16 Information Literacy

Importance of Information Literacy

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this chapter, you should be able to

  • apply information literacy skills to search for and gather information to complete a given research-based task;
  • apply information literacy strategies to determine if a source is valid, reliable, and/or credible;
  • write a short report adhering to the norms required for the document type, and the principles of effective workplace writing in response to a given research-based scenario.


In this chapter you will learn how to conduct research for use in your professional life. When you are writing more complex pieces of communication, such as the reports you learned about in a previous chapter, you’ll need to draw upon research to make your points clear and persuasive. Here you’ll find out how to identify what information you need, where to find it, how to cite it, and how to pull together your research into a finished piece of professional work.

Identifying Your Information Needs

Not every piece of business writing requires research or investigation. When you are undertaking more formal documents, particularly reports, you’ll need to do your research, but this does not necessarily mean long hours at a library. Start by consulting with colleagues who have written similar documents and ask what worked, what didn’t work, and what was well received by management and the target audience. Your efforts will need to meet similar needs.

Before you go to the library, look over the information sources you already have in hand. Do you regularly read a magazine that relates to the topic? Was there an article in the newspaper you read that might work? Is there a book, website, or podcast that has information you can use? You might even know someone who has experience in the area you want to research, someone who has been involved with the topic for his or her whole life. We do a lot of our reading and research online today, so getting information firsthand is probably not the first method that comes to mind—but talking to an expert directly will give you insight into a topic that no website can compete with.

When you sit down to write a message that incorporates research, you’ll need to consider the purpose and audience just as you would with any other professional communication. Your general purpose will, most often, be to inform, but it may also be to persuade. For example, if you are writing a recommendation report, you’ll draw upon your research to persuade the reader to take the action you suggest. You will also have a specific purpose in mind, in terms of the results you want to achieve. For example, if you work for a magazine and are researching content for a marketing campaign, your specific purpose might be to increase subscriber numbers by 20 percent in the next quarter.

You’ll also consider what your audience’s needs and expectations are. For example, if your boss has asked you to draft a report on social media marketing so that he can present an action plan to the management team, your approach will be more formal than if you are simply surfing the web to find and price out a location for the next team-building day. Once you know your audience and purpose, it’s time to start gathering information.

Narrowing Your Topic

You’ll start with developing ideas around your topic, but even with a purpose in mind, you may still have too broad of a subject to cover within the time frame you have. You might want to revisit your purpose and ask yourself, how specific is my topic?

Imagine that you work for a local skydiving training facility. Your boss has assembled a list of people who might be candidates for skydiving and asks you to write a letter to them. Your general purpose is to persuade, and your specific purpose is to increase the number of students enrolled in classes. Your approach might be to tell your audience how exhilarating the experience of skydiving is, discuss the history and basic equipment, cover the basic requirements necessary to go on a first jump, and provide reference information on where your audience could go to learn more (videos and websites, for example).

But, at this point you’ll probably realize that a one-page letter simply is not enough space for the content you are planning to share. Rather than expand the letter to two pages and risk losing the reader, consider your audience and what they might want to learn. How can you narrow your topic to better consider their needs? As you edit your topic, considering what the essential information is and what can be cut, you’ll come to focus on the key points naturally and reduce the pressure on yourself to cover too much information in a limited space.

Perhaps starting with a testimony about a client’s first jump, followed by basic equipment and training needed, and finally a reference to your organization, may help you to more clearly define your document. Skydiving history may be fascinating, but including it in the letter would result in too much information. Your specific purpose may be to increase enrolment, but, in order to persuade your audience to consider skydiving for themselves, your general goal will need to be to communicate goodwill and establish communication with this target audience.

Focus on Key Points

Let’s imagine that you are the office manager for a pet boarding facility that cares for dogs and cats while their owners are away. The general manager has asked you to draft a memo to remind employees about safety practices. Your general purpose is twofold: to inform employees about safety concerns and to motivate them to engage in safe work practices. Your specific purpose is also twofold: to prevent employees from being injured or infected with diseases on the job, and to reduce the risk of the animal patients being injured or becoming sick while in your care.

