The 21st century has been called the Information Age because of the explosion of information. It has become clear that students cannot learn everything they need to know in their field of study in a few years of college. Information literacy equips them with the critical skills necessary to become independent lifelong learners. As the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy says “Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.” (ALA, 1989)
The following information literacy module will provide you with the necessary skills required to carry out your research:
Consider the following situations:
• Two students going to college:
One who takes a round-about way every day because it’s the only way he knows.
One who uses a mapping service to seek the most efficient route.
• Two mice in a maze:
One who lies around complaining of hunger.
One who knows there’s a piece of cheese at the end of the maze and has a plan to find it.
In both the above cases, the student/mice opting the second option is the winner. The same concept applies to your role as a student; only, in your case, what you need isn’t an efficient route, or cheese: it’s information!
The first step in research is to define or describe the information needed. The topic you search information about is your ‘information need’. Once you know your information need, you refer to the various sources to seek information.
Before you begin, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
• “What do I want to know?”
• “What do I already know about this?”
• “How do I find the information I need?”
Beyond that, you should also ask,
• “Where will I find the best information to fit my needs?”
• “How will I know it when I see it?”
• “What do I do with it once I have it?”
As mentioned earlier, we are living in an information age, wherein information is generated at an enormously high pace in various sources and in varying formats. There are many sources which are published periodically or may be published only once, in various formats like print or digital. Following are the information sources and the type of information they contain:
• Encyclopedia – Single or multi-volume publication that contains in-depth and authoritative knowledge on one subject (e.g. subject encyclopedia) or on many subjects (e.g. general encyclopedia).
• Dictionary – A publication that lists the words in a language along with its meaning. It may also provide information about pronunciation, origin, and usage.
• Bibliography – A list of reference sources that are used or referred to in preparation of a work.
• Dissertation/thesis – A long piece of writing on a particular subject involving personal research, written by a candidate for a university degree.
• Biography – An account of a person’s life written by another person.
• Government publications – Documents produced by government departments. They include parliamentary publications, legislation, policy documents, discussion documents, statistics and reports.
• Gazetteer – A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or directory which contains information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent.
• Almanac – It is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers’ planting dates, tide tables, and tabular information often arranged according to the calendar.
• Maps / atlases – A graphic representation of the earth.
• Yearbooks – An annual publication giving current information and listing events of the previous year.
• Indexes/abstracts – An index is a systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document. Whereas abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject, which helps the reader to quickly ascertain the paper’s purpose.
• Textbooks – A book used as a standard work that contains detailed information about a subject.
2. Periodicals – A publication published at regular intervals.
• Journals – An academic or scholarly journal is a peer-reviewed or refereed periodical in which research articles relating to a particular academic discipline is published.
• Magazines – A periodical publication containing articles and illustrations, on a particular subject or maybe in general.
• Newspapers – A publication (usually issued daily or weekly) containing news, articles, advertisements, and correspondence.
• Reports, newsletters/ bulletins – A report is a document containing information organized in a narrative, graphic, or tabular form. A newsletter is a publication giving news or information of interest to a special group.
3. Videos & DVDs – They contain studies and documentaries such as the History Channel, Centre for Society and Environment etc.
4. Radio & TV broadcasts – These broadcasts are similar to newspapers and magazines but with a multimedia format. Many of these broadcasts may be watched/listened to online now-a-days.
5. Internet & websites
• E-books – A book that is stored in an electronic format and which can be read using a computer or other specific devices.
• E-journals – They are scholarly journals which can be accessed electronically.
People now-a-days, especially the youth are fascinated by the internet. They turn towards the internet to search anything and almost everything, not knowing that all the information found on the internet is not reliable. An information literate student should first and foremost know or be able to search effectively for the information needed. There is tremendous increase in the generation of information as more-and-more information is being added to the vast ocean of information on the internet. Many databases contain millions of articles. Whether you are searching for books or magazines or internet, the following basic search strategies may apply:
i. Use synonyms to broaden your search. e.g. car, autos, automobiles, vehicles etc.
ii. Use truncation or stem searching using in asterisk (*) in most cases. e.g. computer* will find information on computer, computers, computerize, computerization etc.
iii. Use quotes to keep phrases together. e.g. “social networking”.
iv. Use Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) to get the most out of your search.
v. Use advanced search options.
Who would you trust more?
Someone selling stolen goods in the back of his car?
Someone selling goods with warranty in a store?
• Tour guide
A tour guide who has lived, worked and studied in your destination city.
A tour guide who’s never actually been to your destination.
