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Becoming an expert information user

'Information Literacy' and you

We live in the Information Age.

As a university student, you will be required to handle huge quantities of information: information from your lectures, information from your course reading, and, to really excel, information from your own independent study. On top of this, you will already be managing information from your own lives: jobs, money, family, relationships, hobbies, and information from the outside world.

You are also an information producer: creating sense out of the resources you use and presenting your arguments and knowledge in your assignments and research. In your everyday lives, you produce information about yourself when you share it on social media, whenever you click on a link on a webpage, or buy something using your card.

Developing your skills in managing information is vital. Research shows that those who actively develop these 'information literacy' skills are, on average, happier, healthier and wealthier.

How the Library can help

Using and engaging with Birmingham Newman Library is a fantastic way of developing your information literacy. Our Academic Service Librarians are information experts, and we can give you training and advice on finding, using, managing and evaluating the resources you use in your assignments.

We can help you with things like:

  • Understanding your research need: what questions do you want to answer?
  • Knowing where to find the best sources of knowledge to help you answer your questions
  • Knowing how to search for the best information
  • Evaluating the information and its usefulness for your questions
  • Organising and keeping track of the information you find
  • Using information ethically and giving credit for ideas that are not your own

The 'Research Cycle'

The different parts of developing your information literacy reflect the idea that developing knowledge about anything is a cycle.

a representation of the Research Cycle as a circular process. It starts at the top with 'Identify' and proceeds clockwise around a circle to 'Plan', 'Search', 'Evaluate' and 'Analyse' before returning to 'Identify'. As an extra step, as a student, there is the 'Write up' process between 'Analyse' and 'Identify'


The vital first step on your journey to develop your knowledge is to identify what it is that you need to find out. Before you came to university, most of these decisions will have been made for you by your teachers, ultimately directed by the exam board or the government.

Now you are at university, you will find that this is not always the case. Although assignment briefs will follow the learning outcomes for the modules that you are studying, there may be many different ways of approaching a question. In some circumstances, you may even be required to set your own assignment questions. When it comes to large projects, reports or a dissertation, it will be vital to your success to be able to set your own research questions and explain why you have chosen them.

Next, think about where you might be able to find things to help you answer the question. As a student, it's important to think carefully at these early stages and plan the way that you are going to go about the task.

You can then put your plan into action and search for the information that you need. During this stage, you might discover different ideas or concepts, or be pointed to different sources of information that can help you.

Once you've found some information, you then need to decide whether it is useful: ask yourself some questions about it, maybe using a test like the CRAAP test:

  • Currency: is it up-to-date? Has the field moved on significantly since it was made?
  • Relevance: is it from the same field of research? If not, is there a crossover? Can it be considered similar enough to draw comparisons?
  • Accuracy: is it free from errors or misunderstanding? If it's not academic research, has it been oversimplified for a non-specialist audience?
  • Authority: does the person who wrote it know what they're talking about? Are they an expert in the subject that the resource is about?
  • Purpose: why has it been produced? Is it for commercial or political purposes - or maybe just entertainment? How does this affect other aspects, such as accuracy and reliability?

Just because one aspect of a resource isn't very strong, it doesn't necessarily mean it's not useful, but you may need to think about whether you can rely on it strongly, or if it will need support from other evidence.

We then use our judgement again, to understand, analyse and piece together the evidence - 'synthesising' it - to create the answer to our question.

Our new knowledge then leads us forward to a new information need, whether that is to deepen our understanding, or to ask new questions brought to light by our work. If our research is part of our studies or work, we also have the additional step of writing up or presenting our research to demonstrate our new knowledge and how we have developed it.

Last reviewed: 28 June 2023

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