How is information categorized?

Information helps us navigate through life. As shown in the previous activity, gathering information about a place we’ve never visited helps us have an idea of what will happen once we get there. The Internet has ushered in the Information Age, which means that abundant information is now within reach. Like our ancestors from the Stone Age who slowly mastered their surroundings to pave the way for the Bronze Age, we must learn to work with the information made available to us and, in our own unique ways, help usher in a better world. How, then, can we interact with the information made available to us? What are the ways that we can use in order to evaluate them? In this lesson, you will learn how to classify information based on type, provider, and source.

Types of Information

1. Scholarly.

Scholarly information is information drawn from the research of field experts. The Central Connecticut State Universities advise that when learning about a topic, one must rely most on scholarly sources because they are created by experts whose works have been peer-reviewed before being made public. 

An expert is someone whose credentials are recognized by the practitioners, teachers, and students of a particular field. Peer-review is a process where one’s findings/research is evaluated by fellow experts. Scholarly sources must be peer-reviewed before they can be published. References and citations are indicated so that everything can be verified.

2. Professional/ Trade.

Professional or trade information includes current news and trends about a specific industry presented to experts and enthusiasts by someone with knowledge in the field. Professional or trade journals do not have to be peer-reviewed to be published but they are exposed to a higher level of scrutiny from people with knowledge in that field.

3. Entertainment/ Popular.

Popular information is information meant for the general population. A journalist, staff writer, or content producer may use some entertaining hooks in order to catch attention or to be easily understood. It is derived from or a discussion of other people’s work.

4. Opinion.

An opinion is a viewpoint, judgment, or statement that is not conclusive. Opinions on a specific matter will vary from person to person and will not be thoroughly resolved. However, in instances when the best—if not the only—answer must be found, it is wise to choose among informed and sound opinions. An intelligent opinion is an argument for a conclusion based on an analysis of verifiable facts and reliable information. Two people may come up with opposing conclusions based on the same verifiable facts and information, but the disagreement may be sufficiently resolved when new facts or arguments are presented. Medical, legal, and judicial opinions are some of the examples in this category.

Providers of Information

1. Academic Institutions.

Academic institutions are schools, colleges, and universities that confer academic degrees. They are dedicated to education and research. Students and faculty members of academic institutions continually seek knowledge for themselves and for their community. The wealth of information they hold can be harnessed from their classrooms, libraries, research and training centers, museums and performance halls, publications, and websites.

Private academic institutions are funded primarily through tuition fees and private donations (e.g. Ateneo, UST). State universities are public academic institutions largely supported by the government (e.g. UP, PUP). Academic institutions also source funding from local and international organizations and benefactors.

2. Government Agencies.

A government agency is an organization under the government which is responsible for the administration of a specific function. Examples are PAGASA, which informs us about the weather, and PHIVOLCS, which monitors volcanoes and earthquake faults. There is even a government agency specifically tasked to keep Filipinos informed about the government (PIA or Philippine Information Agency). Taxes we pay help fund these government agencies. 

Various permanent and non-permanent government agencies employ experts in a specific field. Some positions in the government may require passing the Civil Service Exam. Some go through an appointment process, while some must be elected. Government agencies gather and disseminate information not for profit but to build a well-informed citizenry. In a democratic society, they are accountable to the people.

3. Private Sector.

The private sector includes businesses, organizations, and other players in the economy that are not owned or operated by the government. They provide goods and services for profit. Competition for the consumers’ support pushes them to continually improve the products and information that they provide.

4. Private Individuals.

Considered private individuals are those who do not represent another person, corporation, or group. A private individual must be motivated to tell the truth, to help, and to do the right thing when giving information.

Sources of Information

1. Primary Sources.

Primary sources are, simply put, firsthand accounts. These bring us as close as possible to the event, the subject, the original idea, or the findings of a scientific study. Some examples of primary sources are:

  • Theses & dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Original works of art & literature

2. Secondary Sources.

A secondary source is anything that comments on, analyzes, or tackles a primary source. The information from the primary source is reviewed, organized, or interpreted, often with the help of other secondary sources. Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Critical reviews

3. Tertiary Sources.

Tertiary sources are sources that refer to a primary or secondary source. It gives an overview of the topic, but rarely contains original material. Some examples are:

  • Dictionaries
  • Handbooks
  • Tables
  • Encyclopedias

Below are a few examples to help you understand the distinctions between the three types:

Subject Primary Source Secondary Source Tertiary Source
Traffic App CCTV Feed Waze app Waze User Reviews
Medicine CCTV Feed Documentary on the effects of sin tax law Encyclopedia article on tobacco
Literature Harry Potter Book review Dictionary of wizarding words
History Diary of Martial Law victim Biography film about a family during Martial Law List of missing persons or desaparecidos from the Martial Law period

Attribution and Data Triangulation

Attribution and data triangulation are ways of evaluating information. These are practices that we can adopt from scientific researchers and journalists. Attribution is the identification of the source of information. In this method, questions like “Is the source known?” or “Is the source credible and reputable?” are asked.

Data triangulation is the process of finding two or more sources for the same information. Questions like “Are the sources scholarly, academic, or reputable?”, “How many different quality sources are saying the same thing?”, or “Are the facts verifiable?” are asked.

Journalists and news media build and protect their reputation and credibility by citing as many reliable sources and verifiable facts as possible.

Here are some common codes in journalism that you might encounter when gathering information:

1. On the record.

This is the strongest form of attribution because the identity of the source of information is fully known. This includes anything relevant about how the source obtained the information (e.g. position in an organization, relation to the subject). This allows other journalists or researchers to verify the information directly from the attributed source. 

In a news article or video report, it is typical that only a portion of the source’s statement is presented. Ideally, the entire statement from which that portion was lifted is saved on a verifiable record (e.g. as a video or audio recording). 

According to the Associated Press Standards & Practices, information on the record is pursued whenever possible. They have strict guidelines when dealing with information that is not on the record.

2. On background.

This is when a piece of information is said to be from an “anonymous source.” However, clues about the “source who refuses to be identified,” like position in an organization or relation to the story, may be revealed. This is sometimes called “non-attributable” information. On background information is strengthened when verified through other sources, preferably one or more on record. 

Philippine press freedom laws protect journalists from being compelled by the state to reveal the identity of their sources (R.A. No. 53 as amended by R.A. No. 1447). This upholds the importance of the freedom of the press and news media as the watchdog of the people.

3. Deep background.

This means that the source cannot be identified in any way at all. Whistleblowers who want to reveal wrongdoings often share deep background information for their safety. A good journalist or researcher must verify the information with other sources, especially with someone willing to speak on the record.

4. Off the record.

Off the record means that the information may not be used at all. However, Guy Bergstrom warns that this common term has become confusing and even if off the record information is not published, it may still be passed off as gossip to friends, family, or co-workers. 

To avoid confusion, journalists, researchers and their sources are advised to set ground rules before information that is off the record, non-attributable, on background, or on deep background is sent and received.