A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

Information Literacy

Broadly defined, information literacy refers to the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association 1989). More specifically, information literacy refers to the ability to:

  • "Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally" (ACRL 2000).

We need to be aware of how advertisers appeal to us, and we should think critically about the persuasive messages we encounter to ensure we are savvy, not passive, consumers. Because consumers purchase products with which they identify, it is important to examine the subtexts of advertisements as well as the role those subtexts play in determining what products men and women choose to associate with their personal identities.

The subtexts of a visual argument are closely associated with both intended audience and meaning. 

Typically, the first thing we look for in a photograph is ourselves. Advertisers recognize this fact and use it to their advantage. Because of this, we can learn a lot about a company’s target customer base by observing the people featured in its advertisements.

The appearance (and, in commercials, the sounds) of the people as well as the setting (location) of an advertisement speaks to both the company’s target audience and its assumptions about that audience.

We come across many images on a daily basis, but we rarely stop to think about what those images mean or about how they persuade us. Yet, images have power, which is why we need to understand how to analyze them. When you’re analyzing an image to understand the message it portrays, this is called visual rhetoric. Visual rhetoric is a means of communication that uses images to create meaning or to make an argument.

The first thing to consider when breaking down, or analyzing, an image is the rhetorical situation: the audiencecontext, and purpose.

Mapping the Territory

Reading is an activity integral to the writing process. You may not associate reading with the difficult task of writing a college essay. After all, it seems like a passive activity, something you might do at a café or sitting in an easy chair. But while you can read solely for entertainment, soaking in the plot of a good novel or familiarizing yourself with the latest celebrity gossip, reading also drives the act of writing itself, from the earliest stages onward. Reading can—and will—make you a better writer.

As a reader, a developing writer, and an informed student and citizen, it is extremely important for you to be able to locate, understand, and critically analyze others’ purposes in communicating information. Being able to identify and articulate the meaning of other writers’ arguments and theses enables you to engage in intelligent, meaningful, and critical knowledge exchanges. Ultimately, regardless of the discipline you choose to participate in, textual analysis—the summary, contextualization, and interpretation of a writer’s effective or ineffective delivery of his or her perspective on a topic, statement of thesis, and development of an argument—will be an invaluable skill.

To what social class do you belong? How do you know? Can others tell by how you talk, dress, and act? By how much money you have? By your level of education? By your occupation? Despite the presumed cultural ideal of social equality in America, key markers such as income and education are often used for social classification.

Advertisers for many goods and services often frame their rhetorical appeals—their strategies of persuasion—in terms of audiences who are presumed to belong to a particular, often loosely defined, social class. Frequently, these appeals rely on stereotypical qualities associated with various socioeconomic classes.

Advertising executives and marketing experts more than likely hope that we remain oblivious to the underlying messages that ads contain and that we perceive their work purely from entertainment and consumerist perspectives rather than for the purpose of critical assessment.

But to critically examine the techniques and appeals advertisers use to lure us into supporting certain products, services, claims, or even individuals is an opportunity to hone our analytical skills—skills that enable us to be informed readers of texts and knowledgeable consumers of persuasion. To begin, let’s consider specific words and phrases that can be used in ad analysis:

As you learn in “Critical Reading Practices,” an effective argument contains a thesis, supporting claims, and evidence to support those claims. The thesis is the writer’s central argument, or claim, and the supporting claims reinforce the validity of the thesis. When reading another writer’s argument, it is important to be able to distinguish between main points and sub-claims; being able to recognize the difference between the two will prove incredibly useful when composing your own thesis-driven essays.

Become proficient at quickly locating useful information via the library and Internet.

As repositories of our collective knowledge, libraries and the Internet host our cultural heritage, the memory of our present and past civilizations. Admittedly, though, the cornucopia of information accessible via the Internet and archived in libraries can be overwhelming, particularly if you are just becoming accustomed to the research process.

Conducting library and Internet research helps you quickly find the information you need. This page provides useful suggestions about how to conduct Boolean searches, for instance, and offers advice about how to identify whether you should begin your research using the Open Web, the Gated Web, or the Hidden Web.

Practice critical reading strategies as you critique potential resources: evaluate sources' accuracy, authority, context, timeliness, relevance, coverage, and genre.

Clearly, the Internet has revolutionized writing and reading, providing billions of documents at just a click away. As a result, the ability to assess the validity of documents is more important now than ever before.

Things aren't always what they may seem to be. For instance, recently, a number of Americans were surprised to discover that a popular online film critic didn't really exist.

An important part of research writing (and many other kinds of writing) is identifying when sources are “speaking” to each other. When researching a particular topic, you will likely collect many sources that seem to discuss the same thing. Sometimes the authors of these sources will explicitly know about each other and reference one another in their own texts. This is common in academic writing, where explicit conversations between different scholars are expected and valued.

During your college career, you will probably take a variety of classes in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and other fields. Although the demands for these courses will vary widely, in each of the classes you will need to determine the information required, evaluate the credibility of primary and secondary resources, communicate complex ideas in simple and clear ways, research sources for your own writing, and use such sources to help you explain your ideas.

Something seems wrong

A few days ago, I tweeted something that wasn’t particularly funny, but I got this response:1

cory folse tweet

I don’t know anyone named Cory Folse, and I don’t know who this @jokesallnight person is, either. So I ignored the tweet, kind of glad I had made someone happy, but kind of confused.

Advertisements comprise thirty percent of the material aired on television, and many of us will view more than two million commercials in our lifetimes.  The A. C. Nielson Company reports that, by the age of sixty-five, the average U.S. citizen will have spent nine years of his or her life watching television—twenty-eight hours a week, two months a year. And in one year, the average youth will spend nearly twice as many hours in front of the tube (fifteen hundred hours) as he or she spends at school (nine hundred hours).[1] We may turn the box off eventually, but the advertisements remain. We are surrounded by them: they cover billboards, cereal boxes, food wrappers, bathroom stalls, tee shirts, and tennis shoes. 

Use a double-entry format to extend your thinking on a topic or to critique an author's presentation.

One very effective technique for avoiding note-bound prose is to respond to powerful quotations in what writing theorist Ann Berthoff calls the double-entry notebook form. The double-entry form shows the direct quotation on the left side of the page and your response to it on the right. There are two advantages to this technique: First, it helps you think about your subject; second, it helps you step away from your sources and discover your own approach and voice.

Why is it that when you’re flipping through the pages of a magazine, walking through an art gallery, or browsing on the Internet, some images capture your attention more than others? Why are you drawn to particular photographs, advertisements, political cartoons, or protest posters?

You might think that an image you’re drawn to just “works.” But if pressed for more particulars, you might answer that your eye is drawn to a specific element in a photograph, that the images and text in an advertisement speak to each other in interesting ways, or that a protest image conveys a sense of motion and mood.

It’s true. Searching a library catalog or database is not always as straightforward as Google. And sometimes, searching Google is frustrating because you get so many questionable results. So how can you make it easier to find strong sources for your paper? This video will show you some tactics to help get you on your way to being a Super Searcher!

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.

A URL is just the internet address for any given webpage:

Understanding the component parts of a URL can be helpful in a variety of situations. Here are just a few reasons why understanding URLs is useful:

  • The URL often reveals key information about a site  
  • An understanding of URLs provides the needed foundation for many advanced search strategies
  • A heightened attention to URLs helps searchers recognize fraudulent sites

Conducting research for papers, reports, and other assignments involves more than just typing a word or phrase into a search box. Understanding both the systems and the sources sets a foundation for retrieving relevant research. Before you jump into a search, take the time to think about where you should start and what types of sources you seek.

While internet search engines have made locating sources online easier, there are still many digital sources beyond websites. Databases contract with publishers and other content providers to package access to articles, reports, conference proceedings, ebooks, films, images, and other material. Using databases and having access to such a variety of source material is an important part of the research process.

These days, we’re finding more and more information for free online. The following eight websites (or types of websites) are recommended for first-year undergraduate students. Most of the websites are broad-based and interdisciplinary, useful for searching any topic or subject. A few of the websites are subject-specific (such as health/medicine or controversial issues) or type-specific (such as primary sources or writing lab handouts). The following annotated list provides: