How important is it that you have the most recent and up-to-date information on your topic?

In the science, technology, engineering and medicine fields,¬†it’s usually very important that your information sources be the most current that are available. These fields grow very quickly, and each addition to the body of knowledge can change everything that was previously known. State-of-the-art technologies and techniques become obsolete in a matter of months or years. Scientific discoveries resolve old controversies, start up new ones or change the way people think about a field of study (this is called a paradigm shift).

In the social sciences and humanities, the pace is a little slower. Even so, new facts and ideas emerge, debates are resolved and re-ignited and there is still the occasional paradigm shift. For example, think about how books on family structures in America, written in different decades, would discuss gay adoption. In only three decades, there have been major changes in law, scientific understanding, popular beliefs and common practice. You will need to make sure that your information sources are recent enough to take these shifts into account.

  • Look at the publication date of your information source.
  • Look at the publication dates of the sources it cites.

It’s a good idea to do background research as you read. For example, when an unfamiliar scholar’s name or buzzword is mentioned in your information source, look it up in a reference source and try to ascertain its relationship to current theory and practice in that area of study.

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a brief course in information literacy