Traditionally, Information literacy refers to multiple competencies related to
- gathering and evaluating information,
- understanding how information is produced and valued,
- being aware of ethical and legal issues regarding information use,
- weaving sources into your texts without losing your voice and focus, and
- citing sources.
More recently, in response to the emergence of the Internet and ubiquitous access to information (see Information Theory), the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) conceptualizes information literacy “as an overarching set of abilities in which students are consumers and creators of information who can participate successfully in collaborative spaces” (2015):
Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.ACRL (2015) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework, 12/21/19.
People use information literacy daily without realizing it. We reiterate what we’ve heard or read, sometimes add our unique twist to it, and occasionally cite our sources to boost our ethos. Information literacy has become more important now that formerly trusted institutions (like the press) have been called into question for sometimes promoting what has become known as “fake news.”
Generally speaking, information refers to the content of a message, whether that content is explicitly identified by the writer/speaker or inferred by listeners, readers, or machines. Information is conveyed via multiple symbol systems and media, such as musical and mathematical symbols, pictures and animations, numbers and words. Thus, information literacy includes
For writers, information may be referred to as evidence, content, substance, or depth. Readers, particularly educated readers, seek depth and insight from the prose they read. They abhor generalities and hyperbole, specious reasoning, and exaggeration of claims. The quality of evidence matters a great deal to professors and decision makers. Readers will click away and read something else if you are going on and on about something they find to be boring, hackneyed, cliched. People learn from specifics, not vague generalities.
The ubiquity of information on the internet has empowered every internet user to become an information consumer. Pre-internet, finding information about a given topic tended to be the main difficulty; now, though, information is readily available, and the challenge has become determining the reliability, purpose, and use of the information.
Information Literacy & the Writing Process
Writers engage in information literacy processes throughout composing.
Preliminary Research (Invention)
Early during a writing project, writers may engage in Preliminary Research. This involves skimming what’s been written on a topic, what the current relevant scholarly conversations are about the topic, what the controversies are related to the topic.
Textual Research (Research)
In the early stages of a writing project identifying, finding, and evaluating sources is especially crucial. Diving into published work related to your research question or research concern, going really deep, can be inspiring. When analyzing a rhetorical situation, you want to be sensitive to ways authority is constructed and contextual. As you evaluate the genre(s) you are likely to employ in your response, consider what research methods past writers have employed when responding to similar rhetorical situations.
In order not to waste your time or your reader’s time, after decided on a topic, you need to take a deep dive into its complexities. You want to unearth the foundational texts–the original texts that proposed the information–that is,
- the texts that are considered be the most important on a topic;
- the texts that are routinely cited by writers working on the topic;
- the texts are often written by the thought leaders on a topic or by the people who originally had an important insight about the matter.
One of the advantages to reading widely about a topic before writing is it helps you better decipher what is known, who the people are who have written the foundational texts, and where the scholarly discussion is now. In contrast, if you begin writing too soon you could invest hours of time writing about an idea in ways your readers might find to be hackneyed and cliched.
Citation Styles (Style)
Some writers don’t worry about citing (acknowledging) sources till the end of a project. This can be a suitable approach when the rhetorical situation is pretty simple. Yet for longer projects or collaborative projects, using Information Literacy Tools and being reflective about citation practices sooner rather than later ultimately saves loads of times and enables writers to produce a more professional topic.
Frankly, it’s probably safe to say that at one time or another we have all been careless tracking our sources. The problem with putting off building the bibliography to the end is that by then we may no longer remember where our citation come from. Thus, it’s helpful to track citations over time. information literacy should be an ongoing concern for writers.
Information Literacy @ Writing Commons
- Authority is Constructed and Contextual
- Digital Literacy
- Information Creation as a Process
- Information Has Value
- Information Literacy Tools
- Research as Inquiry
- Scholarship as a Conversation
- Searching as a Strategic Exploration
- Visual Literacy
- Quantification Literacy
- Writing with Sources
Information Literacy at Writing Commons adopts the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education adopted by the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2015.
Information Literacy Tools summarizes social bookmarking and citation tools that expedite the mechanics of citation and facilitate collaboration. More broadly, Information Theory and Practice explores theory and research related to how evolving information ecosystems may be changing how humans process information and the effects of those changes on educational systems and societies. Finally, Writing with Sources helps aspiring writers summarize, paraphrase, and quote sources.
