Once you have an interest in a topic, it is important to consider carefully the sources of information that you are consulting and how they fit into the larger information ecosystem. This is a quick look at that ecosystem.
As events happen, information is generated. Understanding the ways information is associated with events helps to know where to look and what kinds of content you will find. For example:
Immediate information includes internet (social media) and real time reporting on TV and radio. Information from these sources is very current, even eyewitness, but not very thoughtful. These accounts are called 'primary sources.' Common examples: Twitter, Facebook, broadcast news, etc.
Next day or week: A newspaper account will come out in the day or two following the event, and will be more organized and slightly more complete, with a certain degree of context. A weekly magazine might contain even more background and is probably more reliable. Examples: New York Times, Time Magazine, The Economist.
Within a year or two: Journals and books will publish accounts of the event and will have the benefit of time and research to add even more context, understanding, analysis and reliability to the events. Examples: Scholarly journal articles and popular books.
Two to three years: Scholarly books generally take a few years to go through the research, writing, editing and publishing process, but are very complete, contextual and, often, reliable.
Five or more years: At a certain point, encyclopedias and reference books will contain the 'accepted' historical analysis of events, though we understand that "history" can be subject to "revision."
(See also "Evaluating information")
An important distinction defines the kinds of information available in libraries and online, especially in the academic environment. Your professors at the university level will want you to conduct research using "scholarly" content. But even in your everyday use of information, it is important to note these differences. Here are some clues:
Thinking critically about the information you are using is essential to high quality research. A few things to consider: