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use of nationalism. Judith Williamson's classic Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertisements8 provides excellent theoretical material on critiques (rather than description) of advertising. In contrast, Mark Poster's The Mode of Information9 discusses the difficulties of even engaging in a 'critical' analysis of television in the 'postmodern' age. Neither book makes any reference to Australia or nationalist advertising, but both provide knowledge of the very ways in which we come to think about topics such as 'nationalist television advertising'.10 Although the most difficult class of knowledge to analyse and engage with, knowledge about the processes of developing or discovering knowledge (what philosophers call epistemological theory), is, in fact, the general key to effective reasoning in any particular situation.

Information as it relates to how we are using it

As well as classifying information in relation to the topic we are investigating, we can also think about four types of information in terms of how we will use that information in our own reasoning. This typology of information answers the question 'How does this information relate to what I am trying to do in my argument or explanation?'. These four types do not 'coincide' in any way with the five classes just discussed. We can find information of any type in any of the classes just discussed; all classes can contribute to the information of one type that we are gathering.

The four main types of information are:

1 general understanding of the context in which we are preparing our reasoning (in effect, the context in which our text fits)

2 opinions and conclusions from other peoples' arguments and explanations

3 basic details or evidence that we need as the main source of our premises

4 values and attitudes (of ourselves and others) that relate to our investigation.

First of all, we need a general understanding of the context of our reasoning. It helps us to see the parameters of the topic or problem—the boundaries and overlaps between a particular topic and other related topics. Remember all 'topics' are, to some extent, artificial delineations within a swirling mass of ideas and events. Topics emerge through the ways that people think about this mass. We cannot impose whatever topics we want onto the world, but equally we cannot rely on the world to throw up topics 'ready-made'. Similarly, general information helps us to see how any topic can be approached from different angles with different questions to be answered. In the nationalism example you could, for example, ask 'Why do advertisers use nationalistic images and slogans?' or 'Why do people respond well to nationalistic images and slogans?'. These questions address distinctly different issues, since it may be that people do not, on the whole, respond well to such images but (for some reason) advertisers think they do.

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