Stages of Information

Did you ever wonder where all those books come from? And who writes all those articles? How do you know where to start looking for information when there is so much out there?

There are several stages to the development of information. Understanding those different stages will help you know where to look when you need to know. Information can be seen as a time line.




1. The event occurs….

For example, on March 25, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran into an iceberg.

News reports appeared immediately on television, radio, and Internet news services. This information is sketchy, without much detail or analysis. They just give the basic facts.


2. Within a day or two….

Newspaper articles appear. Other news sources (TV, radio, Internet) continue covering the event, providing a little more information, but still not many details.

Newspaper articles are written for the general public, contain photographs, may provide statistics if available, and analysis may be minimal. Journalists don't provide bibliographical references. Articles are fairly short.

Indexes to newspapers provide access to these articles, but the indexes are usually not available for several weeks or months.


3. A week or two later….

Articles appear in popular magazines. Examples:

Church, George J., "The big spill." (Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska) Time v133, n15 (April 10, 1989):38.

Barinaga, Marcia, "Fisheries first to suffer." (Alaska oil spill) Nature v338, n6216 (April 13, 1989):533.

Magazines are written for the general public and informed laypeople. They cover popular topics and current events. Articles are longer than newspaper articles. While the magazines focus on the basic information about the event, there may be some editorial opinion given reflecting the slant of the magazine.

Periodical indexes provide access to magazine articles - but the indexes are usually published only once a year.


4. Six or more Months Later….

Articles appear in scholarly journals, and researchers attend conferences where they discuss the event. (Conference papers are eventually published.) Examples:

"Alaskan oil spill: legal fallout." Trial v25, n10 (Oct, 1989):26-33.

"Enhanced removal of Exxon Valdez spilled oil from Alaskan gravel by a microbiol surfactant." Bio-Technology, v8, n.3 (1990) 228-230.

Journals and conference papers are intended for scholars and specialists. Specialists present research results, in lengthy articles using technical language. They provide detailed examination and analysis, as well as bibliographical references so other readers can trace their sources.

Use periodical indexes or published bibliographies to find scholarly journal articles. Online indexes sometimes provide more timely access than print indexes.


5. Two or More Years Later….

Books are published about the event. Publication time varies from publisher to publisher, but it often takes well over a year for an author to write a book and for it to be printed and disseminated. Depending on the topic, books may continue to be published for many years. Conference proceedings are also being published now. Examples:

The Economics of a Disaster : the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (1995)

Sea Otter Symposium: proceedings of a symposium to evaluate the response effort on behalf of sea otters after the Exxon Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound, Anchorage, Alaska, 17-19 April 1990/1991

Books are written for all kinds of audiences, for the general public or for scholars. They are usually written by experts, and vary in length, usually from 100-400 pages. Books may provide a general overview of the topic, or a detailed analysis. There is usually a bibliography. The author may have a bias in writing the book.

The library's online catalog (Sadie) provides access to the books in the library. Other online resources can be used to get books by interlibrary loan. Published bibliographies include books as well as articles on the topic.


6. Still Later….

The event has become "established" in the flow of information. It appears in reference sources (encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, etc.). Examples:

When Technology Fails: Significant Technological Disasters, Accidents, and Failures of the Twentieth Century (1994)

Encyclopedia of Environmental Studies (1991)

World Book Encyclopedia (1997)

Reference sources are written for the general public and for specialists. Scholars provide factual information and summaries of topics. The reference source may provide bibliographical references.

Access to reference tools is through the library's online catalog.

The information on this web page is borrowed from the following web site:

UCLC College Library Instruction Flow of Information… Copyright © 1997 UCLA College Library. Permission is granted for unlimited non-commercial use of this guide. Adapted from Sharon Hogan's original "Flow of Information" conceptual approach to library instruction 1980 by Diane Zwemer, Instructional Services Coordinator. Last updated: November 22, 1999. Available:

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