wardle). They should be able to identify what their work is and how it will accomplish the larger goal of the community. However, imagination should be used in moderation as overuse may result in a state of less belonging than before. If a newcomer’s imagination exceeds realistic aspects of the community, they lose their identity’s connection to the extended identity.

Alignment  involves finding common ground with other community members. This means that newcomers ensure that their identity is in line with the identity of the community.  They  must have perspectives, mindsets, and motives that are similar to those of the existing group members. This allows the working process to be more organized and efficient. Unnecessary arguments and disputes that may affect the group’s work are also avoided.


Review Questions

  • What causes identity and authority to constantly change?
  • Authority is based upon the understanding of what?
  • Give one different example of how customers can gain authority in a sit-down restaurant setting.
  • What is the main difference between speaking as and with authority?



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Writing @ Saint Leo Copyright © 2020 by Foster Courtney, Steven Grant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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