Research Help

Flow of Information

The Timeline:

A look at linear time and information:

  • from the occurrence of an event, era, social movement or discovery, ...
  • to the documentation of evidence relating to this event, era, social movement, etc.
  • to how the evidence is disseminated
  • and how researchers (and term paper writers) can find this documentation

One Day - Days Later

Articles appear in newspapers , and information is disseminated on TV, radio and web pages . Depending on the event or occurrence, this information may be prolific or sparse.

For example: a general news search in Lexis Nexis lists 102 articles on the Exxon Valdez oil spill that appeared March 25 - March 31, 1989, just a few days after the event.


  • Audience: General public
  • Coverage: Any subject of interest; newsworthy events; local coverage
  • Written By: Professional journalists; some articles contributed by specialists
  • Timeliness: up-to-date coverage (one-half day to a week)
  • Length: 50-2,000 words
  • Content: Dependent upon the type of article: analysis, statistics, graphics, photographs, editorial opinion; no bibliography or list of sources
  • Slant: Tends to be mainstream/neutral

A Week - Weeks Later

Articles appear in popular magazines .

Example: General magazine : Church, George J.,The big spill. (Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska) Time v133, n15 (April 10, 1989):38.

Subject-focused magazine : Barinaga, Marcia, Fisheries first to suffer. (Alaska oil spill) Nature v338, n6216 (April 13, 1989):533.


  • Audience: General public to knowledgeable layperson
  • Coverage: Popular topics; current affairs
  • Written By: Professional journalists; not necessarily specialists in the field; poets and writers of fiction, essayists
  • Timeliness: Very current coverage (one week to several months)
  • Length: 250 - 5,000 words
  • Content: Still, a strong emphasis on reporting: who, what, where, when and why; general discussion; editorial opinion; graphics; photographs; advertisements; usually no bibliography or list of sources
  • Slant: May reflect the editorial bias / slant of the magazine

Six Months or More Later

Articles appear in scholarly or academic journals . This is also when scholars and researchers may start holding conferences on the topic and eventually, conference papers will be published.


  • Alaskan oil spill: legal fallout. Trial v25, n10 (Oct, 1989):26-33.
  • Enhanced removal of Exxon Valdez spilled oil from Alaskan gravel by a microbiol surfactant. Bio-Technology , v8, n.3 (1990) 228-230.

Journals and Conference Papers

  • Audience: Scholars, specialists, and students
  • Coverage: Research results, frequently theoretical in nature
  • Written By: Specialists in the field; usually scholars with PhDs
  • Timeliness: Current coverage (6 months - 3 years )
  • Length: 2,500 - 10,000 words
  • Content: Detailed examination; statistical analysis; graphics; bibliography usually included
  • Slant: Supposed to present objective/neutral viewpoint; may be difficult to comprehend because of technical language or jargon; often sponsored by professional associations

Two or More Years Later

In time, books treating the subject or incident are published. Depending on the author, publisher and market, some may appear in less than 2 years. And some topics may generate books for decades to come. Also in this time frame published conference proceedings begin to appear.


  • The Economics of a Disaster : the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill /1995
  • Sea Otter Symposium : proceedings of a symposium to evaluate the response effort on behalf of sea otters after the Exxon Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound, Anchorage, Alaska, 17-19 April 1990/1991


  • Audience: Ranges from the general public to specialists
  • Coverage: In-depth coverage of a topic; compilation of scholarly articles on a topic
  • Written By: Specialists/scholars
  • Currency: varies (2 years plus)
  • Length: 150 pages plus
  • Content: varies from general discussion to detailed analysis; usually includes extensive bibliography
  • Slant: Perspective entirely dependent on author; may be sponsored or published by professional associations

About Ten Years Later

As time goes by (2-10 years) the knowledge and understanding of a topic or event becomes established. It then appears in reference sources, such as encyclopedias, handbooks, statistical compilations, and more.


  • When Technology Fails : Significant Technological Disasters, Accidents, and Failures of the Twentieth Century /1994
  • Encyclopedia of Environmental Studies /1991
  • World Book Encyclopedia/ 1997

Reference Sources:

  • Audience: Ranges from general public to specialists
  • Coverage: Factual information; the Big Picture; overviews and summaries
  • Written By: Specialists/scholars
  • Timeliness: Depends -- articles typically appear in encyclopedias 4-10 years later
  • Content: convenient summaries of knowledge to date; may include data, statistics, directories, bibliographies
  • Slant: supposed to present objective/neutral viewpoint; may be sponsored or published by professional associations

Put It All Together


Report of Event Time Frame Access to Information (How to Find)
News Services Seconds/Minutes TV News Indexes
Newspapers (print) Day / Days+ Newspaper Indexes
Magazines (print) Week / Weeks Library Catalog
Journals (print and electronic) 6 months +  
Books 2+ years Library Catalog
Reference Sources Average 10 years Library Catalog



  • Save time by looking first for research materials on your topic at the point where it begins to fit into the flow of information.
  • Browse article databases by subject to find newspaper, magazine and journal articles on a topic.
  • You can check for Internet information throughout the information dispersion process, by using Web 20.
  • Remember to ask a librarian for help in finding and using print-only indexes like the Alternative Press Index.
  • If you need help on getting a focus for your topic, try How to Narrow or Broaden Your Topic .

Created: April, 2000

Please attribute any usage as follows: Adapted from Sharon Hogan's orignal 1980 Flow of Information conceptual approach to library instruction, by Diane Zwemer, Instructional Services Coordinator College Library, the UCLA Library and used with permission.