You are an office manager, not a veterinary or medical professional, and there are volumes written about animal injuries and illnesses, along with entire schools devoted to teaching medicine to doctors who care for human patients. In a short memo, you cannot cover all possible examples of injury or illness. Instead, focus on the behaviours and situations you observe around the office. For example:

  • Do employees wash their hands thoroughly before and after contact with each animal?
  • Are hand-washing facilities kept clean and supplied with soap and paper towels?
  • When cleaning the animals’ cages, do employees wear appropriate protection such as gloves?
  • What is the procedure for disposing of animal waste, and do all employees know and follow the procedure?
  • When an animal is being transferred from one cage to another, are there enough staff members present to assist when needed?
  • What should an employee do if he or she is bitten or scratched?
  • What if an animal exhibits signs of being ill?
  • Have there been any recent incidents that raised concerns about safety?

Once you have posed and answered questions like these, it should be easier to narrow down the information so that the result is a reasonably brief, easy-to-read memo that will get employees’ attention and persuade them to adopt safe work practices.

Check Your Understanding

Complete the module below on developing a research topic:

Planning Your Investigation

Now let’s imagine that you work for a small accounting firm whose president would like to start sending a monthly newsletter to clients and prospective clients. He is aware of newsletter production service vendors that provide newsletters to represent a particular accounting firm. He has asked you to compile a list of such services, their prices and practices, so that the firm can choose one to employ.

You will begin your planning immediately while your conversation with the president is still going on, as you will need more information before you can gauge the scope of the assignment. Approximately how many newsletter vendors does your president want to know about—are three or four enough? Would 20 be too many? Is there a set budget figure that the newsletter cost must not exceed? How soon does your report need to be done?

Once you have these details, you will be able to plan when and where to gather the needed information. If the president has any examples of newsletters he has seen from other businesses, you can examine them and note the contact information of the companies that produced them.

Assuming that your president wants to consider more than just a couple of vendors, you will need to expand your search. The next logical place to look is the Internet. As anyone who has spent an entire evening aimlessly web surfing can attest, the Internet is a great place to find loads and loads of interesting but irrelevant information. Knowing what questions you are seeking to answer will help you stay focused on your report’s topic, and knowing the scope of the report will help you to decide how much research time to plan in your schedule.

Staying Organized

Once you open up a web browser such as Google and type in a search parameter like “newsletter production,” you will have a wealth of information to look at. Much of it may be irrelevant, but even the information that fits with your project will be so much that you will be challenged to keep track of it.

Perhaps the most vital strategy for staying organized while doing online research is to open a blank page in your word processor and title it “Sources.” Each time you find a webpage that contains useful and relevant information, copy the URL and paste it on this Sources page. Under the URL, you might also make a few notes about what you found there. If in doubt about a source, list it for the time being—you can always discard it later. Having these source URLs and snippets of information all in one place will save you a great deal of time later on.

As you explore various websites of companies that provide newsletter production services, you will, no doubt, encounter new questions that your president did not answer in the original conversation:

  • Does the newsletter need to be printed on paper and mailed? Or would an email newsletter be acceptable, or even preferable?
  • Does your firm want the newsletter vendor to write all of the content customized to your firm, provide a menu of pre-existing articles for your firm to choose from, or let your firm provide some—or even all—of the content?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of these various options?

You also realize that in order to get any cost estimates, even when the above questions are settled, you will need to know the desired length of the newsletter (in pages or in word count), and how many recipients are on your firm’s mailing list. At this point in your investigation, it may make sense to give your president an informal interim report summarizing what you have found out and what additional questions need to be answered.

Having a well-organized list of the information you have assembled, the new questions that have arisen, and the sources where you found your information will allow you to continue researching effectively as soon as you have the answers you need.

