Traditionally, information has been organized in different formats, usually as a result of the time it took to gather and publish the information. For example, the purpose of news reporting is to inform the public about the basic facts of an event. This information needs to be disseminated quickly, so it is published daily in print, online, on broadcast television, and radio media. More in-depth treatment of information takes longer to research, write, and publish and traditionally was published in scholarly journals and books.
Today, information is still published in traditional formats as well as in newly evolving formats on the Internet. These new information formats are loosely defined as Web 2.0 formats and can include electronic journals, books, news websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and location postings. The coexistence of all of these information formats is messy and chaotic. The process for finding relevant information is not always clear.
One way to make some sense out of the current information universe is to thoroughly understand traditional information formats. We can then understand the concepts inherent in the information formats found online. There are some direct correlations such as books and journal articles, but there are also some newer formats like tweets that didn’t exist until recently.
Let’s look at the news industry. Many traditional newspapers are shutting down and those that remain are retrenching. While there are many reasons for this, one of the major trends has been the rise of the Internet. In the United States, more than 50 per cent of the population reads the news online.
Indeed, online news sites provide a different and, some might argue, a more relevant experience for the reader. They offer video and sound, up-to-the-minute updates on breaking news, and the ability to interact with the content by posting comments. Another important feature of online news is that search engines can deliver content from the site in response to a query. In other words, readers don’t have to visit a site such as the New York Times in order to read its content.
This has both positive and negative consequences. The positive consequence is that readers can quickly and conveniently obtain information from a variety of sources on a topic or event. The negative consequence is that it is more difficult to evaluate the credibility of the sources. The Evaluate chapter in this book provides some good strategies for evaluating information sources.
As you start to read and digest all of the information you have gathered, you will notice that many articles and books contain references to other articles and books. Even Wikipedia entries contain references. These consist of citations to resources that authors have quoted or paraphrased in their work or have used to research for their publications. Some of these citations can provide great information. But you might not know if the citation is to a book or an article or something else.
Citations can be confusing. There are many different citation styles and not many hard and fast rules about when to use a particular style. Your professor may indicate which citation style you should use. If not, the general rule of thumb is that the Social Sciences and Education disciplines use APA (American Psychological Association) citation style, while the Humanities and Arts disciplines use MLA (Modern Language Association) or the Chicago style. You can find detailed information about how to format a citation in these styles by consulting the latest Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, for APA citations, the most recent copy of the MLA Handbook, or the current Chicago Manual of Style. You should be able to find copies of these publications in the reference section of your library. You can also obtain guidance on formatting citations in the APA and MLA style from the University at Albany’s Citation Fox.
However, just knowing what citation style is used doesn’t always clear up the confusion. Each different information format is cited differently. The most common formats that you will encounter are books, chapters in books, journal articles, and websites.
Take a look at the following citations. You can see that there are differences between citation styles. You can also see that each information format contains different elements. When you try to determine whether a citation is for a book, book chapter or journal, think about the elements inherent in each of these formats. For example, a journal article appears in a journal that is published in a volume and issue. If you see volume and issue numbers in the citation, you can assume that the citation is for a journal article. A book chapter is usually written by a different author from the editors of the whole book. A whole book is often the easiest citation to decipher. It contains the fewest elements.
This chapter has discussed citations in relation to finding resources. You will encounter citations again in the Manage chapter, which covers how to use citations to share information with others.