In the same way that you wouldn’t trust a salesman with stolen goods or an unqualified tour guide, you wouldn’t trust a research source that is biased, outdated, lacking credentials or authority.
Evaluating print sources
Before using information for your research, you need to evaluate the sources i.e. the information should be used from a trusted source. Following are some of the criteria useful in evaluating the print sources:
Who wrote the information?
Is the author an expert in this field? What else has he or she written?
Is it clear what the author’s credentials, reputation, experience relating to that topic are? e.g. a certain professor who has a Doctorate Degree in Physics writes a book on Ayurveda. Such a source may be less credible.
When was the source published? Do remember that we are living in an information age wherein new information is published at a faster rate. Hence information of recent origin should be used in research rather than old outdated information.
Which company has published the source you are using?
What type and quality of work is it known for publishing?
In case of research articles, which journal printed the article and what is its reputation in the field?
Is the source published by an association, research institute, government body, university press or a commercial organization?
Universities, museums, and other educational or research institutions are often reliable publishers.
• Accuracy Accuracy refers to whether the book provides verifiable and reliable factual information.
Are there errors in the information presented?
Does the text generally agree with other sources for the same information?
Is there documentation or evidence presented for the information provided? Look for in-text references and citations or a bibliography at the end of the article, chapter, or book.
Now-a-days almost all the students prefer to use the information from web resources for their research. One should not forget that everything you find on the internet is not correct because anyone can publish any information without much difficulty. Hence, we need to evaluate the websites based on the following criteria:
Credentials of the producer/author providing information.
Look for “about us”, “home”, “biography” and ‘credits” on the home page.
Check other publications by the author or sponsoring body.
Check who owns the domain.
Search for other publications or sites published by the author.
Consider the information currency at the time of publication.
Check the frequency of updates.
Look for dates, last revised dates.
Avoid information which does not reveal the publishing date.
Consider or determine why the site was created.
To inform or to entertain?
To promote research or to advertise/sell a product?
Was it a hoax?
What is the intended audience? Is it written for scientist, for professionals or for the general public?
Is the content of the source relevant for your topic? Does it give the information you need?
Is the source too basic, too technical, too advanced or just right for your needs?
Is the publication in a language you understand?
In addition to the above four criteria, ask yourself these questions:
Is this website better than your print source?
Does it provide something important that you can’t get from your print sources?
Using Information Ethically
When you are writing a research paper, you use information which was discovered by others and therefore, it is essential to cite and give reference to the sources you used. It is essential to cite the sources you used:
i. To distinguish your own ideas and findings from others
ii. To support your arguments
iii. To allow readers to locate and verify your sources
iv. To give credit to the author for their work
v. To avoid plagiarism
Information that is read as an introduction i.e. common knowledge you don’t need to cite.
Copyright v/s Fair Use
A Copyright is the right assigned to the authors of published/unpublished works which gives the owner of the work the right to reproduce, distribute, perform and derive new works from the original.
Consider the situation wherein you gather information from a number of sources and use in your research in the form of quotations, summaries or paraphrases. You forget or ignore to cite your sources. In this case you are violating the Copyright Law and you are accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious offence, and the offenders are liable to imprisonment or to be fined in thousands or lakh rupees.
However, ‘fair use’ policy allows the work to be copied for a limited purpose without the permission from the copyright owner.
A fair dealing with any work (except computer programmes) is allowed in India for the purposes of :
1. Private or personal use, including research
2. Criticism or review,
3. Reporting of current events and current affairs, including the reporting of a lecture delivered in public. (Sharma, 2009)
Sharma, Ayush.(2009). Indian Perspective of Fair Dealing under Copyright Law: Lex Lata or Lex Ferenda? Journal of Intellectual Property Rights, 14, 523-531.
How to cite?
Since you now know how serious plagiarism offence is, you should also know how to cite the sources. There are various documentation styles used; however APA (American Psychological Association) style is mostly used in social sciences.
• In-text citation
When using APA format, follow the author-date method of in-text citation. This means that the author’s last name and the year of publication for the source should appear in the text, e.g. (Jones, 1998), and a complete reference should appear in the reference list at the end of the paper.
• Short quotations
If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and the page number for the reference (preceded by “p.”). Introduce the quotation with a signal phrase that includes the author’s last name followed by the date of publication in parentheses.
According to Jones (1998), “Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time” (p. 199).
If the author is not named in a signal phrase, place the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number in parentheses after the quotation.
She stated, “Students often had difficulty using APA style” (Jones, 1998, p. 199), but she did not offer an explanation as to why it was so.
See APA citation style for more details.