• What do we mean by “format” when we
talk about information?
• What are the characteristics of common
• How does digital information differ from
information we access in physical form?
• “The organization, plan, style, or type of
--Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006
• A set of properties
• The result of a process
Cycle of Info Production
Hours to Weeks Months + Years Years +
News Magazines Academic Books Reference
Sources Journals Sources
• Focus on events as they happen
• Emphasize current developments over detailed analysis
• Getting timely information on a topic
• Getting a local perspective on a topic (especially for topics that may
be of regional interest and not covered nationally)
• Tracking how events unfold over time
• Getting primary source information
Look elsewhere for:
• In-depth, analytical analysis
• Research data
• Provide deeper coverage of issues/topics than newspapers
• Frequently include articles on impacts of primary research data or
interpreting reports from primary news sources
• Often aimed at general audiences (frequently popular as opposed to
scholarly in nature)
• Getting a more expansive view of topic or subject.
• Finding interviews, photos, and opinions about events
• Tracking how events unfold over time
Look elsewhere for:
• Timely event reporting
• In-depth, scholarly analysis
• Articles contain detailed, thoroughly researched analyses of topics
• Common method of sharing primary research in the sciences and social
• Aimed at other academics and specialists
• Articles usually pass peer-review and contain detailed references
• Finding original research
• Getting in-depth perspectives on topics from scholars
• Identifying academic debates (scholarly discourse) on a subject
Look elsewhere for:
• Timely event reporting
• Personal interviews, photos, and popular coverage
• Provide in-depth, thorough treatments of topics
• Usually organized into chapters with topical themes
• Aimed at academic communities and professionals
• Contain extenisve references
• Getting a detailed analysis of a topic
• Getting a scholarly interpretation of a topic, event or phenomenon
Look elsewhere for:
• Timely event reporting (primary sources)
• Brief, factual overviews
• Provide general overviews, often factual in nature
• Point users to more detailed sources, such as books
• Designed for quick look-ups, usually contain subject indexes or are
• Contain extensive references
• Familiarizing yourself with a topic
• Identifying key issues, controversies and facts about a subject
• Starting your research
Look elsewhere for:
• Analytical, in-depth treatments
Physical vs. Digital
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, the15
• Each of the formats covered here can appear in physical
form or digitally (online)
• Formats reproduced digitally are the same as their physical
(print) counterparts because:
–Format is determined by when and how information was produced
–Formats have unique characteristics that remain consistent
• Web sites:
–Can present existing formats (news, journal articles, etc.) digitally
–May or may not require a subscription or login (frequently the case
for scholarly content)
–Are frequently good reference sources (organizational sites)
–May not fit into existing format categories
–Are pushing the evolution of information formats!
Pennsylvania State University Libraries (2004). The information
cycle. Retrieved January 20, 2008 from http://www.libraries.psu
University of Washington Information Literacy Learning (2004).
Research 101: The information cycle. Retrieved January 21,
Hi everyone. In this presentation, we’re going to take a look at information formats, the various types of information sources you’re likely to use in college and beyond. You might be wondering how formats differ from the information types presented in an earlier lesson, such as objective vs. subjective, and factual versus analytical. Those categories describe the actual content included in sources. Formats kind of pick up where that discussion left off. Because the formats, the consistent ways in which information is packaged & distributed, often cue us in to what type of information content we’re getting, knowing a little about them helps us decide where to look for the specific kinds of information we looked at earlier.
Here are the questions I want you to be able to answer when you finish this lession. Pause the movie for moment and read through them.
In information terms, format refers to specific ways information is organized, packaged, and distributed for us to use. In other words, format is the type of source we’re using. When we look for information, we usually make use of a bunch of formats, like books, magazine articles, and scholarly journal articles. These are all different ways information is put out into the world and shared, and each method of sharing has its own properties. Because creating these sources involve specific steps that relate to time, depth, and how the content is evaluated, we can say that a format, a specific type of resource, is the result of a process.
