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Process: Considering Formats

Types of Information

Decorative Formats

Information may be delivered in a variety of  formats: books, articles, pamphlets, reports, social media and more.  Understanding format categories, characteristics, and production cycles will help you to choose the best source for your needs.

Categorizing Sources

Information types differ in many ways, including:

Tone & Formality  casual or specialized language 

Purpose  persuade, inform, sell, entertain 

Form & Distribution  book, article, tweet, print, digital, fee based, free 

Authorship & Editorial Process  self published, editorial review, peer review 

Audience  popular, professional, scholarly 

Source Examples & Typical Characteristics

Ms. Magazine

Popular Magazines

Tone:   Casual and accessible
Purpose:    Inform, entertain
Form:    Attractive, digital, print
Authors:    Staff writers or journalists
Review:    Approval by editor
Audience:   Broad general audience
Content:   News, opinion, short articles

Cover Art of Oxford Handbook

Academic Books

Tone:   Formal, may be specialized
Purpose:    Inform
Form:    Digital, print
Authors:    Scholars or specialists
Review:    Approval by editor
Audience:   Academic
Content:   Background, overview, analysis

Cover Art: Women's Studies

Academic Journals

Tone:   Formal and specialized
Purpose:    Inform, argue
Form:    Digital or print
Authors:    Scholars
Review:    Peer review
Audience:   Academic
Content:   Research, analysis, 10+pages 





Dance Teacher Magazine

Trade Magazines

Tone:   Understandable within profession
Purpose:    Inform 
Form:    Digital or print
Authors:    Staff writers or specialists
Review:    Editor; professional associations
Audience:   Targeted practitioners
Content:   Reviews, trends, case studies

government publication

Government information

Tone:   Formal
Purpose:    News, Inform
Form:    Digital or print
Authors:    Varies
Review:    Approval by editor
Audience:   Politicians, citizens
Content:   Policy, analysis, legislation


Screenshot of New York times


Tone:   Casual and accessible
Purpose:    Inform, entertain
Form:    Digital, print 
Authors:    Staff writers or journalists
Review:    Approval by editor
Audience:   Broad general audience
Content:   Current, brief, news, events


Consider the Information LifeCycle

The information life cycle describes the circulation of information and media coverage following a newsworthy event. Considering the time needed to create and distribute information formats can help you determine what information you are likely to find about your topic.

See the example timeline of coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

The Day of an Event: Social Media 

  • Tone: casual and informal  
  • Authors: anyone, public 
  • Review: typically none 
  • Audience: general audience
  • Content: varies widely; witness accounts, opinion, breaking developments

The Day After an Event: News papers and media

  • Tone: formal descriptive reports of event
  • Authors: tend to be broadcasters and journalists
  • Review: editorial review
  • Audience: public 
  • Content: more robust coverage, photos, facts, quotes 

The Week or Weeks After an Event: Weekly Popular Magazines and New Magazines

  • Tone: formal description or editorial coverage
  • Authors: may be specialists, scholars, essayists, and journalists 
  • Review: editorial review and fact checking typically
  • Audience: public
  • Content: may include interviews and analysis

Six Months to a Year or More After an Event: Academic, Scholarly Journals

  • Tone: formal  
  • Authors: scholars and researchers
  • Review: peer review process
  • Audience: practitioners, scholars, students
  • Content: analysis, evaluation, theoretical, empirical research

Learn more about scholarly literature

A Year to Years After an Event: Scholarly Books 

  • Tone: varies
  • Authors: scholars, researchers, practitioners; may include multiple authors  
  • Review: editorial review or peer review
  • Audience: public to academic audiences
  • Content: synthesis and overview of event or broader theme

A Year to Years After an Event: Government Reports

  • Tone: formal
  • Authors: federal, state, local governments; governmental panels, organizations, and committees
  • Audience: varies; policy makers, politicians, citizens
  • Content: often focused on public policy, legislation, and statistical analysis

 Mountains by Alice Noir from the Noun Project 

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