Internet Search Strategies

Whether you are searching research databases or conducting general online searches, the search terms and phrases you use will determine what information you find. Following some basic search term guidelines can make the process go smoothly.

Start by using keywords that relate to your topic.

Example: alternative energy

To expand your search, use synonyms or components of the initial search terms.

Synonym Example: renewable energy

Components Example: algae energy, wind energy, biofuel

Another technique you can use is to refine the presentation of your search terms using boolean operators. These are words like AND, NOT, and OR. The asterisk and parentheses can also be used. These can be used to filter your search in the following ways.

Tip Description Keywords
Use multiple words. Use multiple words to more narrowly define your search. renewable energy instead of energy
Use quotation marks. Place quotation marks around two or more words that you want to search for only in combination, never individually. “renewable energy”
Use “AND” to connect words. Use “AND” between words when you want to retrieve only articles that include both words algae AND energy
Use “OR” to choose one or the other. Use “OR” to find information relating to one of two options but not both. This option works well when you have two terms that mean the same thing and you want to find articles regardless of which term has been chosen for use. ethanol OR ethyl alcohol
Use “NOT” to eliminate likely options Use “NOT” to eliminate one category of ideas you know a search term will likely generate. algae NOT food
Use “*” to include alternate word endings. Use “*” to include a variety of word endings. This process is often called using a “wildcard.” alternate* energy
Use parentheses to combine multiple searches. Use parentheses to combine multiple related terms into one single search using the different options presented in this table. (renewable OR algae OR biofuel OR solar) AND energy

When you find a helpful article or website, look for additional search terms and sources that you can follow up on.

 Filtering Your Results

When using a search engine like Google, you will get a millions of search results on just about any topic you are looking for. Given the volume of possibilities, it is helpful if you can filter these results in some way.

You may be looking for a specific type of search result, for example, an image, map location, news article, or video. For this, a bar across the top of Google’s search results allows you to filter results to these specific types.

Screenshot from Google

This bar also has a “Search Tools” button that can help you further. When you click on this button, you’ll get a second search bar containing options specific to your search type. For example, if you use it in the basic “Web” search, you’ll be able to filter your results by country, language, location, and time.  If you use it in “Image” search, you can filter your image results by size, colour, kind, date, and usage rights. These search tools can help you drill down to the information you need more quickly.

Google Scholar

If your research is more academic in nature, you may need to find scholarly articles and journals to support your assertions. Academic journal search engines like Google Scholar search these specifically.

You can filter your search by recency (since 2015, for example); set up alerts for specific keywords; and view the author(s), year of publication, number of citations, source, and other details before you click on the article link.

Most scholarly journals require payment for viewing and downloading articles, but in many cases you can read the article’s abstract before you decide to buy. Alternatively, your school library may have purchased access to various scholarly journals for student use, so it is worth inquiring if you can access these using your college or university login. Some workplaces (particularly those in the fields of education and research) will have similar access agreements.

The Filter Bubble

Search engines like Google, and websites that use complex programming to decide what to show you, like Facebook, have a habit of delivering what they think you want to see. To do this, these websites use information they know about you in order to feed you results that will likely appeal to you. This is done by aggregating data on your previous searches, gender, location, language, other websites you visit, products you’ve looked at in online shops, activity of your friends, political leanings, and many other details. This effect, coined “the Filter Bubble” by Eli Pariser (2011), causes you to receive search results that are not as objective as you think. In other words, It is difficult to get information about viewpoints that oppose your own, for instance.

So when you are using the Internet for research, make a point to seek out viewpoints that oppose your own. Sign out of your online accounts or turn on incognito browsing to see if your results are different. Instead of your own laptop, use computers at school that do not have the same online “picture” of you. Use scholarly search engines to read expert opinions, but, most of all, be aware of the filter bubble, and seek out ways to get around it. It takes a little bit of effort, but by circumventing it, you may find that your research is more well-rounded and objective as a result.

