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Information retrieval and use

Information literacy defined

The concept of information literacy has been introduced already decades ago to describe the skills students must have to be able to recognize their information needs, to find the right kind of information, to be able to evaluate the information, and to use it legally and ethically in their studies. Characterizations of information literacy have changed over the years from underlining skills to focusing on creating new knowledge on the basis of retrieved information.

The process of producing and evaluating information

The key parts of research are the framework, research methods, and results. The conceptual framework, methods and interpretation of the research material are in connection with each other. Research method selection is based on the aimed new understanding about the issue and on previous knowledge of the topic. Research aims at filling a knowledge gap related to the topic. Information retrieval, on the other hand, is performed to find and locate previously published information about the topic.

The problem with information these days is not finding it, as there is plenty of information out there, but rather how to find and choose the best information sources out of all the information available. One of the key skills of information literacy is the ability to evaluate the quality of information sources and being able to identify different source types.

In higher education, the sources you use for your assignments and thesis should be reliable and of high quality. This means that you need to think critically about the information you find and evaluate the sources before using them. Here are some criteria that should keep in mind when you when you evaluate your information sources: currency, relevance, accuracy, authority and purpose. These criteria are also known as the CRAAP test, which was originally devised by Meriam Library at California State University Chico.


Currency refers to the timeliness of information. In some fields information becomes outdated quicker than in others, for example medicine and engineering can change quickly due to new research and information technology so you should always use the newest information available. Having said that nearly all fields have their classics that stand the tests if time where publication year isn’t an issue.

Here are a few questions to consider when determining the currency of your source:

  • When was the information published or posted online?
  • Has it been revised or updated?
  • Are the sources used in the publication up-to-date?
  • Are the links are functional?


Relevance refers to the importance of the information for your needs. If you are after basic information like the train times then you probably won’t need multiple information sources but when you are looking for information for your assignments or thesis you should look at several sources to gain a better understanding of the topic. You also need to determine what level of information is suitable for your information needs. Remember that you shouldn’t use theses as information sources for your own thesis or assignment. 

Here are a few questions to consider when determining the relevance of your source:

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (not too elementary or too advanced)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before deciding on which to use?


Authority refers to the source of the information. The publisher and the publication usually give some indication about the quality and reliability of the information, for both print and electronic materials. You should always be critical about self-published material as it doesn’t go through the same quality control as materials published through publishing houses.

You should also pay attention to who the author is, when you are evaluating authority. You can determine if they are qualified to write about the topic by checking their level of education (someone who has just graduated is rarely an expert in their field and that’s why you shouldn’t use thesis as a source for your essays) or professional experience. You can also check if the author has published other books or articles in the same field. Some databases will also tell you how many times the article or book has been cited by others. A high number of citations usually tells that the article/author is well-known and respected in that particular field.

Websites can also be credible and informative sources, for example organizations like World Health Organization (WHO) and Statistics Finland check their facts before posting them online. But it’s always good to keep in mind that anyone can publish anything online so there is a lot of dubious material out there.  Remember to be critical about the information you find online.

Here are a few questions to consider when determining the authority of your source:

  • Who is the author/publisher/source?
  • What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic? Are they a professional or published academic or a lay person expressing their own views on the subjects?   See more >
  • Does the URL reveal something about the website?


Accuracy refers to the reliability, the truthfulness and the correctness of the content. You can use your prior knowledge to determine the accuracy of information or you can compare the information to other sources to see if it holds. Remember that you should always use peer reviewed or refereed material for your assignments and your thesis.                  

Here are a few questions to consider when determining the accuracy of your source:

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed before publishing?
  • Can you verify any of the information from another source?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?


Purpose refers to the reason the information exists. Information is produced for different purposes, it can teach, entertain, sell, inform, and influence opinion. It’s advisable to consider the agenda behind the information that you are evaluation, as it gives you a better understanding about the quality of the information and whether or not its biased.

Here are a few questions to consider when determining the purpose of your source:

  • What is the purpose of the information?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Do the authors/publishers make their intentions or purpose clear? 
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial, or is the information sponsored/produced by someone with an agenda?

Internet sources

Be careful with Internet search engines (e.g. Google and Google Scholar). You'll be on the safe side if you use the sources available via your university library. Google is fine when you want to learn the basics of an unknown topic but for reference information it is hardly ever sufficient.

Differences between scientific and popular sources

It is important to understand the difference between scientific and popular publications. Popular publications are often called magazines while scientific publications are journals. Newspapers and trade journals are also considered popular publications. However, in technical fields trade journals often spread practical information to professionals. 

Research must be based on scientific information. It is possible to refer to some popular sources in scientific publications but the research may not rely only on non-scientific information.

Scientific publications include research-based information. It also follows a set format. See: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Scientific articles are always peer-reviewed. This means that before it is published it has been evaluated by experts in that particular discipline. Peer-reviewing is normally anonymous to ensure neutrality.

The authors' affiliations and their status are visible in scientific publications. In scientific publications information sources are clearly marked within the text (in-text citations) and listed in the reference list. 

Evaluation criteria 


Check that the author, name of publication, and publisher are visible. Evaluate the information: Is it likely to be researched and objective and are the sources used and marked properly? Is the document peer-reviewed? Does the source present facts or opinions?T


Consider the viewpoints of the author and possible target group. 

Be critical with research financed by commercial organizations because their expectations may effect the conclusions. Check research results presented in news by looking for the original document. 


Is the information useful? New enough? What is the viewpoint?

The most recent information is often in conference proceedings and journal articles. In literature reviews, older information may also be relevant.


