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Information Literacy: Searching as strategic exploration

Provides resoures on information literacy standards, handouts, and research guidance to support students' needs at various points through the program.


The information literate student is able to:

  • determine the initial scope of the task required to meet their information needs;
  • identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information;
  • utilize divergent (e.g., brainstorming) and convergent (e.g., selecting the best source) thinking when searching;
  • match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools;
  • design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary, based on search results;
  • understand how information systems (i.e., collections of recorded information) are organized in order to access relevant information;
  • use different types of searching language (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language) appropriately;
  • manage searching processes and results effectively.

Analyze Assignment

Before you formulate your research question, you should carefully read and analyze the assignment.  Understanding the assignment will allow you to develop a better research question, help you organize your findings, and save you time in the long run.  When reviewing the assignment, you should:

  • Identify words telling you what to do:
    • Summarize
    • Evaluate
    • Compare
    • Explain
    • Argue
  • Identify limiters:
    • "two case studies"
    • "peer-reviewed research"
    • "strengths and weaknesses"
  • Identify the key theme:
    • "a known treatment for low back pain from our class discussions"


Information literate learners:

  • exhibit mental flexibility and creativity;
  • understand that first attempts at searching do not always produce adequate results;
  • realize that information sources vary greatly in content and format and have varying relevance and value, depending on the needs and nature of the search;
  • seek guidance from experts, such as librarians, researchers, and professionals;
  • recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering;
  • persist in the face of search challenges, and know when they have enough information to complete the task.

Know Your Limits

Before you begin researching, you want to set a realistic plan of action.  The subject of a 5 page paper must be much more refined than the subject of a 15 page paper.  Knowing the requirements before beginning will save you time and help you pick an appropriate topic.

  • When is the assignment due?
  • What is the required length?
  • How many and what type of sources are required?
  • Who is your audience?