is essential for any research you are doing, be it for school or for some other purpose.
Information literacy involves actively paying attention to the information you are taking in. It involves considering who produced the information, what qualifications the person has, what biases the person has, and why the person wants you to know this information.
For example, if you pull up a web page that contains information on the Civil War, consider who the person is who produced the web page. Look for the author’s qualifications (a degree in history or military studies, perhaps) and if those qualifications give the person authority to speak on the subject. Also consider any biases the person has. For example, is the person sympathetic to one particular side in the conflict? Maybe the person believes the South to be the less guilty party in the Civil War, or maybe the person believes that the North was doing the right thing in the war. Also, the person might have biases for or against a particular military official in the war.
Most of us brings our biases to everything we write and read. When you read information, look out for any biases that might be coming from the person who produced the information.
becomes especially important when you are researching current events. When you research current events, most of the sources that you will be consulting will be news sources. Most news sources are good in their own right, but most of them are biased to some extent. This is to be expected, since news organizations are managed by people, and people all have their biases. If you don’t already know, it would be best to familiarize yourself with what news sources are skewed toward which political opinion.
Using Information Literacy
Now let’s consider how to put information literacy to use.
To use information literacy, you have to stop and think about your information for a moment.
What exactly are you looking for?
Once you know what you’re looking for, get as specific as you can. For example, if you want information about the Great Depression, think about what aspects of the Great Depression you are interested in. Would you like information about what caused the Great Depression? Or maybe you are interested in the factors that contributed to ending the Great Depression. Perhaps you are interested in the influence of the Great Depression on American culture. Most subjects have many ways to be approached.
Now consider how much information you need for the paper or project you’re working on. Sometimes instructors will give you a certain number of sources that they want you to consult. If your instructor doesn’t, it will depend on how long the paper needs to be. Be sure you have this information before you begin your research. You will probably save yourself some time if you do. Check with your instructor if you’re unsure how long your paper needs to be; it’s likely a length was included in the instructions for the assignment.
Now you need to consider what types of resources to consult. Once again, your instructor will likely give you an idea of what resources he or she wants you to use. Click here for a list of different types of resources
. If your instructor doesn’t tell you what kinds of resources to use, you’ll need to use your own judgment on what types work best.
You also need to consider how credible each resource is. If you’re looking on the internet, you’ll have to be careful, because some websites are better sources of information than others.
Websites that end in .gov or .edu are usually from government or educational institutions (i.e. colleges or universities) and are generally credible. Websites with URLs that end in .org are usually from nonprofit organizations. You should see who the nonprofit organization is and what they stand for in order to evaluate the information on the site. For example, the site Moveon.org belongs to a nonprofit organization that is involved in liberal politics. Information you find on their website about any current event could be reliable, but it is probably being presented with a liberal viewpoint (i.e. a bias).
Finally, websites that end in .com are commercial websites. Like with the .org sites, you need to see who owns these sites to see how well you can trust the information contained on them or what you should expect from that information.
When you do a search in Google or any other online search engine, many of the results that come up will be blogs or other personal websites. These may have useful information on them, but since anyone can set one of these up, the information may be biased or inaccurate. Be sure to fact check any information you find on them.
Articles from scholarly journals are usually very useful for research that you do for papers. These journals have been carefully peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Gale databases
that Valor Christian College has purchased access to contain many good articles from scholarly journals.
Books, magazines and newspapers can also be good sources of information. However, the people who write these things often have biases, so it would be best to find out who is responsible for writing the material and see what biases and qualifications that person or persons has. In addition, these resources provide current information at the time of publication, so newer editions may be more applicable for your use than older editions.
Researching Current Events
When you are researching current events, it is generally best to consult news sources that are slanted toward multiple viewpoints. For example, if you read about a current event story on Fox News (a conservative source), you might also want to check out how the same story is reported on MSNBC (a liberal source).
As always, if you have any questions about any sources you find, feel free to consult the staff in the Valor Library.