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Determine Credibility (Evaluating)

Using credible and relevant sources is important. Learn what questions to ask and some strategies to apply for determining if your source is or isn't appropriate for your project.

Information Life Cycle

"Information Life Cycle" refers to how information is produced and changes over time. The diagram below depicts the coverage of an event over time. Keep this in mind when searching for sources, as it might impact what types of sources are available on your topic.
This image depicts the information life cycle visually. It is described in the text below.

When a major event occurs (such as an election, speech, tragedy, or breaking news event), the information on that event will evolve:

  • The same day as the event, information will be posted to social media, internet news sources, and television news sources. Initial reports may later be corrected or updated with more nuanced information.
  • In the following days, fact-checked newspaper articles will be released, and pundits and experts may appear on talk shows. Facts will become more clear, and opinions will begin to form.
  • In the next few weeks, magazines and tabloids will publish editorial pieces on the event. These are less likely to be fact-checked, more likely to be opinion or human-interest related stories. Magazines may also publish long-form fact-checked stories, which will cover an event in depth.
  • In the next months, books and scholarly articles will be published. These take longer due to in-depth research, and the publishing process. Scholarly articles will undergo peer-review, which can take up to several months, and books will be reviewed by an editor. Do not expect to find scholarly articles on an event that has just occurred, but you may find scholarly articles on similar events or ideas.
  • In the following years, films (both fictional and documentaries) and encyclopedia articles will be produced. Encyclopedia articles are likely to be overviews or summaries from a retrospective point of view. Films may depict the event from a certain point of view, or attempt to summarize the event.

Watch the video below to follow the cycle!

Consuming a Healthy Information Diet

To select credible sources you'll need to apply evaluation criteria, which you'll learn about on the following pages of this guide.

That said, let's first think about the Information Life Cycle and the information sources that are created over time. When an event occurs, coverage begins immediately. News organizations will quickly write articles and create videos, and anyone can comment via social media. Social media in particular may introduce you to a topic and help you understand the discourse, but it's likely there won't be many sources of this type that are useful for your research.

Edited news content that is fact-checked is much more reliable than "quick takes" on social media. If we're comparing the Information Life Cycle to your "information diet", this information is "healthier." The healthiest sources, however, are those that are well researched and peer-reviewed. It forms the foundation of a good information diet, ensuring that the consumer is grounded in factual evidence.

As you use the strategies in this guide to evaluate content, you'll see why this pyramid holds true!



Image Note: The above image depicts a pyramid of information sources, likening your consumption of information to the food pyramid. The base of the pyramid includes books and journals noting that "peer reviewed content is the foundation of the information life cycle as it provides the most in-depth and specific information." The middle tier includes news and analysis from sources such as The New York Times and TED, noting "edited content provides a summary of research published in books and academic journal articles." The top tier includes social media sources, which ought to be "used sparingly": "content on discussion boards and social media are often snap shots of in-depth information and a good entry point for doing more research."