Psych Central’s Online Resources Review Guidelines
Our General Guidelines
Our guidelines have been developed over the years with an emphasis on content and understanding attribution (who is publishing what you’re reading and why). We have developed more of a secondary emphasis on design and usability, since we find most modern websites don’t suffer from the serious usability issues of earlier sites that were commonplace in the late 1990s.
We break our system down into Primary Criteria, Secondary Criteria, and Overall Impressions. Primary Criteria are of primary importance when reviewing and rating websites, because if a site fails one of these criteria in a significant way, there may be serious problems with the site. Secondary Criteria are of less significance, as they have to do with a site’s look and feel, and usability. Overall Impressions take all of these criteria together to form an overall judgment about a site.
Content is the meat of the site. It is the breadth and depth of the material, no matter what the subject matter, provided through that site. Content may be reading material, information, contact information for real-world organizations, and links. Questions to ask when rating content:
- Does the site add new and unique material to the online world, or does it simply list or link to existing material well-covered by other sites already? (e.g., we’ve seen hundreds of websites that publish little more than NIMH or NIH content, content freely and readily available already from the NIMH or NIH)
- Does it offer new insights into a disorder, or offer information not found elsewhere? For instance, a patient’s story is more interesting to others than yet another “new breakthrough” suggesting vitamins or a health product will solve all of a person’s ills.
- Does it offer refreshing perspectives, and/or regularly updated new content in the form of news articles, opinions, or other forms of communication?
- Does it include interactive features that help provide more information to an individual that otherwise would be difficult (or impossible) to provide?
- Is it just an advertisement for an organization or company or individual?
- If the site has articles that discuss research, is that research cited appropriately and fairly reliably?
- Is the content written for a consumer audience or a professional audience? Does it meet minimal grammar, spelling and English standards?
Attribution, Transparency and Biases
Everyone has their own biases, from pharmaceutical companies and the NIH, to reporters and doctors who treat people with depression. The key isn’t to look for people or companies without biases, but to look for them that clearly talk about their biases and acknowledge them up-front. Editorial content must be separated from advertising, which must also be clearly labeled and defined as such (including “sponsored content”). If a site is a larger publisher of information, we look for an editorial policy and one reaffirming their editorial independence from financial influences. We also look for sites that keep their information updated and attributed. Sites that don’t put authors’ names or dates on their articles usually don’t want you to know.
- Is every article or entry on a website authored and properly attributed?
- Does every article or entry on a website have a date?
- If an article is modified or updated, is the “last modified” date noted?
- Is advertising and advertising units on each page clearly defined and delineated, and not mixed in with editorial content? (e.g., advertising should not be mixed inline with editorial content to try and confuse readers to click on the advertisement because they mistakenly think it’s a part of the site’s content)
- Does the site offer “Sponsored health centers” or similarly labeled content that is provided by advertisers, but published under the site’s logo and in the site’s templates to suggest it is editorial content?
Community and Social Networking
As social networks have become all the rage, lots of people flock and enter in private health data into such networks without sometimes clearly understanding the ramifications of such behavior. We look for sites that help people understand how such data may be indexed in a search engine for all time. Because health information can affect future employment and other major components of a person’s life, we believe health sites need to be more aware (and help their users become more aware) of the ramifications of such information being shared.