Reference Shelf

Evaluating Online Resources

All sorts of information can be found on the Internet, including misinformation, false information, and sheer fabrication.

No central authority reviews and verifies the content of web pages on the Internet. You as an individual are wholly responsible for evaluating the quality and validity of the information presented. Assessing Internet information, based on a few simple indicators can provide students in the humanities with constant practice in thinking critically about the nature of research and evidence. To prepare your students for this learning adventure, encourage them to evaluate information on the Internet using these six criteria:

  • Authorship: Who wrote this and what are the author's credentials? Most websites identify the author - whether an individual or an institution - at the foot of the home page.
  • Publishing body: Where does the document reside? A website's URL is the most reliable indicator of its publishing body. Educational institutions have "edu" in their URLs. Non-profit organizations, such as museums and public interest groups, have "org." Federal and state government agencies usually have "gov" or "fed." Commercial entities, such as corporations and web service providers, can be recognized by the familiar "com" or occasionally, "net." 
  • Point of view or bias: What is the author's goal? This is an especially important question to ask when researching a controversial topic. Some web authors clearly state their position on a matter of debate, while others work so far inside an issue that they assume their readers are already well-versed on the points in dispute.
  • Authority/Referral to and/or knowledge of the literature: What does the author know? Depth and breadth of knowledge can often be evaluated by the quantity and quality of resources offered on a site, as distinct from the number of links to resources on other sites.Is the site's author well regarded, cited and written by experts in the field?
  • Accuracy or verifiability of details: Where did this information come from? As in conventional scholarship, web publications should identify the sources of their information.
  • Currency: Is the information still current? Most websites have a copyright date at the foot of every page and some also post the date of the site's most recent update.

We encourage you to apply these same criteria to the websites featured at EDSITEment. These sites have been selected through a year-long academic review process, developed by the National Endowment for the Humanities. This rigorous screening ensures high-quality content at all EDSITEment websites.

Nonetheless, some of the sites may contain links to material that has not been screened or that may not be developmentally appropriate for some students. When you use EDSITEment resources in your classroom, be sure to preview the materials you plan to use. When you direct students to EDSITEment, be sure to remind them of their responsibilities as Internet researchers.

Lesson plan: To emphasize these responsibilities, have your students, individually or in teams, choose a topic for an Internet-wide search. They might look for information about a particular author or a historical event or a cultural landmark. Have them use the search [link] button on your browser to find one or two websites that match their search terms. Then have them evaluate these sites using the six criteria outlined above. In a class discussion, have students discuss and defend their website evaluations. Remind students to cite websites as they would for a paper or a project.

A Note on Citations

Researchers using information gathered on the Internet must cite their sources just as they would cite conventional sources in traditional research. Citation standards have been developed for electronic information based on the American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association, and Chicago Manual of Style conventions. For more information, consult the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Citations Guide for Electronic Documents.

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Based on the formulation by Elizabeth E. Kirk of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University.

Citation Resources

The following web sites provide helpful guidelines on citing electronic resources.

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Phillis Wheatley’s "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" published