- By Jason Bacot
- Published 01/26/2011
Until the saturation of internet access, students looking for information often faced hours digging through archived work in university libraries. Today, there has been such an explosion of information resources that the problem is learning how to separate good information from bad. Information literacy is a student’s ability to find, evaluate, and use information for their classroom problem solving and research. Students with good information literacy skills will have an easier time and be more successful in writing their college term papers than students who have poor information literacy skills. If you’ve been assigned a college term paper, it’s in your best interest to pay attention to where your instructor advises you to find your research material, and if you’re not given sufficient guidance, you should ask: “Am I allowed to use this website?” “Do I need approval for my sources before I begin writing?” Instructors (and schools) vary as to how strict they are about which sources of information you’re allowed to use. Most likely, whether you’ll be allowed to use certain sources of information will depend on their relevance to the course goals.
When doing online searches, you’ll probably start out doing simple subject searches. This is just using descriptive terms to find information on a broad conception of your topic. For example, if you were writing a term paper about William Faulkner, but hadn’t yet narrowed your topic, you might start with searches like “William Faulkner career” or “William Faulkner themes.” The r
esults will bring together sources regardless of their quality, though placement at the top of search engine results can (but does not necessarily) indicate a high regard for that source from people who should know. This initial subject search may lead you to hone your topic a bit more. For example, you may discover that the concept of the moral burden is a common theme in William Faulkner’s work, so you would search further on that theme as it relates to William Faulkner, and possibly to other literature of that particular era. One mistake college students make is that they only explore sources that have the full text of a work on the subject they’re exploring. You should also look at search results that are only citations and abstracts. In many cases, you can use your school library resources to access the full text of these citations and abstracts, sometimes right on the library shelf. Librarians will know how to help you find the texts that go with these citations, and you should avail yourself of their services and skills.
If you’re at all unsure whether a particular source you’ve uncovered is acceptable for use in your term paper, then you should ask your instructor. You don’t want to be three-fourths of the way through your term paper only to find out that one or more of your main sources of information do not meet the instructor’s requirements. College instructors aren’t just stuck in the past, insisting that you use your school library’s vertical files or physical archives. For the most part they want to help you learn how to discern between good information and inadequate information, whether it’s found online or on a shelf.