Information Cycle

Welcome to the George Mason University Libraries Information Cycle tutorial. When searching for information, it is important to understand how information is produced and disseminated in order to know what to search for and where to search. Understanding the cycle will help you to better know what research is available on your topic and better evaluate the sources you find. In this video you will learn about the information cycle and its stages and the value of the
information found in the different stages. The information cycle is the process through which information is produced, circulated, used, and changed in stages over time. You determine where to search for information based on the time period in which the event occurred. Information at the beginning of the Cycle is aimed at an audience wanting
quick, current, and up to date facts or events. As it progresses around the Cycle it becomes more detailed, more scholarly, but also more dated. When deciding on the quality of information, you will need to consider both the reliability and the currency of the material. Let’s look at each of these aspects. An event can be a natural disaster from across the globe, the president delivering the State of the Union Address, an article from a journal claiming to cure the common cold, and anything in between. When an event first occurs, it is often picked up by social media, the internet, television, and the radio. Same day coverage can be useful for quick information and current events and will often be shared as “breaking news.” The content doesn’t usually go through any kind of in-depth fact checking or review process, which makes it not as reliable as other sources. Same day coverage can be useful but you must have confidence in the sources you choose. Depending on the newsworthiness of the information, day after sources include more polished newspaper articles and more TV/Radio coverage. Because writers have had an opportunity to fact check and gather more information the content is more accurate, however it will still be very
tentative and not usually have much substance. Also, day after sources lack a detailed reference list, making it difficult to determine the origin of the information shared. If the information appeals to a general audience, sources that cover an event or idea in the
weeks after include TV news broadcasts, magazine articles, and detailed newspaper coverage. These sources will be more thorough than the initial reports and will correct wrong information. They will often be shared as “developing stories” and will now include statistics
and experts opinions but will still not provide a reference list. Months after an event, information finally enters the scholarly publishing realm in the form of journal articles written by scholars and researchers. The content includes a review of the available literature as well as the results of primary research from investigation and analysis. The quality of this content will be very high as there is usually an editorial review or peer review process before publication and the article will include a list of references. Because of the rigor of the process, journal articles take time to get published and though usually still current enough for research needs; they are much more dated than news sources. Years after, books and documentaries about the topic will be produced. They offer a good overview of an event or topic and benefit
from expert authorship, expert review, long term data, and research that has been verified by other researchers. Both sources offer high quality content but are not as timely. The cycle continues as the information is discussed, analyzed, and evaluated. Discussion may appear in book reviews, opinion pieces, conspiracy theories, websites, etc. These contribute to the continuation of the information cycle ensuring that a magnitude of information is constantly refined and updated. Understanding where your topic falls in this Information Cycle timeline will help you decide which sources will be most appropriate and help you balance authority and currency while successfully finding the research you need.

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