Text: Determine Information Sources and Tools

Think Like a Metaliterate Researcher:

Determine how a source’s purpose, document type, and delivery mode affect its value for a particular situation. (B, C)

Once you’ve thought about the information you need and who might produce that information, how do you go about finding appropriate resources? Information comes in many forms, and people create information for a variety of purposes. Creators choose a format that will make sense to those receiving the information. Each type of source may have value to you, depending on the circumstances.

Consider the following format types:

  • A book
  • A journal article written for scholars in the field
  • A blog entry that is public
  • A Facebook message for only one’s friends
  • In-person communication
  • A text message
  • A chart with data
  • An infographic
  • A YouTube video montage
  • An online timeline containing text, video, and photos

Obviously, this list contains very different formats that have their own strengths and weaknesses when conveying information. Consider the depth of information possible, the intent, and the tone. Also, think about how the information is produced, which specific resources are utilized and how the tool impacts the information type.

Watch this video and consider how the way information is packaged and shared impacts its value for a particular information need.

As another example, let’s say you want to learn about what your birthplace was like when you were born. Maybe there is a book that would help—perhaps with photos of the place at the time. But it might be better to have conversations with people who were there then, and look at issues of the local newspaper from that period, or videos.

The online timeline mentioned above would be great for something like the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It would have the key events, video clips, photos, everything you might need. Or would it? What if it were put together by a 4th grade student? Or someone who wanted to cast Dr. King in a negative light?

Furthermore, choosing the right format for your information needs might depend on your abilities, both for using and interacting with the information. Overcoming natural learning styles or learning to interpret other formats might be important for particular areas of interest.

Ask yourself:

  • What format of information might best meet my information need? Do I need a quick overview or introduction? Is there a format that might help me understand the information better?
  • What format best aligns with my abilities? When I look a an image does it convey information? Do spreadsheets and bar charts reveal their information easily?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the information published for other experts or for a broader audience?
  • How quickly does the information become public? Do I need current information? Do other users, or a community of users, review the information before it’s published?

Once you’ve determined an appropriate format, where do you look for this information? Google can provide a good starting point for exploring your interests and curiosities, but you also have other useful resources, many that are available through your academic library, that can help you search for relevant and reliable information.

Ask yourself:

  • What research tools (beyond Google!) may provide valuable sources to meet my information need? Browse your library’s research databases and subject guides to identify databases in your subject area.
  • What organizations might be publishing information, or might serve as resources? Does the field that you are writing about have associated professional organizations? Databases such as Associations Unlimited allow you to identify professional organizations focused on a particular issue or field of study.
  • Are there individuals to interview who would add value or nuance to my research?

If you are unsure of where to start searching, visit your library’s reference desk and a librarian will be happy to help you.

Resources on Information Sources & Tools: