Module 1: Identifying Information

Copyright 2009-
Ryan Memorial Library
Information Literacy Portal

1.0 Objectives


  • Understand the basics of the Internet
  • Differentiate between types of information:
    • popular vs. scholarly
    • primary vs. secondary
  • Differentiate between formats of information



1.1 Analyzing and Categorizing Information

We all put information into categories whether we realize it or not. Fiction vs. nonfiction. Broadcast vs. print. Magazines vs. books. When you walk into a library or bookstore, the items are arranged in subject categories (psychology, history, etc.) or by format or media type (CD, DVD, print).

Info can be analyzed by the order in which it is produced—this is the general focus of the primary/secondary/tertiary categories in section 1.3. Info can be categorized by who produces it and who the major audience is, as with the popular/scholarly/trade categories in section 1.2. Info also can appear in a number of formats, as module 1.4 shows us.


  1. An interview with a celebrity is a POPULAR PRIMARY source. In what information formats (or media?) would you expect to find this interview?

Why does this matter?

  1. A class assignment might require you to use only scholarly sources. How do you find and identify those?
  2. A presentation (for class or on the job) could benefit from a mix of formats. For example, you might want to use the actual audio of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech for a history class PowerPoint or part of a competitor’s commercial for a market share analysis for your boss.
  3. You want the text of a speech by your state Senator to clarify his/her position on an important issue. You heard a little of it on the local news, but want to make sure you get the whole picture. Where do you find the actual words of the entire speech, either in print or in some type of database?
  4. Knowing how information is categorized helps you make sense of it all. It helps you keep your sanity, and choose the best sources for your particular purpose.



1.2 Understanding the Internet


What is the Internet?

The Internet is a computer network, in fact a network of computer networks, upon which anyone who has access to a host computer can publish their own documents. One of these networks is the World Wide Web (or just the Web) which allows Internet publishers to link to other documents on the network. The Internet allows transmission of a variety of file types, including non-written multimedia.

Who puts info on the Internet?

There are many kinds of Internet sites that you might find during the course of a search, sites created by different people or organizations with different objectives. The animation to the right under Exercise illustrates some of the types of sites on the Web, using an example search for information about MP3 players.


Every Web page has its own address called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Much like the address on an envelope with a name, street address, city, state, and zip code, each part of a URL provides information about the Web page.

URL http:// www wmich edu register registration html

Domain Names

The domain name tells you the type of organization sponsoring a page. It is a three-letter code that is part of the URL and preceded by a "dot." Here are the most common domains.

Domain Description
.edu educational institution
Even though a page comes from an educational institution, it does not mean the institution endorses the views published by students or faculty members.
.com commercial entity
Companies advertise, sell products, and publish annual reports and other company information on the Web. Many online newspapers or journals also have .com names.
.gov government
Federal and state government agencies use the Web to publish legislation, census information, weather data, tax forms and many other documents.
.org non-profit organization
Nonprofit organizations use the Web to promote their causes. These pages are good sources to use when comparing different sides of an issue.
.net internet service providers
.mil U.S. military

In addition, more top level domain names were added in 2001.

Domain Description
.aero for the air transportation industry
.biz general use by businesses
.coop restricted use by cooperatives
.info for both commercial and non-commercial sites
.museum for museums
.name for use by individuals
.pro restricted to professionals and professional entities




Interactive exercises throughout this site will look similar to the exercise below. When you see a  blue Pop-Up Window link, click on it to begin the exercise.


1.3 Popular, Scholarly, and Trade




     Important Characteristics of these Publication Types



     Advanced Exercise for  Distinguishing Scholarly from
 Popular & Trade Publications


1.4 Primary vs. Secondary Sources


Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.
Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group. This is information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, or repackaged. Depending upon the context, these may include research reports, sales receipts, speeches, e-mails, original artwork, manuscripts, photos, diaries, personal letters, spoken stories/tales/interviews, diplomatic records, etc.

Think of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony in a court trial.


Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or summarize.
Commentary upon, or analysis of, events, ideas, or primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives. Examples are scholarly books, journals, magazines, criticism, interpretations, and so forth.

Think of a lawyer's final summation or jury discussion in a court trial.


Tertiary sources compile, index, or organize sources.
Sources which analyzed, compiled and digest secondary sources included mostly in abstracts, bibliographies, handbooks, encyclopedias, indexes, chronologies, etc.

Think of an index that lists all the cases heard by this court during the year.


Information Cycles

It's important to understand that information is produced and distributed in general patterns, often referred to as "Information Cycles." It's not an exact science; but a skilled researcher who understands these patterns and knows which types of information sources are most appropriate for any given project or question, and when those sources were produced and why, is likely to achieve consistent success in finding what they need.



     Information Cycles

1.5 Formats


Data, facts, information, intelligence, and knowledge can be organized, presented and retrieved in many physical formats:

Format Description
Printed Materials referenced and collected from print resources (hardback and paperback books, periodicals, print-on-demand (POD) documents, manuscripts, correspondence, loose leaf materials, notes, brochures, etc.)
Digital Digital materials are information materials that are stored in an electronic format on a hard drive, CD-ROM, or remote server. Examples of digital materials are: e-books, e-journals, e-course materials, e-databases, Web sites, e-print archives, or e-classes. These materials are accessed with a computer via the Internet. While not all materials listed in the library’s catalog are digital, many are, and the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) provides the access to those materials.
Audio/Video Materials collected using video (television, video recordings), audio (radio, audio recordings) tools presented in recorded tapes, CDs, audio-cassettes, reel to reel tapes, record albums, DVDs, videocassettes, audio books, etc.
Multimedia Materials created by the use of several different media to convey information (text, audio, graphics, animation, video, and interactivity). Multimedia also refers to computer media. A PowerPoint presentation using slides, video, and interactive links is an example of a multimedia format.
Microform Microform: materials that have been photographed and their images developed in reduced size onto 35mm or 16mm film rolls or 4”x 6” fiche cards, which are viewed on machines equipped with magnifying lenses. In the UI Library this includes back issues of state, national, and international ; non-current issues of magazines; older ERIC documents; and Agricultural Experiment Station documents.
Human Information collected from face–to-face or telephone communication and conversation or other personal communication (such as letters and e-mails).



1.6 Summary

Module 1: Identifying Information

Primary / Secondary / Tertiary vs. Popular / Scholarly

Let’s use the example of a celebrity interview to see how this one piece of information could fit into the various categories we have studied so far, depending on how it’s used and where it’s made available.

  Primary Secondary Tertiary
POPULAR TV Interview with celebrity (Format: audio/visual) Magazine article about celebrity, with quotes (Format: print) Index of interviews with various celebrities (Format: Digital)
SCHOLARLY Interview notes; diary of professor studying media coverage of celebrities (Format: digital) Journal article in Journal of Media Practice based on professor's studies (Format: print and digital) Article listed in a bibliography (Format: Print)
TRADE Interview with celebrity in Variety (Format: print, digital) Story in Advertising Age about celebrity as spokesperson for company, referring to interview in Variety (Format: print, digital) Database of magazine articles (Format: digital)