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Introduction to library research in the arts: The information cycle

An introduction to research concepts and techniques for University of Redlands students in fine, literary and performing arts, developed as an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Learning objective

  • Use the information cycle to gain comprehensive understanding of your research topic.
  • Use the information cycle to find sources appropriate for a particular stage of your research project.

Questions to consider

  • How do you find out about news?
  • How are sources you use to learn about current events different from how you learn about historical events?

What is the information cycle?

Infographic on "The information cycle" by Davis Senior High School

The information cycle explains how different types of sources - social media, scholarly articles, books, etc. - are produced over time. Our understanding of a event grows over time as new voices join the conversation and we can reflect on its significance.

Let's look at this example of the information cycle for the Women's March in 2017:

The information cycle describes how new sources are produced through this growing understanding. Different formats of sources have different attributes, representing the point in the information cycle when they were created.

You can use the information cycle to gain more comprehensive understanding of your topic. Develop your search strategy to encompass sources created at different points on the cycle. For example, don't just look for library books, but also search for newspaper articles and the accounts of eyewitness observers (social media, or letters, diaries and other primary sources for older events)

You may need to seek out sources created at specific points in the information cycle at various points in your research project. For example, if you want to capture the initial reaction to an event (such as a demonstration) you might look for social media. If you are trying to summarize the event's historical significance, you might look for articles or books written later. This infographic from UC Merced Libraries explains how different types of sources are useful for different purposes.

Infographic from UC Merced Libraries showing how different types of sources are useful at different stages of your research project.

Check your understanding

Key points

  • The information cycle explains how information on an event is created over time in different types of sources.
  • You can use sources from different points of the information cycle to gain a comprehensive understanding of your topic.
  • Sources from a particular point on the information cycle might be useful at different stages in your research.