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The Information Cycle: The Information Timeline

The Information Timeline

What makes a scholarly article different from a book different from a newspaper article different from a magazine article?

A big answer to that question is timing. Different types of material take different amounts of time to produce.  And each type of material has its own characteristics and caveats. Understanding The Information Timeline will help you to better know what materials are available about an event or topic.

To demonstrate The Information Timeline, let's take a fairly recent event: the 2008 Presidential Election in the United States.

Scroll down to learn how The Information Timeline works.

The Information Timeline is the progression of information created about a particular event. 

Many thanks to University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for much of the information in this guide.

The Day of...

Television, Internet, and Radio

The moment that Barack Obama won the 2008 election, he posted about it via Twitter. Television, Internet and radio media also reported the win.

Characteristics: 

  • Can provide the most up-to-date information.
  • Explains the general details of an event.
  • Easy to understand.
  • Many formats, not just traditional articles - includes tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts.

Caveats:

  • Occasionally innacurate.
  • Primarily written by journalists (non experts).
  • Little analysis or insight.
  • Intended for a general audience, not for scholarly research.
Where to Find: 
  • Social media
  • LexisNexis (for transcripts of television broadcasts)

Example:

 

The Week of...

Newspapers 

The week Barack Obama was elected president, newspaper articles began describing the early details of all aspects of the election.

 

Characteristics:

  • Longer, more detailed, and factual than immediate news sources.
  • Include quotes from experts.
  • Frequently include statistics or photographs.
  • Can provide a local or editorial perspective.
  • Provide some analysis and insight into the "why" of events.

Caveats:

  • Primarily written by journalists (non experts).
  • Intended for a general audience.

Where to find:

Example:

The Week after...

Popular Magazines

As all of the facts of Barack Obama's election were gathered, more detailed analysis began to be created. Popular and news magazines began to produce long form stories that discussed the impact of the event on society, culture, and public policy.

Characteristics: 

  • Include detailed reports of events, interviews, as well as opinions and analysis.
  • Offer perspectives on an event from particular groups or geared towards specific audiences.
  • Are written by a range of authors, from professional journalists, to essayists, to commentary by scholars or experts in the field.

Caveats:

  • While often factual, information can reflect the editorial bias of a publication.
  • Are intended for a general audience or specific nonprofessional groups.

 

Where to Find:

Example:

Months After...

Academic/Scholarly Journals

Months after Barack Obama's election, long, detailed articles describing the election's effect on all aspects of life began to be published. These articles were backed by the research, analysis, and the expert knowledge of professionals in their related fields.

Characteristics:

  • Include detailed analysis, empirical research reports, and learned commentary related to the event.
  • Are often theoretical, carefully analyzing the impact of the event on society, culture, and public policy.
  • Are peer-reviewed. This editorial process ensures high credibility and accuracy.
  • Include detailed bibliographies.
  • Authored by experts.

Caveats:

  • Typically very specific in topic.
  • Written in a highly technical language.
  • Are intended for other scholars and can be difficult to understand.
  • Are not quickly available after events take place.

Where to Find:

Example:

A Year After...

Books

About a year after Barack Obama's election, books analyzing the impact of his election began to be published. 

Characteristics:

  • Provide in-depth coverage of an event, often expanding analysis from earlier academic research.
  • Often place an event into historical context.
  • Can provide detailed overviews of an event.
  • Can provide other relevant sources through bibliographies.

Caveats: 

  • Range from scholarly in-depth analyses of topics to popular books which provide general discussions and are not as well-researched.
  • Might have a bias or slant.
  • Credentials of authors can vary.
  • Are not quickly available after events take place.

Where to Find:

 

Example:

Years After...

Reference Books

Years after Obama's election, the event was well-known and encylopedias, handbooks, and other reference sources published entries on the subject. 

Characteristics:

  • Considered established knowledge.
  • Include factual information, often in the form of broad overviews and summaries of an event.
  • May include statistics and bibliographies.
  • Authored by scholars and specialists.

 

Caveats:

  • Frquently not as detailed as books or journal articles.
  • Often intended for a more general audience, but may be of use to researchers, scholars, and professionals.

 

Where to Find: 

  • Library's Reference section, 1st floor

Example: