Curation standards


This page provides standards to guide curators who wish to review content in the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). For help performing specific curation tasks, please visit Information for Curators.

These policies can be modified based on feedback from the EOL community. To participate in discussions regarding EOL curation policies and procedures, please join the the EOL curator mailing list.

Qualifications and Responsibilities

EOL Curators are individuals who are given the ability to review two kinds of content in EOL: Data objects related to organisms, and Interactive contributions from EOL members (e.g., comments) (feature under development).

Any individual who registers to become a member on may apply for curator privileges at the Assistant Curator, full Curator, or Master Curator level, subject to certain prerequisites. All curators must provide their real first and last  names.

EOL Assistant Curators

Any member may apply to become an Assistant Curator.  EOL Assistant Curators are enthusiastic members of the EOL community who wish to participate in the curation of EOL content but who may lack the professional credentials to become full Curators immediately.  They have access to some of the curation facilities of EOL.

Assistant Curators who establish a strong track record of contributions to EOL may request a promotion to full Curator status from a Master Curator.  

Assistant Curator activities include:

  • Reporting problems on the EOL site
  • Proposing solutions to problems on the EOL site
  • Adding and editing their own text on EOL taxon pages; inviting submissions from other websites such as Flickr and Vimeo
  • Rating EOL data objects
  • Adding overlooked Wikipedia articles
  • Designating exemplar images

To apply to be an EOL Assistant curator, please visit your member profile page.

EOL Curators

Any member may apply to become a full Curator.  EOL Curators are professional scientists, life sciences experts or other competent individuals who provide one or more credentials in their public EOL profile in support of their request to become a curator.  When approved by a Master Curator, they are given access to the same curation facilities available to Assistant Curators, with the addition of the following special capabilities: 

  • They may decide whether EOL content should be “trusted” or “untrusted;” Untrusted content is automatically hidden; They may also choose to hide trusted content if it is redundant or of poor quality
  • Their contributed text and Wikipedia suggestions are automatically “trusted” and shown as “trusted” on EOL taxon pages
  • They may moderate comments on EOL pages to reject spam or other inappropriate material
  • They may change (re-identify) or add additional name associations to content contributed by others

Acceptable credentials required to be granted full EOL Curator status include:

  1. Faculty, staff, or graduate student status in a relevant academic or institutional department;
  2. Authorship of a peer-reviewed publication;
  3. Membership in a relevant professional society;
  4. Recommendation from an individual with these credentials
  5. A record of successful activity as an Assistant Curator, accompanied by a justification highlighting significant contributions and activities on EOL as an Assistant Curator. 

To apply to be an EOL Curator, please visit your member profile page.

EOL Master Curators

Master Curators are appointed by existing EOL Master Curators based on a successful record as a Curator. They have all the powers of other Curators in addition to the following special privileges: 

  • They can approve or demote other Curators
  • They can promote Assistant Curators to become full Curators
  • They can promote full Curators to become Master Curators
  • They can merge EOL taxon pages and clarify homonyms (feature under development)

The EOL community also relies on its Master Curators to help mediate conflicts among curators in a manner consistent with EOL policies and best practices.

To apply to be an EOL Master Curator, please visit your member profile page.

Guiding Principles for EOL Curators

The activities of EOL Curators adhere to the following four core guiding principles:

  • Quality – curators ensure high quality content on EOL; they find problems that providers should address
  • Inclusiveness – conflicting views are to be accommodated (and explained)
  • Transparency – the review process should be clear and not mysterious
  • Accountability – curators are responsible for their decisions

“Trusting” or “untrusting” a data object (image, text article, video etc.) applies only in the context of a particular association with a name. Also note that you will not at this point be able to change relationships between names.

All users of EOL should recognize that the curation of EOL is almost entirely conducted by volunteers. As a result, there are no guarantees on the timing or frequency of review. In some cases (particularly if curated content for a taxon is already very rich) curators may not review every object.

Whenever a data object is untrusted or hidden, it is a best practice for EOL curators to provide a reason (with a reference, where appropriate) for their activities in the comment section associated with the objects they untrust or hide, as a courtesy to the content provider and to facilitate any follow-on discussions regarding the action. 

EOL Curation Standards

Moderating comments

New EOL members agree to abide by the terms of use when they register for an account on EOL.  EOL curators may “hide” comments that are out of compliance with these conditions (feature under development). Note that disagreeing with the commenter is not sufficient grounds for a curator to “hide” a comment.  Curators should always strive to be positive and respectful and act as models for courteous conversation.

Misleading common names

Curators are encouraged to set a preferred common name for each language. This name will be shown at the top of that taxon’s page, but other names will still be listed on the page to help users find the page using the common name most familiar to them. Curators can trust or untrust common names and add new common names. However, as there are few recognized authorities on common names, untrusting a common name is appropriate only if the name is likely to be a database or transcription error rather than an uncommon usage.

Inaccurate information

Data objects that are clearly inaccurate should be marked “untrusted” and will be hidden from everyone except members of the curator community. Curators should leave courteous and informative comments on all "untrusted" objects to explain their decision. Especially if you are untrusting content from a vetted partner, please provide a reference for your decision. Content providers receive reports of curator decisions and comments on a regular basis.  An object that is corrected by a provider can be marked “trusted” and/or made visible again.

Objects that have been assigned to the wrong species or group of organisms can be reassigned to the appropriate taxon (see Information for Curators).

Conflicting information that is unresolvable

Some conflicts among data objects may occur because one is clearly inaccurate, in which case the inaccurate object should be untrusted. In other cases, the objects, particularly text articles, conflict occurs because there is not yet agreement on what is correct. Articles that conflict with each other for this reason should be trusted and left visible. Please leave comments on both articles that explain the nature of the conflict, and/or your view on which is likely correct. You are also encouraged to create a new text article to explain the controversy so that readers of pages can make sense of it.

References to published information

References may appear in two different places on EOL because we have assembled our pages from multiple sources with different practices. They may appear within the article itself, or on the references tab, or both. All of these are acceptable, but curators should leave a comment with the article if cited references cannot be found.

Unpublished information

EOL allows information that has not previously been published. There should be a citation (e.g. personal communication, or whose unpublished data it is). Curators may determine that this information is inaccurate or would not survive peer review and leave comments as with any other object.

Lack of references

If an article is not accompanied by any appropriate references, Curators should leave comments on the article, which will be shared with the content provider for correction.

Text that Is out of context

Some content providers provide text to EOL that is meant to be read as a whole.  When this text is processed for display on EOL taxon pages, it may be broken up into discrete data objects which are then organized under different table of contents headings. In addition, EOL also receives text from content providers that does not treat a subject globally but rather refers only to a specific region.

Curators may request that partners clarify the content, and should leave comments with explanations if it is not clear to what the content refers. Down-rating or, in extreme cases, hiding the content is an option.

Poorly written but not inaccurate text

EOL recommends that poorly written but accurate text be left visible. Please rate objects so that better-written text appears before poorly-written text. We invite curators to provide new text where necessary.

Objects that can be permanently removed

The following may be removed permanently from EOL by curators:

  • Inappropriate content:  objects that are clearly intended to offend, incite, or shock the general EOL audience and are inconsistent with the vision and mission of EOL.  Examples include, vandalism, personal attacks, discriminatory statements, cruelty, and pornography.
  • Objects that were posted in clear violation of copyright.

Please refer to EOL’s terms of use for additional guidance.

Objects that should not be permanently removed

The following should not be permanently removed from EOL by curators:

  • Images of people (can be attached to the Homo sapiens page); note that curators may choose to hide some of these images;
  • Artistic representations of organisms;
  • Images, videos, sounds that are of poor quality; certain aspects of poor quality media may be of scientific or historic significance; curators can give them a low rating, but should not hide them;
  • Objects that include people as long as the organism is clearly visible

Please refer to EOL’s terms of use for additional guidance.


EOL Members may assign stars to rate images and other content.  The rating of a data object will affect its prominence on the EOL page.  Highly rated objects are generally shown first.  EOL Curators are welcomed to provide ratings as a means to express an opinion on the quality of these objects.  The following are guidelines for curators and others who wish to rate content such as images in EOL:

1 star. An image that is not informative or picture quality is poor, shows no diagnostic part of organism, the organism is small in the frame, out of focus, colors not rendered accurately. 

2 stars. An image that is marginally informative, but there are more images of this taxon that are more informative. 

3 stars. A satisfactory image, typically a portrait or diagnostic feature that does not meet the publication standard. Provides information on parts of organisms, whether diagnostic or not. The routine image. Perhaps 30% of images fall into this category.

4 stars. A very good image that captures the essence of the taxon OR shows diagnostic features in a highly informative way. Organism in the context of its habitat or other organisms. Misses the very special quality that comes from good framing, balance, and appropriate depth of field. Perhaps 15% of images fall into this category.

5 stars. A truly outstanding image that captures the essence of the taxon, typically a portrait, photography of high quality (colors, contrast, focus, brightness, framing). Publication quality. The top 5% of images may fall into this category.

NOTE TO CURATORS: Assign 5 stars to images with care, as these images may be picked out for special uses by members of the EOL community if there are no images marked as exemplars. Some curators only give 5 stars to images that are clearly not captive, cultivated, or domestic individuals.

Exemplar images

All EOL curators may identify a single image as an exemplar for each taxon. It will be shown as the default large image for the taxon overview and multimedia galleries, and may be preferred by other applications seeking the best EOL image to show their audiences. It will usually be a 5 star image.  Different exemplars may be selected for each taxonomic level, so choose an image that best represents the taxon both biologically (a “typical” image would be better than an image illustrating unusual variation) and aesthetically (even if reduced to a smaller size).  Different standards may be appropriate for different groups of taxa. For example curators of some plant groups may prefer images of a characteristic leaf as exemplars while others may feel that images of a fruit is more important. Exemplar status is not affected by changes in ratings, but may be changed by other curators.