Information Literacy and the Writing Process
Writers should consider information literacy processes throughout composing. Before writing, research a topic. Identify its foundational texts. Identify thought leaders. Get a sense of where the conversation is now on a topic. In the early stages of a writing project identifying, finding, and evaluating sources is especially crucial.
Information Theory and Practice
The internet and new writing technologies are revolutionizing people’s relationship to information–both in its production, use, and dissemination. Fake news, information silos, and the outright rejection of logic based on emotion and tribalism–these sorts of behaviors may not be new, yet they do appear to be exacerbated by modern communication technologies and ubiquitous access to information.
Authority is Constructed and Contextual
The authority of a source is constrained by the ethos of the author, by its placement in ongoing conversations about a topic over time, and by the context. Texts are written for specific Communities of Practitioners (see Rhetorical Situation). When using sources, one size does not fit all. The people and institutions that inhabit different contexts have different ideas about what constitutes a valid knowledge claim or research methodology.
Thus, to maximize ethos, the author must determine the appropriate sources based on both purpose and context.
Information Creation as a Process
How information is developed and presented reflects its quality as well as how it is likely to be used. A quick tweet lacks the authority of a peer-reviewed monograph published by a university press. One important aspect to assessing the authority of information is to consider it from a life-cycle perspective.
Information Has Value
Writing isn’t easy. After spending countless hours researching, developing and designing a text, it’s no surprise that people can be territorial about their creations. The territorial imperative has pluses and minus when it comes to writing and knowledge creation. On the plus side, the potential of economic benefits can motivate people to do really hard work. On the negative side, locking original content behind paywalls impedes creativity and scholarship as a conversation. If you cannot access knowledge, you cannot build upon it nor learn from it. Additionally, to avoid being duped, it is essential that we reflect on ways knowledge claims may be shaded by economic interests. Thus, e.g.,
- if you publish personal information via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you should understand those companies are benefiting financially from your disclosures
- if you are a scholar who spent three years researching a book, you might be unhappy if someone lifts your story line and sells it as an action movie
- if you are a CEO of a marijuana, alcohol, gambling company, you might be inclined to conduct or fund research that suggests your products are benign.
Research as Inquiry
Researchers are driven by a desire to solve personal, professional, and societal problems. These problems may be simple everyday problems like the best restaurant in town for Greek food or they may be major problems that require vast teams of researchers working in well funded labs. To solve problems, researchers may employ a range of methods. They may sift through research publications across disciplines with hopes of synthesizing published information in a new way; test past research claims in a lab; or interview people. Researchers follow an iterative process to solve problems. The scope of research, the methods, and even the topic driving the research changes over time. It’s common for people to begin a project with one research question in mind only to abandon it once they learn that question has been asked countless times or is too broad to be meaningfully pursued.
Scholarship as a Conversation
We are social animals. We learn from imitation and dialog. Hence, it’s no surprise that people develop new ideas by talking with others or reading the works of other people. In life, we invariably enter, participate in, and leave many recurring conversations (e.g., presidential politics, health care, sports teams). There are some conversations that we are so invested in that they become a part of our identify. Others come and go.
Historically, many writers have celebrated the iterative nature of creativity: “we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients]” (Bernard of Chartres 1159) ; “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” (Isaac Newton 1675). Most recently, following the flow, Google Scholar adopted ““Stand on the shoulders of Giants” as its motto. (Way to go, Google!)
Searching as a Strategic Exploration
The ACRL has wisely suggested that you apply strategy to your search for information. Strategy foregrounds the importance of conscious consideration of a number of variables, such as Scope & Context; Serendipity & Flexibility; and Knowledge of Different Search Tools and Search Techniques.
The ability to read, produce, and share visual images, animations, and videos is a fundamental 21st Century literacy. People process visual information differently than alphabetical texts. There are instances where a picture can convey a great deal of information succinctly. An infographic can empower learners to better understand logical relationships among variables and concepts. Some people may be particularly adept at learning from visual communication. Thanks to new writing and entertainment tools, it is increasingly easy to integrate images with words and sound.
Numerical (Quantification) Literacy
The ability to interpret quantitative information as it appears in charts, tables, and graphs has always been important. Yet now that the information systems in which we live count our log ons, likes, follows, posts, consumer purchases, and reviews, numeracy has become more important than ever.
- Project Information Literacy: http://www.projectinfolit.org/
- Citation Project: http://www.citationproject.net/
- Students and their sources: http://www.citationproject.net/studies/sats/