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Help with Evaluating Sources?

posted: 4.5.12 by Andrea Lunsford

*Editor’s Note: While we wait to hear from Andrea on her travel and experiences in China, we hope you’ll enjoy this post she wrote in January, before she embarked on her spring 2012 Semester at Sea voyage.

My students are reporting ongoing difficulty with evaluating sources, and especially those they find online (of course!).  Nowadays, they don’t have much trouble identifying possible sources; in fact, just a couple of rudimentary searches yields so many potential sources that it’s hard to know where to turn. As a result, they often feel overwhelmed, just choosing the first ones that look interesting or throwing up their hands and putting the task off for another time.

Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson’s Citation Project is helpfully charting just how student writers are using sources in their writing, and preliminary data suggest that students are not engaging their sources as critically as we might want them to and that, moreover, they tend to take material from only the first couple of pages of any source.  Thus, Howard and her colleagues suggest that writing teachers should think hard before starting students on research projects without some very careful scaffolding.

I’ve written before about the effects of information overload on all of us, but particularly on college students.  Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to talk with people outside the academy who have similar concerns, particularly regarding our ability to judge the quality or reliability of what we read in newspapers and magazines.  A new group,, founded by Dan Whaley, has set its sights on addressing this issue.

When I first heard about, I was skeptical at best:  how could these goals be accomplished, technically? Where would this body of experts come from who would provide the “best thinking”?  But as I’ve followed the group and talked with Whaley about it, I have come to see that the goals of are achievable and that this new free resource could be of great help to readers in general, students in particular.  I encourage you to check out the site, where you can view the short video of Dan talking about “The Internet, Peer Reviewed” and read more about what this group is doing.

I plan to follow the work of closely and hope to develop ways to use their tools with my students.  In the meantime, they are looking for talented folks to join the team—and you just might want to join!

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