Information Literacy and Writing Assessment Project:
Tutorial for Developing and Evaluating Assignments

Section 2: Background on Information Literacy, Writing, and Critical Thinking

Definitions of Information Literacy

Information literacy is one of the five cross curricular initiatives at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). The 2001-2002 UMUC Undergraduate Catalog states that UMUC graduates are expected to be able to "Use libraries and other information resources to locate, evaluate, and use needed information effectively."

In 1989, the Association of College and Research Libraries (a division of the American Library Association) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy stated that, “Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.”

To understand what information literacy is and how to incorporate information literacy assignments into the curriculum, we have developed this resource to make the process of designing, implementing and evaluating an information literacy/research assignment easier. We hope this document will provide you with ideas and a deeper understanding of the initiative and its benefit to you and your students.

Components of Information Literacy

What elements comprise information literacy? If we were to break down the different components of information literacy, they would be as follows:

  • library literacy
  • computer literacy
  • critical thinking skills
  • lifelong learning skills

What is Information Literacy?

  • knowing you have an information need
  • identifying and retrieving the needed information to address the topic -- using different formats (e.g., Web or print resources) as necessary
  • evaluating and critically examining the information
  • organizing the information
  • using the information effectively (analysis and synthesis)

Skills that Comprise Information Literacy

  • using library resources both within the library and through electronic means
  • having sufficient computer competency to use both traditional and electronic tools efficiently and effectively
  • determining the best resource to use, not simply using the resource that is most convenient
  • developing an appreciation of the importance of information for workplace success and continuing to use information throughout life

WWW-Based Information Literacy Resources

Numerous resources on information literacy are available that provide additional information about information literacy and its applicability to higher education. Below are two Web sites that have tutorials and additional resources about information literacy.

Writing as an Element of ILWA Assignments

Because it is neither a new nor a specialized term, writing does not need to be defined in the same way as information literacy does. But teachers who are considering adding ILWA assignments to their courses ought to consider the great variety of writing purposes that may entail research. James Kinneavy's application of the "Communications Triangle" to the aims of discourse suggests some of the many possibilities. Sociology or history students may be assigned family histories (their own or other families') that entail collecting actual interviews; developing surveys, researching registers of births, deeds, and wills; and consulting contemporary street maps, business directories, and newspapers. Communication arts, business, or marketing students may be asked to develop ad campaigns including reviews of market research, consumer psychology, demographic, and income trends. Information systems management students may be asked to measure the impact of government regulation on a particular communication medium by reviewing newspaper analyses; county, state and federal legislative records; and trade journal articles.

A Sampler of Writing Assignment Types

Writing assignments that might develop from research include:

  • mission statements and vision statements
  • proposals
  • constitutions
  • legislative bills
  • definitions
  • diagnoses
  • white papers
  • marketing analyses
  • opinion surveys
  • feasibility studies
  • annotated bibliographies
  • literature reviews
  • problem solutions
  • formal arguments from principle
  • arguments generalizing from particulars
  • news articles
  • magazine feature articles
  • reports
  • encyclopedia articles
  • historical fiction
  • ballads
  • plays, TV, or film scripts on course-related issues
  • advertising campaigns
  • political speeches
  • editorials
  • social, political, or artistic criticism


Adapted from: Kinneavy, J. L. (1971). A theory of discourse: The aims of discourse. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (see page 61).

Association of College and Research Libraries. (1989, January 10). Presidential committee on information literacy : Final report. Retrieved from