Information Source

What is an information Source?

An information source is anything that may provide knowledge to a person. Each item of information is created in context to its purpose. This purpose could be to inform, analyse, critique, educate or entertain. Each of an items value depends on your specific information needed.

For example, Information Sources found within the Learning Centre at Sussex Downs College include …
– Dictionaries, encyclopaedias, maps
– Books, journals, newspapers, magazines
– Audio CDs, DVDs, streaming
– Online databases, e-journals, e-books, super search, the Internet

The list above is typical of information sources found within Libraries and Learning Centres everywhere.

How does this relate to me?

Below is a list of Information Sources that can help you with any type of question you have, a curiosity, a desire to learn, an essay question, it can be overwhelming to know where to start, especially with the plethora of information sources available.

Knowing exactly where to start your journey of discovery is critical.

Audio CDs & Books, DVD's and Streaming

Multimedia sources include audio CDs, audio books, DVDs and digital streaming. The DVDs and the programmes available to stream online have all been specifically selected for the subject areas; they provide a quick and easy route to learning about a new subject; and using these sources will add variety to your bibliographies.


Books are an information source that must be evaluated for your specific needs, just like any other source. We will get to that later. Books are reliable; they are an authoritative source of information. They have been proofed, edited, fact checked and published because they offer something reliable and meaningful. Books provide in-depth coverage on a subject, or multiple subjects. A book will often contain citations and a bibliography which can identify further reading.

Please be aware that the information provided in a book is static and starts to go out of date as soon as it is published. Some subjects become dated quicker than others. For example, a book on pop art from the 1960s could still be insightful and relevant today. A book on business management techniques written in the early 2000s may already contain out of date and unreliable information.

Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Atlases and maps

Reference sources are a good place to start. A simple dictionary can help you with the spelling, definition and pronunciation of any words you are unsure of. This is very important when tackling an essay question. Other types of dictionaries you may come across are: a thesaurus; a glossary; or a lexicon. These can provide you with synonyms, antonyms and homonyms; provide definitions of subject specific terminology and of slang; and explain the etymology of a word.

An encyclopaedia will provide you with a compendium of information relating to general knowledge, or to a specific branch of knowledge.

Maps and atlases will help you with geographical concerns, such as confirming where a particular place is located; or its size. Directories are available to provide you with relevant contact names and addresses.

Reference sources offer a systematic summary, often in alphabetical order. It is because of this that they are not for prolonged reading. They provide short, factual information; they can be used to confirm names, dates, places. Reference sources offer an overview of a subject; perfect if this is new to you and you require the key facts, names and events quickly.

E-Books and Journals

Online sources are everywhere; they are plentiful and essential to your academic success but require some practice and skill to utilize; online sources pull information from the furthest reaches of cyberspace; this is what makes them useful, but can also lead to information overload; examples of online sources are: online databases; e-journals; e-books and an information search on the Internet.

Online databases are often subject specific; they provide paid-for content which you will not find on an Internet search; the information is authoritative, checked and reliable; the content is made up of full text and abstract material; remember a simple abstract often provides enough useful information. E-journals and e-books are the electronic counterparts to the hard copy versions already discussed, but with the added advantage that they are searchable.


Utilizing online sources has been proven to improve the quality of a students work; As all the information sources are collected in one place, this allows you to spend less time in the research phase and more time in the writing phase; online sources offer convenience and allow you to obtain more information, a diversity of information, and more up-to-date information;
The Learning Centre provides an 'E-Library' facility which offers an integrated index for all the libraries information sources; these sources have been verified and offer more reliable results than on a general internet search; they offer citations that can be copied and pasted directly in to your bibliography. The super search requires practice; you may obtain the same overwhelming levels of information, but on the internet there is the added necessity to determine the validity of the source.

Internet Search (Google)

A standard information search on the Internet can provide you with too much information. It takes practice, and knowledge of advanced search techniques to filter the results; this information may be unreliable and must be evaluated. The information provided may be unverifiable and it may be outdated.

There are many benefits associated with the use of online sources; information is available to you 24/7; you are able to work from any location with an internet connection; the information is available to you all in one place; the diversity of resources provided; and the availability of resources you would otherwise not have access. Disadvantages of online sources of information include: they can provide you with too much information; you must filter to find what is useful; it can be easy to get distracted or lost; and finally, it is hard sometimes to determine when to stop searching and to start writing.

Newspapers, Magazines and Academic Journals

In the learning centre you will find newspapers, magazines and academic journals. Newspapers are published daily; contain articles on national and international news events; and may contain editorial and opinion pieces; they are perfect for obtaining information relating to current events. Magazines are often published weekly or monthly; sometimes even bi-monthly or quarterly; magazines selected for the learning centre will both inform and entertain. These magazines will be subject specific and purchased to accompany the book collection for the relevant subject. Academic journals are often published and referenced by volume and issue; are published monthly, quarterly or yearly; they will often be subject specific; will cover topical issues and provide the latest research; are useful for obtaining recent information.

Books VS. Internet

Below highlights the key differences between using information published in a book / journal, compared to information found on the internet. When conducting your research consider what type of information best suits your needs.

The internet is a valuable source and has made information available to everyone; but please consider the reliability of online content before using it in your research.

Text book / Journal

  • Journals are written by professionals / experts
  • Information is peer checked – ‘an additional layer of rigour’
  • Books in our LCs requested by teachers
  • Book information can be older


  • Written by anyone – check author credentials
  • Information is often not checked & therefore unreliable
  • Information may be more up to date
Primary and Secondary Information Sources

Information sources can be divided into three categories; primary, secondary and tertiary; tertiary sources are an index, or textual condensation of primary and secondary sources, and will not be discussed in this presentation.

Primary sources are original materials; secondary sources are documents which relate to information originally published elsewhere. A primary source must be created at the time of, and must be written by someone with personal knowledge of, the incident being documented. A primary source will therefore offer an inside view of the event.Original documents, creative works and archaeological finds are primary sources of information. Familiar examples include: diaries; paintings; poetry; a journal article offering new research findings.

Secondary sources involve analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of the original information. In other words, they reference or expand upon primary sources. They are one step removed because they were not created by an insider to the event in question. They only offer interpretation. Textbooks, encyclopedias, journal articles which interpret or review previous findings are all secondary sources of information.

Evaluating Information Sources

As you are compiling your research you will have to evaluate the quality of the information you plan to use. Remember that many publications may have an agenda or a bias, and this may not be instantly noticeable.

When you search for information, evaluating its quality is essential to filtering your results down to a manageable level.

Please consider the following: the CRAAP test …

– Currency: For the currency of an item, look at when the information was published and if it has been revised or updated. Ask yourself if your topic requires current information or if older sources are acceptable.

Relevance: With regard the relevance, consider if the information relates to your subject and if it answers your specific information need. Who is the intended audience? Is the item at an appropriate level? Have you considered other sources? Would you be happy referencing this source?”

-Authority: Authority relates to the source of the information. Who is the author or publisher? What are the author’s qualifications / affiliations? What is the author’s background? Are they qualified to write on the topic? Is there contact information for the publisher? If it’s an online source, the URL may reveal something

-Accuracy: Is the item accurate and reliable? Where does the information come from? Is the information well supported? Has the information been reviewed? Can you apply your own knowledge, or another source, to verify the accuracy? Does the source use academic language, free of bias and emotion? Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

-Purpose: What is the purpose of the information? Does it exist to inform, enlighten, sell, promote, educate, entertain or persuade? Do the authors make their intentions clear? Is the information provided fact or opinion? Could it be propaganda? Does the writing appear objective? Are there any biases, maybe political, cultural, religious or personal?