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Evaluating sources: the information cycle.

HEAT Stage 2: Finding and managing information.

2.3 Evaluating sources: The Information Cycle


Once you have found information it must be evaluated. A practical way of evaluating the information is to consider where information comes from and how it has been produced.

Look at the diagram below – it is the same as the list of sources we saw earlier, but now the relationship between the different sources is clearly shown - this is the Information Cycle.

The Information Cycle illustrates how information is published in set patterns. Information at the beginning of the cycle (Internet) is aimed at an audience wanting quick, up-to-date facts. As the information progresses around the Cycle it becomes more detailed but also more out of date. When deciding on the quality of the information you may have balance reliability (accurate and proven facts) against currency (the period of time over which the information was written and produced).

Planning your search

The Information Cycle in practice:

Information changes as it progresses along the Information Cycle from format to format:


The Internet is usually the first place information is posted. Information can appear almost instantaneously on the Internet, but this leaves little time for the author to write the information. As a result the information tends to be descriptive, explaining what has happened and who was involved – it is simply stating facts. There will also be a lack of depth and the information posted will be short.

Broadcast Media

Information is also likely to appear quickly on television and radio. Initially the information will be produced rapidly and is likely to be descriptive, explaining what has happened and who was involved.

Professional journalists with expertise in a particular area may be able to provide some relevant background information, and it is likely that expert opinion will also be sought. As time passes and more information becomes available, longer pieces and documentary features may be produced.


Newspapers are published frequently; usually daily or weekly. The articles will be written by professinal journalists, who often have expertise in a particular area.

The emphasis will be on reporting facts, and once the information appears in newspapers the author has had more time research the information, so there may be greater depth such as statistics, analysis or expert opinion.

Newspaper articles will not be correctly referenced and they will not provide a bibliography or list of sources, so it will be difficult to identify where the author has found their information.

The articles are aimed at the general public, and so should use accessible language.


Magazines are frequent publications in a 'glossy' format. Examples include The New Scientist, The Economist and Scientific American. The articles are written by professional journalists with knowledge of a specific subject area.

There will be emphasis on reporting facts but usually with some analysis as the author has more time to reflect on the information and conduct some research.

Although articles in the professional press are likely to be longer than newspaper articles they are unlikely to be correctly referenced with no bibliography or list of sources, so it is difficult to tell what sources the author has used in their research.

The articles are aimed at the general public or a knowledgeable layperson with an interest in the area of publication, and so should use accessible language.


Academic journals contain articles written by scholars and specialist researchers. The authors have had time to conduct their own research and review the available literature.

As a result the article will be a detailed examination of the subject with analysis and primary research. Research can take months to conduct, so the article will not be current. Before publication the articles are reviewed by an editorial board comprising of other scholars and experts – this is called peer review.

The articles in academic journals are aimed at scholars, experts in the field and university students, therefore the articles tend to be detailed and written in technical language.


Books may take years to be published, and so are not good sources of up to date information. The strength of books as a resource lies in their authorship, they are usually written by scholars and experts in the field. Their content can be variable ranging from a simplified overview of a subject to an in depth piece of research.

Books offer a great introduction to a new subject. Books include a list of the sources the author has used to research their book called a reference list. The reference list allows you to review the original sources of information used in the book, which can be used in your assignments to strengthen your own research and arguments.


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