What is it? Helping students decipher online resources

Is it a book?  An online journal article? A website?  What is the title?  Is it scholarly?

Undergraduate students often struggle with these questions when they encounter resources in a Google search. They have trouble determining if they are looking at a webpage or an e-journal, and cannot decipher article or book citations. This is not a new problem: a 2001 survey by UCLA found that 62% of undergraduates could not correctly identify an article citation.

There is a need to improve how we teach students to identify and evaluate resources in a digital environment. Most of the LibGuides, tutorials, and handouts created by libraries mistakenly assume that students can determine basic facts about resources – the title, the author, the date, the journal.  But in a digital environment, this information can be difficult to find or understand.  Take this Sage journal article I found in a Google search:

Sage journal article

Article found in Google search

Students may not be able to tell if this is a book, a website, or a scholarly journal article.  And they may have trouble identifying the article title: is it “Business information review?”  And there is no information about peer-review.

We often tell students that they can identify articles by the volume/issue information, but that information is difficult to understand when presented like this:


We need to do a better job teaching our undergraduates how to identify scholarly resources in an online search engine environment.  Sure, we can keep steering them to our library databases – but ultimately, they will need to learn to navigate a Google world.

Here are three good examples I found that help students understand citations:

  •   Ithaca College has a simple yet effective illustration of how to read a citation on their article page
  •   The University of Louisville has a good handout on understand citations in different formats
  •   Clark College has a good quiz that includes a section on deciphering citations


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