An information artifact is anything with which people communicate, such as a text, an image, a piece of graphic design, a video, or so on. By asking critical questions as you engage it, you can develop a deeper understanding of an artifact’s context, aim, and meaning.
To determine the usefulness of a source, you can choose from many different critical tools, such as the CRAAP test, the SCARAB rubric, or the Reuters Source Guide. All of those tools offer suggestions about how much weight to give a source based on its timeliness, authority, reliability, and so forth.
Helpful as these sources are, little guidance is offered for understanding the mechanics of the information artifacts, themselves. Authors and other content creators frame information, slant facts, and use emotionally charged language/ images to motivate their audiences. Though these studies are typically left to composition and rhetoric teachers, there is no denying that information literacy requires the same skills.
In addition to following the guidelines established by the tools linked above, you should question the information you receive on a more granular level. Taking cues from Dr. Sonja Foss’s work with rhetorical criticism, as well as other critical works in composition, you should examine individual components of an information artifact. Consider the cultural and temporal context of the artifact, the claim, the reason, and the evidence, as well as the different kinds of appeals that are used.
Articles, essays, texts, videos, and images may aspire to entertain, inform, persuade, or to suit any other purpose. Consider the purpose of the information artifact and determine how its individual components work toward that end.
Questions to ask:
- When and where was the information artifact created? From what cultural and temporal context does the information artifact come?
- What is the information artifact’s claim?
- For what reasons does it make that claim?
- What individual pieces of evidence are used to support those reasons?
- Do those pieces of evidence actually support the reasons and claim?
- How are language, images, and/or sound used to convey meaning or influence the audience’s thinking?
- What is the information artifact trying to motivate its audience to do in response to the information?
- How is that motivation related to the information artifact’s cultural and temporal context?
These questions will help you determine additional avenues of research, and this level of critical awareness will help you discern the facts, themselves, from the overall effect of the information artifact. By doing so you will be better equipped to separate the factual content from the rhetorical frame and context of a source.