Skip to Main Content
SSU ship logo and 'Salem State University' text

Research Strategies: Information Cycle

Information Cycle

Why does the information lifecycle matter?

Well, it can affect whether or not you'll be able to find any information about a topic!

If your topic is very current, you might only be able to find first-person accounts (interviews or tweets, for example), or newspaper articles. If you need more in-depth analysis, or an expert's considered analysis, though, it might be too soon for anything to be published - those author are busy collecting information and doing their own research - they just haven't had time yet!

Consider: How current does your information need to be? Do you need really up-to-date research? 

What kind of information is likely to have been produced about your topic? Has enough time passed?

A chart showing the steps in the information timeline - event occurs, only eyewitnesses are available. Same day and in the next week, preliminary news reports appear. Scholars begin to publish works within a few months. Within a year or so, books begin to appear. After Multiple Years, Encyclopedia articles will provide broad overviews of events

Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

Informational sources can be classified roughly into three groups - primary, secondary, and tertiary - that reflect their originality. These groups are defined generally below.


Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.
Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group. This is information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, or repackaged. Depending upon the context, these may include research reports, sales receipts, speeches, e-mails, original artwork, manuscripts, photos, diaries, personal letters, spoken stories/tales/interviews, diplomatic records, etc.

Think of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony in a court trial.


Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or summarize.
Commentary upon, or analysis of, events, ideas, or primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives. Examples are scholarly books, journals, magazines, criticism, interpretations, and so forth.

Think of a lawyer's final summation or jury discussion in a court trial.


Tertiary sources compile, index, or organize sources. 
Sources which analyzed, compiled and digest secondary sources included mostly in abstracts, bibliographies, handbooks, encyclopedias, indexes, chronologies, etc.

Think of an index that lists all the cases heard by this court during the year.

Information Lifecycle


Before starting your research, it's good to know how information is produced, where it comes from, and how it changes over time.

The Information Lifecycle is the progression of media coverage of a particular newsworthy event. Knowing about the information cycle will help you to better know what information is available on your topic and better evaluate information sources covering that topic. 

The Day of an Event
Television, Social Media, and the Web

  • The who, what, why, and where of the event
  • Quick, not detailed, regularly updated
  • Authors are journalists, bloggers, social media participants
  • Intended for general audiences

The Day After an Event

  • Explanations and timelines of the event begin to appear
  • More factual information, may include statistics, quotes, photographs, and editorial coverage
  • Authors are journalists
  • Intended for general audiences

The Week or Weeks After an Event
Weekly Popular Magazines and New Magazines

  • Long form stories begin to discuss the impact on society, culture, and public policy
  • More detailed analyses, interviews, and various perspectives emerge
  • Authors range from journalists to essayists, and commentary provided by scholars and experts in the field
  • Intended for a general audience or specific nonprofessional groups

Six Months to a Year or More After an Event
Academic, Scholarly Journals

  • Focused, detailed analysis and theoretical, empirical research
  • Peer-reviewed, ensuring high credibility and accuracy
  • Authors include scholars, researchers, and professionals
  • Intended for an audience of scholars, researchers, and university students

A Year to Years After an Event

  • In-depth coverage ranging from scholarly in-depth analysis to popular books
  • Authors range from scholars to professionals to journalists
  • Include reference books which provide factual information, overviews, and summaries

Government Reports

  • Reports from federal, state, and local governments
  • Authors include governmental panels, organizations, and committees
  • Often focused on public policy, legislation, and statistical analysis


Information Lifecycle

(Source: Digital Literacy, 2010)