Information Literacy

What is information literacy? How should I identify, find, evaluate, apply, and cite information? Review research and scholarship on information literacy. Learn to think for yourself. Distinguish fake news from real news. Learn to distinguish appeals to ethos, pathos and ethos. Develop a nuanced understanding of information and literacy (e.g., critical, digital, quantitative, and visual literacy). Synonymous Terms: Data Information Literacy; Interpretation; Science Communication; STEM Literacy for Learning

What is Information Literacy?

Most generally, Information Literacy refers to a cluster of competencies, including the ability

  • to recognize when you need information
  • to understand the type of information you need
  • to know how to search for information,
  • to interpret information, and
  • to know how to use and cite information.

Most generally, Information Literacy is

  • a critical perspective, a point of view, a framework that guides how people consume, evaluate, produce, use, and archive information
  • a cluster of core, interconnected competencies that people possess that are associated with their ability to identify, find, evaluate, apply, and acknowledge information.
  • a theoretical construct developed to map “a cluster of interconnected core concepts” that constitute information ecosystems (ACRL 2015).

Synonyms: Data Information Literacy, Science Communication, STEM Literacy for Learning

Related Concepts: Evidence; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning

Information Literacy as a Theoretical Construct

People engage in composing and literacy practices in order to share, understand, and perhaps even further develop information.

Information Literacy, as a discipline of study, a discourse community, emerged in response to numerous factors, including

  • the digital revolution
    • the ability for an individual writer to bypass traditional publishing gates and freely publish tweets, blogs, instagram posts that can be read by millions
  • the evolution of fake news
  • the recognition that access to information literacy (and technology) constitutes a commodity with social, political, and economic consequences.
  • a more nuanced awareness of literacy practices (e.g., critical, digital, quantitative, and visual literacy).

“Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise.”

Obama, Barack (2009). “National Information Literacy Awareness Month” (PDF).

Information Literacy as a Critical Perspective

The ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) characterizes information literacy as six critical perspectives, which it calls Frameworks (and, at times Threshold Concepts):

  1. Authority is Constructed & Contextual
  2. Information Creation as a Process
  3. Information Has Value
  4. Research as Inquiry
  5. Scholarship as a Conversation
  6. Searching as Strategic Exploration

Information Literacies as a Cluster of Core Competencies

Information Literacy can also be defined as a cluster of core competencies.

“to be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information”

American Library Association, 1989

Presumably, people develop their information literacy competencies by practicing the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

If people lack information literacy competencies, they run the risk of

  • being spammed, tricked, or fooled by bad actors
  • being uninformed of the best information on a topic
  • making poor decisions, contrary to informed, evidence-based decision making.

By using critical perspectives when consuming, evaluating, or producing information, people develop competencies that have been conceptualized as “a basic human right in a digital world” (Alexandria Proclamation 2005).

Core Competencies
Be conscious of when you need information.
Learn to adeptly research information to inform and solve problems, entertain, or persuade.
Evaluate information critically (e.g, distinguish fake news from real news).
Be aware of ethical and unethical uses of information, including plagiarism.
Weave sources strategically into your text without undermining your purpose or losing your intended voice or tone.
Establish the credibility of your sources for your audience. Avoid patchwriting.
Cite sources correctly.

Related Resources

Organizational Note
Information Literacy could be categorized, subsumed under Evidence or Research @ Writing Commons. Researchers engage in Information Literacy when they use evidence (e.g., textual research, including summarizing, quoting, or paraphrasing existing research, when they review current thinking about a topic, and when they reason with evidence Information literacy plays a foundational role for researchers who are hoping to develop original knowledge claims and personal insights.

In the real world, in practice, there are some important distinctions between Information Literacy and Research:

Information Literacy is more commonly associated with being a critical consumer of textual research whereas Research is associated with the efforts of people to develop original knowledge claims and personal insights. In other words, Information Literacy is more commonly focused on getting and vetting information whereas research is focused on producing new knowledge claims.

Works Cited

Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning, 2005. Information literacy. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries. “Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” Text. Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), October 10, 2019,

ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) (2015) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education,, 12/21/19.

CWPA 2011. Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,, 3/3/20.

Obama, Barack (2009). “National Information Literacy Awareness Month” (PDF).