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Arkansas State University

Information Cycle: Home

How to tell which resource you need and when to use them.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Before you start searching for resources, make sure you have a good topic. Blindly searching until you "find something good" wastes a lot of time. In fact, the few minutes it takes to come up with a topic and to understand it can save an hour or more of your time overall.

If you don't have a good topic, check out our Starting Your Research Paper Guide for hints on coming up with topics.

Have a topic but don't understand it? Use encyclopedias or other resources to get an idea about your topic. Wikipedia even works for this purpose (but make sure NOT to use it as a source!). For more on the pros and cons of Wikipedia, we have a guide for that too.

UNDERSTANDING THE FLOW - INFORMATION CYCLE

To know what resources are right for your topic, it helps to understand how information flows:

The first thing to understand is the Information Cycle. This is how long it takes information to show up in different resources. Observe:

Information Timeline

 
Why This Is Important:

Information takes time to travel. Some resources like the Internet, TV, Radio, and Newspaper get information out quickly. The limitation with these resources is that they usually offer limited information and are prone to errors and bias. If you're looking for academic research, that takes time. Authors have to gather their facts, write their article or book, find a publisher, get it proofread, edit if needed, etc. While the disadvantage of these resources is how long after the fact they take to write, the advantage is that these usually offer more detailed information.

How this affects you:

Scenario 1: Let's say you're doing a paper on an event that happened in the last 10 months. If you understand the information cycle, you should already know that your topic won't be found in a book or a reference book. If you know that, you won't waste time looking for a book that doesn't exist - you'll go straight to the other resources. 

Scenario 2: Let's say you're writing a paper on nursing. Your subject has been around for years, so you know you can use any type of resource. However, this is also a topic that is constantly changing. If you only use books that means you're only using information that is year old or older. If you want to make sure you have the historical as well as the newest research, you will need to use at least both journals and books. 

Scenario 3: Let's say you're working on a history paper and you know that you can use any type of resource. However, your topic is something that used to be popular, but not so much anymore. What does this tell you? This tells you that there might not be that much recent research done on your topic and you might find most of your information in books or older journals.

UNDERSTANDING THE FLOW - SOURCE CYCLE

To know what resources are right for your topic, it helps to understand how information flows:

The second thing to understand is the Source Cycle. This is who is responsible for the information. Observe:

Source Cycle

 

Why This Is Important:

Information takes time to travel, plus you want information that's factual. Information that comes straight from the source is the quickest and usually the most correct. For other people to write about an event they weren't at or about a person they don't know, they have to do research. That can take time (although, the amount of time varies). There is also a greater chance for error. The further from the original source, the more you have to look at the source and evaluate it.

How this affects you:

Scenario 1: Let's say you're doing a paper on an event that happened today. From the information cycle, you know you're looking at the Internet, TV, and radio as your sources. But if you also understand the source cycle, you know to pay attention to the people who were actually at the event because they have the most true information. The information from your cousin? May not be 100% true (unless they were there).

Scenario 2: Let's say you're writing a paper and one of your resources quotes another resource. If you're smart, you'd try to find the original quote from the original source. People twist words around all the time and you may be surprised how different your current quote is to the original.

Example: There is a pretty popular hate website called Martin Luther King Jr. - A True Historical Examination. On the front page, they have a damning quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. taken Newsweek Magazine. However if you look at the magazine, the quote comes from a book review. IF you look at the actual book being reviewed, the quote is what someone says Martin Luther said. The author of the book even includes a footnote that there is no evidence the Dr. King actually ever said the quote. As you can see, where you get your information and how far from the primary source it comes can make a huge difference.