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

Information Literacy

Your success as a student and a citizen is significantly shaped by your ability to recognize when additional information is needed before you can make an informed decision.  Likewise, to avoid being spammed and spoofed, you need to probe written and visual texts for their messages, tones, lenses, and emotional appeals. Doing so will not only encourage you to become a better critical thinker, but it will also enable you to become a more engaged citizen.  

What are New Literacies? What is Intellectual Property? Critical Reading Practices, and Visual Literacy—these webtexts explore how you can identify when information is needed, efficiently access information, and assess information, questioning ways rhetorical, economic, and social practices shape claims and affect credibility.

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:

Search magazine articles, research reports, journal articles, and abstracts published in magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals.

Magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals provide contemporary material that is often on very narrow topics. Magazines are written in a more popular style and aimed at a general audience. The term "journals" is used for scholarly research publications. (Librarians use the term "periodicals" to include both magazines and journals.) Often journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles are read by a number of scholars in the field before being approved for publication.


Web searching can appear deceptively simple. Type just about anything into the search box and the search engine will return results—probably thousands of them. This leads to both frustration and complacency: many users understand themselves to be proficient searchers at the same time that they struggle with large quantities of irrelevant results.

Search engines make available a great variety of tools that can improve search precision.

Understand how to search for books, journals, government documents, and media that you can access through your college or university library.

You can hunt for information on your topic by consulting the library catalog. In many modern libraries, the bulky file drawers containing 3 x 5-inch cards have been replaced by computer terminals. Regardless of how the information is stored, all library catalogs list books and other materials owned by the library. The other materials might be videos, sound recordings, government documents, journals both print and electronic, and perhaps even some well-chosen web sites and electronic books.

 Use encyclopedias and dictionaries to research and develop a focused analysis about your question or topic.

The first step in any writing project is determining a specific topic. To help narrow your topic, you may find it useful to gather some general background information. This process can help you locate some valuable sources to consult. To obtain a few essential facts and to gain a sense of the "dialogue" that is transpiring among scholars and researchers about your topic, try consulting general encyclopedias and dictionaries or, if appropriate, specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Research we do on the web and through library databases often leads us to content from newspapers, magazines, and news agencies (such as Reuters and the Associated Press). What all news content has in common is that it connects in some way to something that is in the news.

News content can be roughly divided into the categories of news and opinion. News articles attempt to provide information on a current event, while opinion pieces attempt to persuade readers to adopt a particular position on that event.

Consult librarians when in doubt about where to obtain information.

Sometimes people are embarrassed about asking for help in using the library; they feel as if they should know how to use the library once they get into college. However, librarians are information technology specialists who are employed by colleges and universities to serve as research mentors. Information technologies are radically transforming research processes and even well-published professors commonly seek help from librarians.

Understanding URLs table available in full article.

Review research reports, pamphlets, or statistics published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

You may find it useful to discover whether the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) has published any research reports, pamphlets, or statistics on your subject. The GPO, along with the United Nations organizations, prints countless essays, pamphlets and research studies on the law, history, and such everyday subjects as growing herb gardens.