Dr. Bjorn Mercer

Start an arts and humanities degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University

One of the greatest challenges of living in today’s highly connected, media-saturated world is understanding the information we consume and using it constructively. When we read an article, watch a show on TV or take in other visual information, for instance, we have to figure out if we can trust the source of that information. Also, we must determine if that information is valuable and can be useful to us, our family or our workplace.

Standards for Judging Information

Judging information requires two skills: information literacy and inquiry and analysis. The Association of Colleges & Universities (AACU) Value Rubrics have two excellent definitions of these skills:

  • Information literacy: The ability to know when there is a need for information. One must be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and use/share that information effectively and responsibly for the problem at hand.
  • Inquiry and analysis: Inquiry is a systematic process of exploring issues, objects or works through the collection and analysis of evidence that results in informed conclusions or judgments. Analysis is the process of breaking complex topics or issues into parts to gain a better understanding of them.

Use of Search Engines Doesn’t Guarantee Information Literacy

However, identifying, locating and evaluating information can be extremely challenging. Today, we often use Google to try to locate sources after we identify a topic. But does this work?

As Hope College Professor Todd Wiebe stated in an AACU article, “When you ‘Google it,’ you are engaged in an information snatch and grab — get in, get out, move on. The reality is that we have to be cognizant of what type of information we are going to find and how to evaluate it. ‘Googling’ versus researching and, all the while, knowing what, in fact, each piece of information is that you are looking at and whether or when and why and how you would want or need to use it.”

Inquiry and Analysis: A Necessary Skill for Evaluating Information

After we identify and locate information, we have to evaluate it. This is where inquiry and analysis come into play.

During analysis, the authority of the individuals presenting the information must be taken into consideration. According to the American Library Association’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, “Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.”

A great deal of thought must be invested into the authority of those you chose to use in your own writing. For instance, you must consider their notoriety, expertise and trustworthiness.

When I write articles, I often use authors from reputable sites such as Harvard Business Review, Business Insider and Forbes. All of these websites are well-respected publications with excellent authors who are well known in their fields. However, you should still double-check their data to avoid making accidental mistakes.

Using and Sharing Information

Once you have found, analyzed, judged and chosen your desired information, it can be used in your writing. Be sure to use proper formatting and citations, so the reader fully understands that legitimate information supports your assertions and that you are using it in an ethical and respectful manner.

There are countless examples of people who use information poorly. You just have to read Twitter feeds, rushed news reporting, company press releases, athlete and politician interviews, and sloppily written articles.

Never put yourself in a position where you have to retract your work because of sloppy research, unintentional bias, callousness or an unethical use of information. When you put time and effort into your work, you can be proud of it. When needed, you can even clarify your ideas or assertions as you grow personally and are exposed to new perspectives.

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.