Information formats are largely defined by when they were created, and here’s a visual representation of the cycle of information production. This makes the most sense when you think about it in connection with a real event, so let’s consider Hurricane Katrina. Within hours of Katrina’s descent upon New Orleans, internet news sites, blogs, tv and radio reports were already covering the damage. Over the next few days, newspapers covered the event in more detail, adding layers to the story and considering related issues like the structure of the levee system and the state of emergency shelters. In the following weeks, magazines joined the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, weighing other issues such as the federal government reponses. As months passed, academics began to weigh in on what happened in New Orleans. Scholars provided detailed analyses of the different parts of the story. Academic journals in different disciplines covered topics relevant to those disciplines, such as the roles that race and poverty played in the tragedy, the engineering difficulties in levee construction, and how local and federal governments failed to adequately respond. Years on, books appeared on all aspects of the disaster. Finally, reference sources like encyclopedias started to include overviews of what happened in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Reference source contain general overviews of the events, assimilating key facts and issues culled from the preceding news, magazine, journal, and book resource Now let’s take a look at some specific formats in more detail.
Before we take a closer look at some commonly used formats, I want to quickly call your attention to a related info production model that Lori introduced in her academic disciplines presentation in week 1. This flow chart shows how information is produced in academic disciplines. It’s a little different from the general information production cycle in that it is more focused on scholarly research and the production of information for academic audiences, not a general audience. Consequently, some of these formats incuded here are more specialized. As you continue your education and begin researching topics in your major, you’ll want to know how information flow through your discipline. Pause here and take at what formats are produced at various stages of academic research.
Now we’ll take a look at some essential formats. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all info formats, but a selection of the major formats that appear in the cycle of info production. News is sometimes called history’s first draft, probably because news formats focus on timely coverage of events, and are produced as an event is unfolding or shortly after an event occurs. News reports usually start with the most recent developments, and then work their way down to background information. They typically focus on 5W’s approach (who what when where why) and don’t get much deeper in terms of analysis or interpretation of events. News formats include: Newspapers, like the San Francisco Chronicle pictured here News web sites Blogs TV & Radio Reports For each format I discuss, I’ve included a slide for you to read through, so take a look at the key qualities and uses for news on the next slide.
Magazines are generally produced on a weekly or monthly basis, and consequently, they are good sources for information on events, and tend to include deeper, more analytical treatments of stories than a daily news report. (think about it, they have more time to weight different pieces of a story) Because magazines often focus on more in-depth treatments of events and issues, they frequently include content beyond the basic 5 W’s approach, such as personal interviews, photographs, and more detailed articles. They come in all stripes and can be very specialized (think CatFancy or Entertainment Weekly) so how use them will depend largely on your information need. Magazines may also include popular perspectives on the social impacts of research, or Perspectives of particular groups, reviews of popular literature, art, and film.
Academic journals are usually produced by scholarly societies and professional organizations. This example, Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, is published by the American College of Sports Medicine. In her presentation on Academic Disciplines and Scholarly discourse, Lori discussed how Academic discourse is the formal mode by which academics discuss the topics of their fields. Scholarly journals are where much of this discourse happens. Scholars present new research findings and detailed analysis of topics in academic journals. Publication in an academic journal is a rigorous affair. Unlike newspaper or magazine articles, academic journal articles are typically submitted to a review committee of professionals, who determine if an article meets the standards of the publication. The process, called peer-review, a key feature of the academic journal format.
You are probably carrying a few examples of this format in you backpack, and for your sake I hope they aren’t too heavy. The books I’ll be referring to here are more the academic variety, meaning the kind you’d use to look up, say a history of the United States’ responses to natural disasters as opposed to that scary Stephen King book you read on break. Books also play a role in academic discourse, often providing lengthy,in-depth treatments of ideas introduced in journal articles. Scholarly books are frequently organized into thematic chapters, including subject indexes and extensive reference lists.
