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The Information Cycle: Home

This guide discusses how information on an event is produced and disseminated and how it changes over time. Understanding the Information Cycle is crucial for your research.

What is the Information Cycle?

The term 'Information Cycle' refers to the way that information is produced and distributed and how it changes over time. It describes the progression of media coverage relating to a particular newsworthy event or topic.

Understanding how the information cycle works will help you to know what kinds of information may be available on your topic as you locate and evaluate research sources.

The progression of the information cycle is directly connected to the amount of time AFTER an event has happened:

SAME DAY - Social Networking (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and Mobile Communication (Texting)
HOURS/DAYS/WEEK - Mainstream Media (News sites, TV, radio, Newspapers), and Weekly Magazines
A MONTH - Monthly Magazines
3 TO 6 MONTHS - Scholarly Journals
A YEAR OR MORE - Scholarly Journals, Books, Government Reports, and Reference Materials

1 - Day of Event

Social Media, Television, Radio & Internet

  • provides up-to-the minute information and breaking news stories
  • is frequently updated as more information becomes available
  • is quick, short and generally not very detailed
  • explains the event's who, what, when, and where
  • may prove to be inaccurate as new details emerge
  • is primarily written by journalists (e.g., TV, radio, Internet news, Twitter) or by the general public (e.g., facebook, twitter)
  • is intended for a general audience

3 - Weeks After Event

Weekly/Monthly Popular Magazines

  • is more detailed and usually written in longer articles than previous information
  • begins to provide analysis and discuss the impact the event has on society, culture, the environment, the economy, public policy, etc.
  • offers particular groups' perspectives on the event or may gear the information towards specific audiences
  • may reflect the publication's general editorial bias
  • written mostly by journalists or freelance writers, but may also include commentary by scholars or experts in the field
  • is intended for a general audience or specific, targeted non-professional groups

5 - Year+ After Event


  • provides in-depth, comprehensive coverage of an event, expanding upon themes, subjects, and analysis previously published in scholarly journals
  • may be a compilation of scholarly articles or essays on the topic
  • provides a broad overview of the event and places it in historical context
  • may provide different perspectives of the event
  • may range from in-depth scholarly analysis of the topic to popular books which provide general discussions and are not as well-researched
  • may include bibliographies (the more scholarly the book, the better the bibliography)
  • may reflect the perspective of the sponsoring association or political group
  • is often written by scholars, researchers, and professionals, but credentials of authors may vary
  • may be intended for a broad audience, depending on the book, ranging from scholars to a general audience.

Government Reports

  • may come from all levels of government - local, provincial, federal, international
  • provides the government's official viewpoint on a topic
  • includes reports compiled by governmental organizations and summaries of government-funded research
  • is factual and usually includes statistics
  • often focuses on the event in relation to public policy and legislation
  • is often written by government panels, organizations, and committees rather than by individuals
  • may be intended for a general audience, but may also be written for government officials

Reference Works

  • is a good starting point for research, especially for a topic that is unfamiliar
  • includes factual details, usually as a quick overview which summarizes the event and outlines the key issues
  • may include general statistics
  • may include a bibliography for further reading
  • is usually not suitable to be cited in academic papers
  • is usually less detailed than books or journal articles
  • is written by scholars and specialists
  • is usually intended for a general audience or for students that are new to a field of study, but may also be aimed at scholars.

The Information Timeline


2 - Days After Event

Newspapers, Television & Other News Media

  • provides more detailed information (i.e., more facts) and a deeper investigation into the immediate context of the event
    • chronology
    • quotes from experts and/or government officials
    • statistics
    • photographs
    • editorial coverage
    • local perspectives
  • begins to explain why the event occurred
  • is primarily written by journalists
  • is intended for a general audience

4 - Months After Event

Scholarly Journals

  • provides comprehensive analysis, empirical research reports, and learned commentary related to the event
  • is often theoretical and analyses the event's impact on society, culture, the economy, the environment, public policy, etc.
  • is peer-reviewed
  • is written in highly technical and formal language
  • includes detailed bibliographies
  • is written by scholars, researchers, and professionals, usually with PhD's in related fields
  • is intended for other scholars, researchers in the field, and university students in the field. NOT for the general public

The Information Cycle (in 2 Minutes, 34 Seconds)

Scholarly VS Popular Sources (in 3 Minutes, 11 Seconds)

What is a Scholarly Article (in 3 Minutes, 9 Seconds)