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Information Literacy Guide

Learn all about different sources of information

Information Cycle

The information cycle is how information moves and changes over time, especially in the media when it's about an important event or topic. It's like the life journey of information, going through different stages of reporting and publication.

First, it starts with news outlets on the Internet, TV, radio, or newspapers. Then, it goes into magazines. After that, scholars do research, sharing it in academic journals, books, and conferences. If it's really important, it might end up in reference works like handbooks and encyclopaedias.

As it goes through these stages, the information changes. Initial news coverage gives us the basics. Magazines go deeper, especially in less frequent or specialised publications. Scholars study it in detail, considering historical context and long-term meanings. After a few years, books about the information might be published.

Understanding the information cycle helps researchers and academics check the credibility of source material. It's like a roadmap guiding you from general information to more specialised. As you study at university, you'll become more of a specialist and will want to use specialist and up-to-date sources of information!

Information Cycle graphic


(Figure 2: A visual of the information cycle.)


Pandemic example:

  1. Day of: Social Media posts
  2. Week/s of: New outlets write articles
  3. Weeks after: Government publications
  4. Month after: Research is completed and published in subject relevant journals
  5. Years after: The research is agregated and theories are created. Broad descriptions of the phenomenon and theory are written up and shared.

Quick Tips

In your assignments it is important to have a range of sources but specifically a selection of both Academic and Contextual sources. Note how at the start of the cycle it is very much person centred and contexualised to a specific situation or group. As time progresses academic sources look past the event and focus shifts onto theory and evidence. 

Contextual information is useful in supporting Academic information when we talk about WHY something is important or relevant but on its own it is not a very solid foundation to build our understanding on. When searching for information start with the academic information, to ensure you have a good understanding of theory and topic before looking at more generalist and contexual information sources.

  • To find academic sources use Library Search - this program collates academic information into one useful location. 
  • For contextual sources use a combination of the A-Z of resources and the internet. Depending on the assignment different resources from the a-z might be exactly what you need!
  • Not sure where to start? Check out your module Reading List.