Check Your Understanding

Complete the module below on internet searching tips:

Evaluating Sources of Information for Validity, Reliability, and Credibility

One aspect of Internet research that cannot be emphasized enough is the abundance of online information that is incomplete, outdated, misleading, or downright false. Anyone can put up a website; once it is up, the owner may or may not enter updates or corrections on a regular basis. Anyone can write a blog on any subject, whether or not that person actually has any expertise in the area. Therefore, it is always important to look beyond the surface of a site to assess who sponsors it, where the information came from, and whether the site owner has a certain agenda. When you write for business and industry you will want to draw on reputable, reliable sources—printed as well as electronic ones—because they reflect on the credibility of the message and the messenger.

Analyzing and assessing information is an important skill in the preparation of writing. Here are six main points to consider when evaluating a document, presentation, or similar source of information.

In general, documents that represent quality reasoning have the following six traits:

  • A clearly articulated purpose and goal
  • A question, problem, or issue to address
  • Information, data, and evidence that is clearly relevant to the stated purpose and goals
  • Inferences or interpretations that lead to conclusions based on the presented information, data, and evidence
  • A frame of reference or point of view that is clearly articulated
  • Assumptions, concepts, and ideas that are clearly articulated

An additional question that is central to your assessment of your sources is how credible the source is. This question is difficult to address even with years of training and expertise. Academics have long cultivated an understood acceptance of the role of objective, impartial use of the scientific method to determine validity and reliability. But as research is increasingly dependent on funding, and funding often brings specific points of view and agendas with it, pure research can be—and has been—compromised. You can no longer simply assume that “studies show” something without awareness of who conducted the study, how it was conducted, and who funded the effort.

It may seem like hard work to assess your sources, to make sure your information is accurate and truthful, but the effort is worth it. Business and industry rely on reputation and trust in order to maintain healthy relationships. Your document, regardless of how small it may appear in the larger picture, is an important part of that reputation and interaction.

Credibility Checklist

When you are looking at a web source, here are some things you should keep in mind when trying to identify the source’s credibility:

    • Who wrote the material? Look for an author’s name or company logo. Look up the person/company elsewhere to see what you can find out about them. Also look for any contact information on the website, such as an address or phone number. If the organization is of suspect origins, they are less likely to provide direct contact details.
    • Who owns the website? You can use web domain lookup tools (like Who.is, for example) to find out who the owner of the web domain is and how long they have owned the domain for. This may help you to decipher who is behind the message.
    • Is the material recent? You might notice a “last updated” date across the bottom of the website or a date attached to the article. If the information is timely or focuses on a highly changeable topic (technology or medical research, for example), you’ll want the most recent information you can find.
    • How is the material laid out? While not a definitive clue to authenticity, a poorly designed website full of flashing banners and clip art might quickly tell you that you’re not looking at the most reputable source!
    • What is the website doing with your information? Any websites that process payments or collect any user data are required to tell you what they collect and what they are doing with this information, though a cookie alert and perhaps also through a Terms and Conditions page or Privacy Policy. Look for these on any website before you give out personal details of any kind.
    • How is the website viewed by the wider community on the web? Search for the website’s name and any company names or author names you find on the site, using search engines and social media. Can you find any reviews? Has the website been pointed to as a credible resource via social media sharing?

The above list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it will help you in your search. Sometimes your first reaction is the best one: What is your tummy test telling you?

Check Your Understanding

Complete the module below on evaluating internet sources:

Citing Your Sources

In your academic and professional career, you’ll hear about a few different ways to cite your sources—for example, Harvard Style, MLA, and APA. In this course, we’ll focus on APA formatting, developed by the American Psychological Association.

Citing your sources will be easier if you plan for this at the start of the process. You should

  • begin noting down your sources at the beginning of your research,
  • apply APA guidelines as you write so that you have less cleanup to do later, and
  • use online tools like CiteThisForMe to get correct formatting.

APA Formatting

These are the major components of an APA-style report or paper:

  1. Title page
  2. Abstract
  3. Body, which includes the following:
    • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
    • In-text citations of research sources
  4. References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

Title Page

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centred about one-third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner.


The next page of your paper provides an abstract, or brief summary of your findings. You may not need to be provide an abstract in every paper, but you should use one in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred to one hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines:

  1. Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  2. Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  3. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  4. Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  5. Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting.


APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of most important to least important:

  1. Section headings use centred, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  2. Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  3. The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  4. The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  5. The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

In-Text Citations

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. The purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic, if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, you are also required to include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.


Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.


Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.


As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.


David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information (the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary), while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if they so desire.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces.

APA Reference Element Worksheet

APA has put together a worksheet to help you create your Reference entry.  Once your reference entry is done, creating the matching in-text citation is much easier.


Check Your Understanding

Complete the module below on APA citation style:

Presenting Your Findings

Organizing your Document

The purpose of business writing is to communicate facts and ideas. In order to accomplish that purpose, each document has key components that need to be present in order for your reading audience to understand the message. These elements may seem simple to the point that you may question how any writer could neglect them. But if you take note of how often miscommunication and misunderstanding happen, particularly in written communications, you will realize that it happens all the time. Omission or neglect may be intentional, but it is often unintentional; the writer assumes (wrongly) that the reader will easily understand a concept, idea, or the meaning of the message. From background to language, from culture to education, many variables can come into play and hinder effective communication. The degree to which you address these basic elements will increase the effectiveness of your documents. Each document must address the following:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • How
  • (and sometimes) Why

If you have these elements in mind as you prepare your document, it will be easier to decide what to write and in what order. They will also be useful when you are reviewing your document before delivering it. If your draft omits any one of these elements or addresses it in an unclear fashion, you will know what you need to do to fix it.


Chances are you have learned the basic principles of outlining in English writing courses: an outline is a framework that organizes main ideas and subordinate ideas in a hierarchical series of Roman numerals and alphabetical letters. The right column of the following table presents a generic outline in a classical style. In the left column, the three main structural elements of an informative document are tied to the outline. You will need to fill in an outline using the structure on the right with the actual ideas and points you are making in your writing project. Feel free to adapt and tailor it to your needs, depending on the specifics of your report, letter, or other document.

Element Contents
Introduction Main Idea
Body I. Main idea: Point 1

Subpoint 1

A.1 Specific information 1

A.2 Specific information 2

II. Main idea: Point 2

Subpoint 1

B.1 Specific information 1

B.2 Specific information 2

III. Main idea: Point 3

Subpoint 1

C.1 Specific information 1

C.2 Specific information 2

Conclusion   Summary: Main points 1–3

The following table presents an alternate outline form that may be more suitable for brief documents like letters and emails. You can use this format as a model or modify it as needed.

Element Contents
Introduction General purpose, statement, or thesis statement
Body Point 1:

Point 2:

Point 3:

Conclusion  Summarize main points

Using Rhetorical Proofs

Another way to approach organizing your document is with the classical proofs known as ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos, or your credibility, will come through with your choice of sources and authority on the subject(s). Your logos, or the logic of your thoughts represented across the document, will allow the reader to come to understand the relationships among who, what, where, when, and so forth. If your readers cannot follow your logic, they will lose interest, fail to understand your message, and possibly not even read it at all. Finally, your pathos, or passion and enthusiasm, will be reflected in your design and word choices. If your document fails to convey enthusiasm for the subject, how can you expect the reader to be interested? Every document, indeed every communication, represents aspects of these classical elements.

General Purpose and Thesis Statements

No matter what your business writing project involves, it needs to convey some central idea. To clarify the idea in your mind and make sure it comes through to your audience, write a thesis statement. A thesis statement, or central idea, should be short, specific, and to the point.

