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Research Guides

INFO 2010: Information Literacy in the Disciplines

This guide contains some of the readings for INFO 2010: Information Literacy in the Disciplines.

What is a Discipline?

As a college student you have a major that is part of an academic discipline. That discipline, or the people teaching and researching in that discipline, are organized into a "college," the College of Health Sciences or the College of Performing and Visual Arts. Have you ever thought about why this is? Why is the university and the courses of study divided up in this way? One simple answer is that the people teaching and researching in these disciplines share related concerns, ideas, methods, interests, goals, etc. Of course we aren't going to stop there. In INFO 2010, you'll explore concepts and skills that help you:

  • identify your major's discipline, and by extension, your discipline
  • discover what your discipline is all about
  • Learn how people research and create knowledge in your discipline

Let's look closer at what disciplines are and how they work. In their book Interdisciplinary Research : Process and Theory, Allen Repko and Rick Szostak (2021) present six defining elements of a discipline. They are:

  • The phenomena it studies
  • Its epistemology or rules about what constitutes evidence
  • The assumptions it makes about the natural or human world
  • Its basic concepts or vocabulary
  • Its theories about the causes and behaviors of certain phenomena
  • its methods (the way it gathers, applies, and produces new knowledge) (p. 34)

Put more simply, disciplines are defined by what they focus on and interested in, and how they go about studying, talking, and producing knowledge about it. For example, biology is interested in life, whether plant or animal. A biologist will study some living thing using the scientific method to make observations, ask questions, form hypotheses, conduct experiments, and draw conclusions. Contrast this with a literary scholar who might study a work of fiction or poetry by focusing closely on the words, themes, forms, motifs, imagery or other aspect of the work to draw conclusions about meaning, influence, or something else. Each of these disciplines has a history of development, common practices, and communities of people working within it's boundaries.

This all sounds very academic, and it is. So, how does this apply to the "real world?" Not every student wants to be a college professor. Like academic disciplines, professions have their own set of interests (what they do, sell, etc) and ways of accomplishing their goals. And many academic disciplines have professional counterparts (like doctors, lawyers, theatre directors, etc.). For now, focus on how you can apply the information literacy skills you learn in INFO 2010 to the disciplinary work you are doing in your major. Don't worry, we'll learn how to transfer what you learn to life after college later in the course.


Repko & Szostak (2021). Interdisciplinary Research : Process and Theory