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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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1 Digital and information literacy

Let’s begin by exploring what is meant by ‘information literacy’ and ‘digital and information literacy’ and why these are integral to your postgraduate study skills.

Fundamentally, information literacy (IL) is the ability to: recognise when information is needed; know how to locate and evaluate the appropriateness of information found; and know how to use this in an effective and responsible manner. This brief description can be encapsulated in a more formal definition of IL, widely used by information and library professionals, which states:

Information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.

(CILIP, 2004)

So how does this differ from ‘digital and information literacy’ (DIL)? The Open University Library defines DIL as follows:

Digital literacy includes the ability to find and use information (otherwise known as information literacy) but goes beyond this to encompass communication, collaboration and teamwork, social awareness in the digital environment, understanding of e-safety and creation of new information. Both digital and information literacy are underpinned by critical thinking and evaluation.

(OU Library, 2014)

You may feel that you already have a good awareness of both digital and general information literacy skills from your undergraduate studies or relevant work experience. However, being aware of the need to continuously review your academic and DIL skills to ascertain their relevance, effectiveness and efficiency of practice, and to be open to developing these further and to keep up with changes in the digital environment form an important part of your postgraduate skills and are essential for continuing your professional development.

Activity 1 Some important terms

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

What do the following terms mean to you? Have you engaged previously with these tools and resources?

  • RSS feeds
  • ZETOC alerts
  • grey literature
  • deep (or invisible) web.


RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds and ZETOC alerts are subscription systems that can be set up to check specified resources of interest (journals, websites, forums, blogs, etc.) and to ‘feed’ headline activities and information directly to your email account rather than you having to constantly check the sites yourself. We will look at setting up RSS feeds later on in this session.

‘Grey literature’ is a term used to describe any information that has either not been formally published or is not available commercially, while the ‘deep (or invisible) web’ relates to information on the web that is not generally found by standard search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo (hence it is ‘invisible’). This type of information can however be accessed via specialist search engines and bespoke databases (through subscription entry for example), if you know how and where to look.

Activity 1 introduced some important terms, and began to explore their meaning and potential relevance. The next activity will allow you to get your bearings on sources of information that you come across, and may wish to use in your studies.

Activity 2 Sources of information

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Which of the following sources of information have you previously used in your studies? How would you reference them in your work?

  • Twitter feeds
  • Facebook or other social networking sites
  • forum, blog and micro-blog postings
  • podcasts
  • YouTube listings
  • governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and/or private industry working documents
  • online newspaper articles
  • theses
  • ebooks and ejournals.


Depending on your studies and the type of research that you are doing, it may be appropriate to make use of any one or all of the above sources of information. Being able to reference each of these appropriately so that others can access the information, as well as assess their reliability, is an essential requirement at postgraduate level. We take a closer look at citing and referencing sources later on in this session.