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Information Literacy Basics

This guide will provide you with the foundations of information literacy providing you with skills that will help you in all walks of life.


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.

Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. 

Association of College & Research Libraries

Decorative image: Lightbulb and science icons on a blue background.

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 The skills of an information literate person extend beyond school and application to academic problems--such as writing a research paper--and reaches right into the workplace. Information literacy is also important to an effective and enlightened citizenry, and has implications that can impact the lives of many people around the globe.

The ability to use information technologies effectively to find and manage information, and the ability to critically evaluate and ethically apply that information to solve a problem are some of the hallmarks of an information literate individual. Other characteristics of an information literate individual include the spirit of inquiry and perseverance to find out what is necessary to get the job done.

We live in the Information Age, and "information" is increasing at a rapid pace. We have the Internet, television, radio, and other information resources available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, just because so much  information is so easily and quickly available does not mean that all of it is worthwhile or even true. 

 Because of resources like the Internet, finding high-quality information is now harder than ever, not easier!  Finding the good stuff is not always quick.  And the good stuff does not always come cheaply, either. 

Today's employers are looking for people who understand and can adapt to the characteristics of the Information Age. If a student has "learned how to learn," upon graduation, they are a much more attractive job candidate. An information literate individual--with their strong analytical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills--can be expected to be an adaptable, capable and valuable  employee, with much to contribute. 

Philadelphia University

1. "Brainstorm" possible topics. This is often a successful way for you to get ideas down on paper. Jot down several ideas you may have - anything that comes to mind - any topic you want to explore. When you are done, see if anything stands out. This is a place to start. It is important to keep in mind that the initial topic you come up with may not be the topic you end up writing about. As you do research, you may change your mind and that's OK. It is part of the process.

2.  An instructor may give you a list of acceptable topics to choose from. Pick one that interests you and decide what angle to take.

3.  Go over lecture notes or textbook chapters for ideas.

4.  Read current news stories in newspapers and magazines.

5.  Check out the library's Research Guides (LibGuides).

Choose a topic that you are interested in. The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic! 

Narrow your topic to something manageable. If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus. Background reading can help you choose and limit the scope of your topic.


The beginning stages of research are often referred to as "pre-research." While you might be tempted to begin searching before completing these steps, the pre-research process will save you valuable time and effort. The first step in the pre-research process is to choose an interesting topic and create a research question. Next, using your research question, you can perform some background research to learn more about your topic. The background research will enable you to refine your topic and write a strong, focused thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what you will ultimately use to choose keywords and create search statements.

All of these steps are in preparation for using search tools, creating targeted searches, and retrieving the best information to use in your paper, project, or speech.


Research, in simplest terms, is information seeking. However, research is not just finding a piece of information. Instead, we can see research as a thorough examination of a topic. This process includes locating information, but also reflecting on what you've learned, adapting your ideas, organizing thoughts into a logical order, and then using those sources and ideas to produce a project or come to a decision.

Research in college is required for many papers, projects, and speeches. This does not mean you will be responsible for primary, or original, research. Primary research refers to collecting original data through surveys, experiments, interviews, or observations. Instead, the research you will conduct includes using search tools, like the library catalog, library databases, and the Web, to find existing credible research on a topic.

Seminole State College LIbrary

Finding background information on your topic is important if you are unfamiliar with the subject area. A background search can provide:

  • A broad overview of the subject
  • Definitions of the topic
  • Introduction to key issues
  • Names of people who are authorities in the subject field
  • Major dates and events
  • Keywords and subject-specific vocabulary terms that can be used for database searches
  • Bibliographies that lead to additional resources

Encyclopedias are important sources to consider when initially researching a topic. General encyclopedias provide basic information on a wide range of subjects in an easily readable and understandable format. 

 If you are certain about what subject area you want to choose your topic from, you might want to use a specialized or subject encyclopedia instead. Subject encyclopedias limit their scope to one particular field of study, offering more detailed information about the subject.

Periodicals (also known as serials) are publications printed "periodically", either daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or on an annual basis. Journals, magazines, and newspapers are different types of periodicals. Examples of  periodicals include the following: newspapers, popular magazines, scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, trade publications.

Using search interfaces like Google can lead you to an ocean of good and bad information.  Being critical of everything you see on the Internet is crucial when getting background information for an academic writing assignment.  Instructors often prohibit students from citing Internet sites on a research paper so be careful that you understand what is acceptable and unacceptable to quote.

University of Buffalo LIbraries

Now that you've learned about your topic through background research and developed your topic into a research question, you can formulate a solid thesis statement. The thesis statement can be looked at as the answer to your research question. It guides the focus of your research and the direction of your arguments, and also prevents any unnecessary tangents within your project. A strong thesis statement will always make it easier to maintain a clear direction while conducting your information search.

Thesis statements are one sentence long and are focused, clear, declarative, and written in third person voice.

A good thesis statement should be:


Focus on a single position or point of view in your thesis statement. You cannot effectively address multiple perspectives within a single paper, as you want to make coherent points to support your position.


Present your argument or position clearly and precisely. A clear thesis statement will avoid generalizations and make your position known.


   Present your position or point of view as a statement or declarative sentence. Your research question helped guide your initial searching so you could learn more about your topic. Now that you have completed that step, you can extract a thesis statement based on the research you have discovered.


Write your thesis statement in third person voice. Rather than addressing "I," "we," "you," "my," or "our" in your thesis, look at the larger issues that affect a greater number of participants. Think in terms like "citizens," "students," "artists," "teachers," "researchers," etc.

OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab

In a research project, you will use information and ideas from your research sources to support the statements you make. Whether those sources are books, articles, government documents, web pages, email, images, or any other types of sources, you must use them fairly and credit them appropriately.

You document, or cite, the information and ideas you use from your sources to give credit to the author or creator and to allow your readers to follow your research path.

Keep a record of all the information you will need from each source for your bibliography--author, title, journal title, date of publication, publisher and place of publication of a book, volume and issue number of a journal, page numbers. If your source is from the internet, such as a web page or email, record the address and date you accessed the document. You may want to save the document or print it out so you will have it as it existed on the date you accessed it.

Claremont Colleges Library

Need More Help? 

When you need help with your research project, talk to your Instructor, stop by the library and ask for assistance from the librarian or make an appointment to get help from someone in the Writing Center on your campus.

How do you know if you have found “good” information?  The CRAAP Test is a list of questions that you can use to evaluate the information that you find. These can be applied to websites, articles, and other information sources to help you determine if the information is reliable.

Evaluation Criteria

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?

  • Has the information been revised or updated?

  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?

  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?

  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?

  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?

  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?

  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?

  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?

  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?

  • examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?

  • Is the information supported by evidence?

  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?

  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?

  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?

  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?

  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?

  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?

  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?

  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

Adelphi University 

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eBooks + Books

Discover eBook collections or find print books/materials through the catalog for each campus:


Suggested Websites

Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

A professional development resource that can be used and adapted by both individuals and groups in order to foster understanding and use of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

Project Information Literacy

A nonprofit research institute that conducts ongoing, national studies on what it is like being a student in the digital age. 



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