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2.1: Flow of Information

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    Information resources can include books, articles, websites, encyclopedia entries, interviews, blogs, correspondence, institutions or associations among others.

    All formats can be:

    • electronic or in paper: for example, you can find articles and encyclopedias in print and online.
    • general or specific: for example the Encyclopedia Britannica is a general encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Bioethics is specific. Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Presidency is a general book and Barack Obama, the Story is specific.
    • searched: OK, almost all formats, but think about it. Most books have an index in the back which can be used to search the contents of the book.

    You will find there are exceptions to everything in this book. OK, almost everything. The idea is to find the information to answer your question no matter if it is in a print or electronic resource. Do not just stick with only print or only electronic resources. Get out of your comfort zone because the point is to find the information you need. None of us should depend solely on paper or electronic resources and neglect the wealth of information found in the other.

    You want to know what kind and how much information you need so that you can look for appropriate information sources. To know what kind of source you need, it is important to know what kind of information to expect when you open a book, a magazine or a reference source such as an almanac. They each offer different kinds of information. For example, you want to know about Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. The text of the address might be found in an almanac or a government website. If that is all you want, there is no need to find books on the Battle of Gettysburg. At the other end of the information-needs spectrum is if you want to know how the public at the time felt about the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s subsequent address. You will not only want the text of his speech, but information written at the time the speech was given as well as recent analysis of the event. That kind of information could be found in newspapers of the time and current books and periodical articles. The kinds of information you need (deep analysis, original research, a quick statistic) will drive the kinds of sources you use and, therefore, the kind of source for which you will look.

    Sounds obvious, but how many of us have a question and simply go to the computer before thinking through what kind of information we need to get the answer to a question? Before looking for an answer, ask yourself, “In what kind of resource would the answer most likely be?”

    How information moves from simply being an idea to information we can consume is explained nicely in the following chart from the University of California. Notice particularly the time frame for the production of these formats. What does that tell us about the content? Also note the “written by” and “audience” columns. They will come in very handy later when we talk about how to determine if something is good enough to use for whatever it is we are trying to do. The chart below is adapted from University of California, Los Angeles (n.d.).

    Flow of Information

    The flow of information is a conceptual timeline of how information is created, disseminated, and found. Information is dispersed through a variety of channels. Depending on the type of information, the time it takes to reach its audience could range from seconds to minutes, days to weeks, or months to years. Knowing how information flows helps you understand what types of information you need and how to search and obtain the targeted information.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Flow of Information
    Report of Experiment or Phenomena Time Frame Review Process Where to Look Written by Audience
    News (Internet / TV / Radio Services / Newspapers) Seconds/Minutes No formal peer-review process Websites TV news newspapers Journalists General public
    Magazines (print and online) Days / Weeks No formal peer-review process Article Databases Library catalog Professional journalists General public to knowledgeable layperson
    Conference Proceedings Presented immediately, sometimes published 1-2 years later Possible peer-review Article Databases Conference websites Specialists in the field, usually with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and grad students
    Journal articles (print and electronic) Average 3-9 months Formal peer-review process Library catalog Article databases Journal website Google Scholar Specialists in the field, usually PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and students
    Review articles Average 1-2 years Formal peer-review process Article databases Review journals Google Scholar Specialists in the field, usually with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Scholars, specialists, and students
    Technical Reports and Government Documents Months to years No formal peer-review process Library Catalog
    .gov websites
    Specialists in the field, with PhDs, graduate students, post-docs Audience varies depending on document or report
    Books, E-books Average 1-3 years Editorial process, not peer-review Library catalog E-book Collections General authors, journalists & specialists in the field (usually with PhDs) General public to specialists
    Reference Sources, Encyclopedias Average 10 years Editorial process, not peer-review Library catalog E-book Collections Specialists in the field, usually with PhDs General public to specialists
    Websites and Blogs Seconds/minutes to years none Web search tools
    Anyone General public to Specialists

    Using the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan as an example, most of us heard about it first in news media. Reading the chart from left to right, we can see how long it takes +/- to get the news report. Now take a minute and read the two far left columns from top to bottom. Information also flows this way, though its path may vary and skip around a bit. Before news reports, government information was created. There were the initial news reports. The phenomenon was studied and technical reports were made. Scholars researched and wrote peer reviewed scholarly articles on many aspects of the phenomena: social, economic, health, political… More news media reports, technical reports and scholarly articles were (and will be) written. Books, as you see above, take time to reach us, but are already appearing about Flint. It is useful to read this chart left to right to understand each kind of format. It is equally important, however, to read this chart from top to bottom to grasp how information develops from an instantaneous news feed or blog to well researched articles, technical reports and books. What do the differences in time between the appearance of a news media report and a scholarly article on the same topic tell us about the information those sources contain? This is only one criterion to have in mind when reviewing sources. See below for additional useful criteria.

    This page titled 2.1: Flow of Information is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Carol M. Withers with Bruce Johnson & Nathan Martin.