Spirituality Based Inquiry

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Information Literacy

We are living in what is often called the information age. Rather than having to deal with not enough information, the problem is you often have to face information overload. Information literacy is having the tools and awareness to find, assess and appropriately use relevant and reliable information.

Information Literacy
Search Strategy
Types of Resources

Information Literacy

What is information literacy?

Someone who is information literate at this time is a person who can:

  • Recognise a problem and is able to define that problem.
  • Determine the key question and/or concepts suggested by the problem.
  • Decide how to plan a search.
  • Identify where they have to go to find the information they need.
  • Evaluate the information they locate during their search.
  • Organise and use the information appropriately.
  • Review, communicate and present the information.

Search Strategy

This is when you design a strategy that is essentially a plan of how you will look for information. The more care and thought you put into your search strategy, the more relevant your search results will be.

  • Make sure you understand the project / essay title.
  • Analyse your topic.
  • Highlight important aspects.
  • What are the main ideas?

Understand the question

Look for keywords and try and think of alternative terms or keywords for each concept you have identified in the question.

Check terms in the reference sources

Use the Library’s reference resources to define words or terms that you are unsure of, e.g. dictionaries and encyclopaedia. This may be where you will be able to expand on your list of keywords.

Keyword searching is also sometimes referred to as free-text or natural language searching. When you enter a keyword into this search option it looks across the whole record, matches the word or term you have entered, and gives you a list of results.

It can be a good way to begin your research particularly if it is not a topic you are familiar with. However, you will often get a lot of material that is of little use to you. It is not very precise and you can spend a lot of time sorting through this material to locate the resources you can really use.

You use keyword searching when you enter a term into Google, or another search engine. Now, you understand why you get such massive "hits", that often seem confusing and not really what you are looking for.

Controlled language searching occurs when you use the terms that have come from an agreed list, such as those you would find in a thesaurus. This type of searching is more precise and will only return a list that should be more accurate and relevant to your needs. The Mary MacKillop Library uses the Library of Congress Subject Headings to describe the material entered onto our catalogue.

When searching on the Internet always check on the sites you are in to see if they have an online thesaurus that you can use to achieve more precise results when you search.

Types of Resources

There are many types of resources; scholarly, popular, primary and secondary. Be aware that the type of resource you use can influence the integrity of the information.

Learn to understand what is meant by peer-reviewed literature. You also need to develop an understanding of the difference between popular and scholarly information.

Popular journals are often called magazines. These magazines may contain news and stories about current events, but they often also contain sensational "gossip" and articles. They are written for a broad, general audience and rarely have a place when researching material for an assignment.

Scholarly journals contain articles that have been well-researched, cover a topic in depth and many of the articles will have gone through a peer review process. If an article has been through peer review before publication you know you can use this article confidently in any assignment or essay for your teachers.

Peer review means that the articles that appear in this type of journal have been checked by other experts in the field. These experts will then tell the publisher that they are suitable for publication in their journal. Material that appears in peer-reviewed scholarly journals covers all subject fields and may include original research, criticism and reviews of research.

You can safely use this type of material in your work as you know it has been through a review process before it has been published. Peer-reviewed material can be found on the Internet. Just be careful and check any information before you use it.


Books - Journal articles - Databases

Journal articles contain the most up-to-date information. They can also be very concise. However, be aware that depending on the publication, this material may or may not be refereed. You can safely use material or information from a refereed journal because it is reliable and timely. Non-refereed journals often have less rigorous standards of screening before publication. (Some may still be considered scholarly.)

Books are not as up-to-date. They can be good starting points where you can expand a topic. They are also good for literature reviews.

Newspapers are intended for a general audience and therefore the information they contain may be of limited use. They can show recent trends, discoveries or changes. Be aware that they do not give unbiased information.

The Internet is the fastest growing source of information. But remember, anyone can post information onto the Internet. Much that is posted is for general readers and must be used with care.


All information, regardless of the source should be tested for:

  • Relevance
  • Currency
  • Reliability
  • Accuracy

Be aware... all information is not created equal.

Learn to recognise what is fact and what is an opinion, what is objective or subjective research or information. Be aware that bias even influences the structure of something as “bland" as an encyclopaedia.

Articles, databases and the Library catalogue

The Library catalogue cannot list all the individual articles published in journals.

You can look up the title of a journal. The catalogue will tell you if we purchase the magazine or journal, how long we have been collecting it and if there are any missing issues.

Ask at the Library desk for help if you are not sure how to locate the back issues of our magazines and journals.

The Mary MacKillop Library scans articles of interest and on the request of teachers from books, magazines, journals and newspapers. This material can be found in the eReserve section of the Library website. your username and password is needed to view this type of material via a catalogue or library website.

Journal titles are listed in the Library's catalogue. However, if you need to find an article in a journal you will need to use an index or online database.

An index will only give you the details about an article. The information in the index will include the author, title of the article, the name of the journal, volume, issue and page numbers. They may also have a small abstract which will provide you with an idea of what the article is about.

A full-text database will give you the full article, which you may print-out or, in most cases, email to yourself.

Remember, all of these articles must appear in your reference list.

The Library staff are here to help you develop literacy skills. You can learn to think critically, analyse information and develop the research skills you need when you leave St Patrick's College.

The Library Fact Sheets can help you learn how to exploit the information held in the Mary MacKillop.

Library catalogue

The Library catalogue it the key to locating information in the Library. It is a powerful searching tool as it lists contents and summaries of the books held in the Library. You can use these and other searching terms:

Keyword - Author - Title - Subject

Library website

The Mary MacKillop Library's website is designed to help you achieve the best research outcomes while you are at St Patrick's College.

Library Staff

The Library Staff are the link you need to help you locate information and develop independent research skills ... just ask!