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Information Literacy


Biology Majors Should Be Able To ...

  • Find research articles using standard databases.
  • Recognize the differences between research articles and popular-science articles.
  • Graphically present information in a clear and accurate manner (including basic statistical analysis).
  • Write an article in proper scientific format with all necessary sections.
  • Understand graphically presented information in a variety of forms both quantitative and qualitative.
  • Give an oral presentation or a poster on a scientific topic using a clear outline, good speaking skills, and good use of visual aids as appropriate
  • Appropriately cite sources.
  • Identify (and avoid using) plagiarism

Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned basic information skills and be able to:

  • Define and articulate the need for information and identify a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information beyond the web search engine
  • Identify the kinds of information needed – typically writing intensive courses focus on non-scientific types of information such as biographical, historical, or literary -- and know where to find information. In other words, students should be familiar with various electronic resources and some reference books. They should also be aware that web search engines are often inadequate for scholarly research.
  • Articulate and apply initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources – what is a source’s reliability? Who wrote it? When? Who published it?
  • Students should be able to distinguish between popular and scholarly materials in a variety of formats such as books, periodical literature, and websites.
  • Acknowledge and cite sources used in conducting research for an assignment using an acceptable style guide. Ability to discern when citing sources is necessary and to cite sources in an appropriate and consistent format.  Identify ethical and unethical citations, per the online plagiarism quiz.

These skills are a base for further study. Help is available through the Smith College Libraries’ Ask a Librarian options.

Beginning Students

After taking 2 introductory labs biology students should be able to:

  • Appropriately cite sources.
  • Identify (and avoid using) plagiarism.
  • Graphically present information in a clear and accurate manner (including basic statistical analysis, where appropriate).

Advanced Students

Advanced students should be able to:

  • Critically analyze the validity of different sources, in particular websites.
  • Be familiar with diverse sources of information (including primary research literature, review articles, popular science publications, web resources, etc.), understand the nature and scope of different kinds of information sources, and understand their appropriate uses.
  • Understand the fundamental difference between peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed sources of information.
  • Be able to present information coherently via posters, oral talks, essays, or conventional scientific reports


Fulfilling the requirements of the major will enable students to acquire important research skills.  Assessment of these skills is done on a class by class and case by case basis by individual instructors in each of their courses.

Ethical Issues

A primary ethical concern in students’ use of information is the avoidance of plagiarism. Students will learn in introductory labs how to properly cite sources, and even more importantly when information needs to be cited. The need for giving proper credit to one’s sources will be emphasized and enforced throughout the curriculum.

September 22, 2011