Evaluation criteria for journals

Check the Publication forum classifications of journals - Link to the Publication forum

Publication Forum  is a rating and classification system to support the quality assessment of research output. The classification includes academic journals, book series, conferences as well as book publishers. The four-level classification rates the major foreign and domestic publication channels of all disciplines

Check the Cite Score in Scopus and the Impact Factor (IF) in the Journal and High Cited data (JHCD) database.

Cite Score and Impact Factor are calculated by deviding the number of citations to a journal during a set period by the number of articles published in the same journal. 

Is the article peer-reviewed?  - Check this in the Ulrichsweb database

The Ulrichsweb Serials Directory includes information about 300 000 journals. The  symbol shows that the journal is peer-reviewed.

This text is based on the guide published by the George Mason University at

The “IMRaD” format refers to a paper that is structured by four main sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This format is often used for scientific articles, as well as for reporting any planned, systematic research reports.

  1. Introduction - explanation why the article is important and presents a knowledge gap.
  2. Methods - how the study is conducted.
  3. Results - presentation of the findings
  4. Discussion - main findings and their connection to other research, limitations of the study


Investigative learning and information management

In multidisciplinary research problems the studied problem deals with two or more disciplines. As illustrated in the figure below, we can say that a multidisciplinary problem contains elements of both/all disciplines in question but the proportions vary. The figure shows examples of information search problems, which deal with mechanical engineering and sustainable science but the viewpoints vary from most mechanical engineering to most sustainable science. 

Source: TALIKKA, M., 2018. Recognizing required changes to higher education engineering programs’ information literacy education as a consequence of research problems becoming more complex (Doctoral dissertation), Lappeenranta University of Technology.


The investigative learning approach is a method of learning and teaching that gives students opportunities to direct their own learning as they explore the topic. In exploring the topic, students need IL skills in order to find and evaluate the necessary information. Investigative learning is often communal. Working on a thesis or assignment is, however, mostly individual but the process is similar. New knowledge is created by combining existing knowledge.


Sharing information and scientific communication

New knowledge, which is created in doing research, is distributed by publishing articles, conference papers, reports and even theses. Publishing is an integral part of scientific communication.

Within articles and other publications, authors share other researchers' views and research results by referring to them. This is also scholarly communication. In writing your text you should avoid presenting one author's views in one paragraph and another author's views in another. Instead, you should create your text so that you mix different facts and views in one paragraph thus making the source publications involve in scholarly discussion. 

The academic community discusses research topics and results in various meetings and conferences as well as in written documents. These discussion forums are both national and international.


Publicity of theses and publishing in the LUTPub repository

Theses are public documents. In most cases they are published in electronic form. LUT University theses are published in the LUTPub repository database while LAB theses are published in the Theseus service. Check the guides for publishing in  LUTPub and in Theseus.


Open publications are openly and freely available in full text. Via open publishing research results can be delivered fast to a large audience.

Open publishing can be:

    • The identical content of an article or book chapter is stored in an open repository according to the publisher's conditions. This is called parallel publishing.
    • the article is published in an open access journal or 
    • a monograph is published openly via Open Access services. In these cases, an article processing charge APC or  book processing charge BPC is charged.
    • One single article is purchased to be open in a journal which is normally subject to a subscription fee. An article processing charge, APC is charged.
    • ​​​​​​​It is also possible to publish on your own website. 

For more information, please, visit

Open research materials follow the  FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable). This means that the material should be retrievable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Research data can be stored in various data storage services like  CSC's Finnish services Etsin (retrieval service), AVAA (publication platform for open research data ) and IDA (storage service for research data). Zenodo (European research data repository) and EUDAT (European research data infrastructure and service entity) are examples of international services. Open research data can also be found in the OpenDOAR service which is an open data archive index service.

Ethics and copyright of information

  • Copyright refers to the protection given to a piece of work, i.e. author’s exclusive rights. They consist of economic and moral rights. Copyright protects the work, not the information or ideas contained in.
  • The author is a natural person who has done the work and owns the exclusive rights of the work. There can be several authors and they own rights to their own parts. If a work has two or more authors whose contributions do not constitute independent works, the copyright shall belong to the authors jointly. The author can, to a certain extent, transfer his or her rights to another party.
  • The work is a sufficiently creative literary or artistic work, for example article, book, musical composition or painting. Whether a piece of work can be regarded as an independent piece of work and thus reach copyright protection, depends on the originality of the work.
  • Copy of a work means the single copy of the work. With regard to online works the difference between the work and the copy of the work is somewhat vague.

Finnish Copyright Act

  • Copyright belongs to the author and his heirs 70 years after his/her death. The author can hand over part of the financial rights for example to publisher to manage for the duration of copyright. All moral rights may not be transferred, even if the financial rights are ceded.
  • The producer of audio and video recordings has related rights. Their duration is 50 years from the completion of the recording and 50 years after its release.
  • The related rights of a photo are valid 50 years after it was taken.

Finnish Copyright Act

Plagiarism means copying someone else's text into your own work as it is without showing clearly that it is copied e.g. by using quotation marks around the copied text.Copyright protects the form not the content. Therefore, the content of another author's text can be cited in your own writing but you must cite it properly. Use in-text citations where you cite someone else's text.

See Bainbridge State College's video, which explains what is plagiarism and how you can avoid using information wrongly and in an unethical way.

LUT University uses the Turnitin software for plagiarism detection. Another widely used software is Urkund.

The motive for publishing information is remarkable when information reliability is evaluated. This is highly important especially when information is published openly in the internet. Check the website publisher information and think what might be the reasons for publishing that particular information.