Information Sources

The Basics of Information Sources

This module introduces different types of information sources. Information can be categorized in any number of different ways, and with unlimited information sources available, it can be challenging to find the best sources to meet your information needs.

While information sources for college research are often bifurcated for the sake of simplicity into acceptable (peer-reviewed) vs. unacceptable (tertiary sources, popular sources, etc.), by learning more about how and why information sources are created, you will be better positioned to select the best sources for your information needs. (1)

Types of Information

What are the characteristics of information, and how do you find the right information during an investigation?

You’ve got a question. You need information, but not just any information, information that fits your question.

The Oxford English Dictionary states information is “knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event.” That knowledge is created to convey a message to specific audiences. Depending on the nature of your question, the right information may come from friends and family, news, magazines, scholarly journals, or books. Information from these sources varies in quality, reliability, and depth.

In this module you will learn how to identify different kinds of information that will provide answers to your research questions. (2)

What kind of information do you need?

  • “I need everyday information on flu shots but I want it to be reliable.
  • “I need to know the current ideas about clinical best practices.”
  • “I need to know what researchers say about disease spread modeling.” (2)

Information is Created for Different Purposes Over Time

Information timeline ranging from day of event (Internet, television, radio) to two years or longer (encyclopedia).Figure 1-1: Types of Information by New Literacies Alliance is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

While early information is created to inform and pique interest, information created weeks, months, or years after an event often offers an analysis of the event, its impact, and theories on why it happened. You need to decide what kind of information will help you answer your question.