What Is Information Literacy?

Information literacy is the ability to find the information that we need and use that information. This need could be getting information about different courses that the universities offer or selecting the right tour operator for our next vacation. We make numerous trivial decisions everyday and some important ones now and then, like finding the right car or choosing the correct insurance policy. To make the right decision, or more importantly, to make the most beneficial decision, we need to gather all the relevant information before we can analyze the information and make a decision. Therefore, essentially, all the tasks that fall between identifying the information need and using the information that we find to make a decision fall under the scope of information literacy.

So how do we know if we are information literate? An information literate person can:

· Define the problem: That is we can recognize what the problem is and put that in words. Based on this problem, we can define the information that we need. For example, we wish to travel to Europe. We will want to know – the best time to travel, the average cost of travel, the places we want to visit, and so on. Defining all this is the first step in identifying the information need.

· How to get the information: After we define the information that we want to make the decision, we must then identify the sources of information. These sources could be people who have been to Europe, some tour operators, web sites, and so on. An information literate person at this point will create a strategy for finding the relevant information by identifying the most useful and relevant information sources.

· Where to get the information: Now, we know what information we need and how we can find this information. The third step is to find these information sources. We will know people who have travelled to Europe in our community. In current times, we can use the social networking web sites to find people who have been to Europe to hear their first-hand accounts and experiences. Other than these people, we can look up government tourism web sites to get most of the information.

· Is everything true? People are generally truthful about narrating their experiences, but these could be biased for any number of reasons; we all don’t have the same likes and dislikes. There is a lot of information online, but then not everything we read is true. My point? We can define the information need and get the information too; however, we also need the ability to evaluate critically the information we have. For example, the ability to separate a commercial sales pitch from genuine information.

· Using the information: Whew! This has been a long journey and we have all the ingredients ready. But, it is all in bits and pieces. We still need to assemble all of this information in a way that will help us make that decision about the tour. Define priorities perhaps? Decision based on the variables that we defined in the first step.

Information literacy is not new. It is just that we have a lot of information available and need to be aware of ways to look systematically for the information if we do not wish to drown in this ocean of information. Constantly evolving technology and ways of communication make the task more difficult. So, next time you are looking for information, keep these steps in mind before you dive in the World Wide Web.

Technical writers present information to their readers by identifying readers’ information need. Presenting only the relevant information forms the core of their job. Therefore, this is one skill that technical communicators must master reduce the effort readers have to put-in to use the information. Please visit my blog to know why information literacy is more important for technical writers and what do employers think about these skills when they are hiring a technical writer.