We’ve talked about reference sources in the topic development presentation, and you’ll remember that this format includes things like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and introductory overivews. Reference sources come in many shapes and sizes, but the key characteristic of this format is that it focuses on general, introductory, factual information, the basics about a subject. This is why they’re a good first stop in your research process.
So what’s up with the elephant picture, that’s what you’re thinking, right? Because there’s an elephant in the room, folks, and that’s the web! Okay, forgive my use of a tired figure of speech--I can practically hear you groan, but seriously, I have not talked about the web at all as we’ve gone through these formats. Why, you ask? Because I want you to think about format--the type of source--before you think about how you experience that source--as something you physically handle versus something your read or listen to online.
Let’s look at an example Here’s a picture of a book. It’s got pages, a cover, a size, a shape and weight.
This also book, even though this copy exists as digital text readable on a computer. But it’s still very much a book. How is that? Because the essence of the format, it’s bookness if you will, is not determined by its being printed on paper and bound with glue. As we know, books have authors. They have chapters, and if they are scholarly they have indexes, references, notes and maybe pictures. That’s just as true for this electronic book as it is for printed books. I mention all of this because we live in a time when libraries—and consequently research—are changing. We encounter each of the formats I’ve discussed here News Magazines, Journals Books Reference In physical form and also online through web sites and databases.
Let’s see that again. Here’s a newspaper article published in the Jan. 18th Chronicle. The upper right image is what appeared in the printed paper The article in the lower left is the exact same text, but digitized and put in an online library database. Does that change the fact that it’s a news article covering a recent tiger mauling at the SF Zoo? No. Format is consistent. Whether it appears printed on paper or digitally on a web site or in a database, news is news, a magazine article is a magazine article, an academic journal article is an academic journal article…you get the picture. So next time you find something on a web site--ask yourself, what format is this? A reference source? On online newspaper or magazine?
Or maybe it’s none of these. What you would call your MySpace Profile, for example? Or a Flickr Photo set you and your friends have commented on? Or a podcast you listen to? Not everything online simply mirrors existing formats, and in fact, the web is creating entirely new types of content, new formats. Digital text is highly changeable and much easier to produce than traditional methods of publishing, so it’s radically altering the cycle of information production. Take Wikipedia for example. It seems to fall into the reference category with its emphasis on basic-level background information. But because it’s created by users on the fly, events, people and things get entered there almost immediately, rather than over a period of years. Also, entries aren’t “fixed” the way print encyclopedias are; they can usually be edited by anyone.How do you think this impacts the quality of the information? Feel free to add you comments to this slide.
One format that seems unique to the web is what I’ll call the organizational web site. Things like government agencies, nonprofit groups, philanthropic foundations and public policy think tanks nearly always have web presences, and frequently use them to spread information about their activities, the groups they serve, or the issues they are working on. I mention organizational sites because, to my mind, they often fall under the reference umbrella, providing factual overviews, statistical and background info. Take the site in this picture for example, Kaiser State Health Facts, produced by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It lets you click on any state to get health policy information and demographics. This is a great example of a web-based reference source with no physical, print equivalent that’s incredibly useful to students and professionals researching health care in the U.S. So the web has an amazing collection of these incredibly information rich sites, but you’ve got to be really careful about selecting them. Unlike print sources in a library, they haven’t been hand-picked for you, so knowing a thing or two about web searching and source evaluation is more important than ever. Fortunately, we’ll be covering those topics in the coming weeks.
I covered a lot of ground in this presentation, but I hope it gave you a better idea of what information formats are, and that we can identify them by when, how, and for what purpose they’re produced. I also hope that I’ve acquainted you with some of the defining characteristics of sources like books, newspapers, and journals, and some of the consistencies and changes that occur in formats on the web. To further your knowledge of formats, check out the sites listed on this slide.