The Information Lifecycle:
The Information Lifecycle helps us understand how information about an event, topic or idea might emerge and evolve over time.
Note that this timeline is just a general sense of the information lifecycle -- the exact timing can vary greatly from one discipline to another!
Interrogating Your Sources:
Who is the author?
How is the author qualified?
Is the author an expert?
What is the author's bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated -- but there is almost always some bias!))
Be wary if you cannot determine an author or group responsible for the content you are reading.
What is the source? Is it a research report? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay?
What does this tell you about the source's audience, purpose, and potential bias(es) or shortcoming(s)?
Is the source recent (or, if digital, regularly updated)? When was it published?
Is there any information which seems out-of-date?
Who hosts the site? OR Who publishes this resource?
Does the host/publisher have bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)
What is the domain extension?
The publisher and/or domain can help you determine how reputable a website is. For example, .gov is the domain for United States government sites and .edu is for US Educational institutuions. Note that not all .com sites are unreliable and not all .org sites are reputable -- .org simply means that the website is for a non-profit group.
What is the purpose and audience of the source?
What is the benefit, and/or who benefits, if this source reaches and/or successfully convinces readers?
By what means was this source created?
Does the resource provide its sources?
Does it refer/link you to other credible sources?
Can you determine whether the information came from, and whether the original source/info is represented accurately?
Be wary of any source which does not reference sources, especially when it contains information that clearly or at least likely originated somewhere else. First, failing to cite sources is unethical, and reflects poorly on the author(s)! Second, without knowing the original source, you can't adequately evaluate the weaknesses and/or biases of the information, or know if it is even being represented faithfully in the "secondary" source.
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources:
Scholarly sources are written by experts on a particular subject (for example, a professor or other researcher). They also go through an extra process of review and approval by a group of other experts before they can be published. Usually, scholarly articles are written in 'academic-ese' and designed to be read by other scholars. However, because scholarly sources take a long time to be approved and published, they are not always good sources for current events.
How can you tell if you have a scholarly article in your hand?
The chart below compares the characteristics of scholarly vs. popular (non-scholarly) sources:
It's important to keep in mind that scholarly sources are not always the best or only source available to you -- it depends on what information you are trying to find:
Primary vs. Secondary Sources:
A primary source is a first-hand witness to a historical event or period (that is, it was originally created at that point in history). Primary sources offer a first-hand perspective which is untouched by hindsight, subsequent events, or modern knowledge. They provide insights about the actions, motivations and emotions involved in a historical period, and allow us to understand history as it was experienced at the time rather than as we analyze it today.
Unlike with secondary sources, the value of primary sources lies in their proximity to the event rather than a particular publication venue and/or authority (though this can also play a role in your interpretation of the source). For this reason, primary sources may include a combination of scholarly, popular, unpublished, and other kinds of sources.
Secondary sources are second-hand witnesses -- they provide descriptions and/or analysis of historical events and documents after the fact. Secondary sources usually draw their information from primary sources, but add a layer of interpretation, and often rely upon the kind of understanding of historical periods and/or events that only becomes clear sometime later.