This statement is key to the success of your document. If your audience has to work to find out what exactly you are talking about, or what your stated purpose or goal is, they will be less likely to read, be influenced, or recall what you have written. By stating your point clearly in your introduction, and then referring back to it in the body of the document and at the end, you will help your readers to understand and remember your message.

Organizing Principles

Once you know the basic elements of your message, you need to decide in what order to present them to your audience. A central organizing principle will help you determine a logical order for your information. One common organizing principle is chronology, or time: The writer tells what happened first, then what happened next, then what is happening now, and, finally, what is expected to happen in the future. Another common organizing principle is comparison: The writer describes one product, an argument on one side of an issue, or one possible course of action; and then compares it with another product, argument, or course of action.

As an example, let’s imagine that you are a business writer within the transportation industry and you have been assigned to write a series of informative pieces about an international initiative called the “TransAmerican Transportation System Study.” Just as the Canadian Pacific Railway once unified Canada from east to west, which was further reinforced by the TransCanada Highway System, the proposed TransAmerican Transportation System will facilitate integrating the markets of Mexico, the United States, and Canada from north to south. Rail transportation has long been an integral part of the transportation and distribution system for goods across the Americas, and its role will be important in this new system.

In deciding how to organize your report, you have several challenges and many possibilities of different organizing principles to use. Part of your introduction will involve an historical perspective, and a discussion of the events that led from the Canadian Pacific Railway to the TransAmerican Transportation System proposal. Other aspects will include comparing the old railroad and highway systems to the new ones, and the transformative effect this will have on business and industry. You will need to acknowledge the complex relationships and challenges that collaboration has overcome, and highlight the common benefits. You will be called on to write informative documents as part of a public relations initiative, persuasive essays to underscore the benefits for those who prefer the status quo, and even write speeches for celebrations and awards.

The following table lists 17 different organizing principles and how they might be applied to various pieces you would write about the TransAmerican Transportation System. The left column provides the name of the organizing principle. The centre column explains the process of organizing a document according to each principle, and the third column provides an example.


In this chapter, you read about doing research to support your workplace documents. You learned some new ways to find information that supports your assertions, from speaking to experts, to collaborating with colleagues, reading books, and, of course, searching on the Internet. You considered that not all of the information on the Internet is credible, learned some ways to distinguish between true and false on the Internet, and found ways to target and filter your online research. Then you found out about APA formatting and how to use it to cite your sources. You went on to find out about how to structure your information in a document, such as outlining your work, using rhetorical proofs, and choosing among organizing principles. From here you should be able to successfully develop more complex workplace documents, such as reports. Good luck!

Key Takeaways

  • Clarify your general and specific purpose before you begin your research.
  • Identify the resources that you have available, narrow your topic, focus on key points, and plan your investigation.
  • Use boolean operators to narrow your search.
  • Use search engine filters to find information quickly.
  • Source academic journal articles using Google Scholar.
  • “The filter bubble” can have a significant impact on the types of search results you receive online.
  • Evaluate your sources for credibility. Consider the creator, language, recency, activity, and reputation of the website sources you use.
  • Use APA style to place inline (in-text) citations and to create your reference list.
  • Outline your work first to make the writing process easier.
  • Use rhetorical proofs and/or organizational principles to order your document.

Further Reading and Links

If you would like to read more about finding, using, and attributing Creative Commons–licensed materials, see the following sites:


Ayres, J., & Miller, J. (1994). Effective public speaking (4th ed., p. 274). Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark.

Fulkerson, R. (1996). The Toulmin model of argument and the teaching of composition. In E. Barbara, P. Resch, & D. Tenney (Eds.), Argument revisited: argument redefined: negotiating meaning the composition classroom (pp. 45–72). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Johannesen, R. (1996). Ethics in human communication (4th ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble. New York: Penguin Press.

Toulmin, S. (1958). The uses of argument. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Attribution Statement (Information Literacy)

This chapter is a remix containing content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including the following:

Chapter Content


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Professional Communications Copyright © by Olds College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book