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CS507 - Information Systems - Lecture Handout 01

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Defining Needs

Decisions are required to be taken in day to day life. No single task in our life can be done without decision making. For every assignment we undertake, there has to be a process of making choices. Whenever we are faced with choices, there is an inevitable need of selecting one particular course of action. Any task can be done in various ways, but doing it simultaneously through all possible alternatives is virtually impossible. This necessitates making a reasonable choice from all the options available.
An example can be taken for a person who wants to go to Islamabad. He can look at following options.

  • Use any of the local bus service available
  • Go by train
  • Travel by air

As you can see, the decision to be made in this situation is faced with the availability of a set of combination of alternatives.

  • Every decision we take in daily life requires some sort of information about the alternatives available. For instance, in the above example certain factors need to be considered before taking a decision.
    • How urgent it is to reach to Islamabad
    • How much time is available to accommodate travelling, since each mode of travelling will take different time to reach at the same destination?
    • Whether bookings are available for the desired day and time.
    • Is there any possibility of cancellation of booking or flight or bus service.
    • Which bus service or airline to chose from, since various airlines and bus services are having travelling facilities to Islamabad.
  • Without the availability of relevant information, we may take a decision which is wrong or not to our benefit. For instance if the person does not have complete knowledge of facts he might not be able to take the right decision.
  • Similar is the case with business. Businesses are run by organizations which are in-fact a group of people.
    As individuals have choices to choose from, organizations also face various alternatives in day to day operations, Decisions are made by individuals from the management.

Need for information

Information is required in day to day decision making. Without the availability of right quantity of information at the right time, the process of decision making is highly affected. For this reason various sources of information are used to extract information. Some of these are:

  • Newspapers
  • Internet
  • Marketing Brochures
  • Friends & Relatives

Sources of Information

Sources of information are generally categorized as primary, secondary or tertiary depending on their originality and their proximity to the source or origin. For example, initially, findings might be communicated informally by email and then presented at meetings before being formally published as a primary source. Once published, they will then be indexed in a bibliographic database, and repackaged and commented upon by others in secondary sources.

The designations of primary, secondary and tertiary differ between disciplines or subjects, particularly between what can generally be defined as the sciences and the humanities. For example,

  • The historian’s primary sources are the poems, stories, and films of the era under study.
  • The research scientist's primary sources are the results of laboratory tests and the medical records of patients treated with the drug.

Written information can be divided into several types.

  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tertiary Sources

Primary Sources

Some definitions of primary sources:

  1. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based
  2. They are usually the first formal appearance of results in the print or electronic literature (for example, the first publication of the results of scientific investigations is a primary source.)
  3. They present information in its original form, neither interpreted nor condensed nor evaluated by other writers.
  4. They are from the time period (for example, something written close to when the event actually occurred.
  5. Primary sources present original thinking and report on discoveries or share new information.

Some examples of primary sources:

  1. Scientific journal articles reporting experimental research results
  2. Proceedings of Meetings, Conferences.
  3. Technical reports
  4. Dissertations or theses (may also be secondary)
  5. Patents
  6. Sets of data, such as census statistics
  7. Works of literature (such as poems and fiction)
  8. Diaries
  9. Autobiographies
  10. Interviews, surveys and fieldwork
  11. Letters and correspondence
  12. Speeches
  13. Newspaper articles (may also be secondary)
  14. Government documents
  15. Photographs and works of art
  16. Original documents (such as birth certificate or trial transcripts)
  17. Internet communications on email, and newsgroups

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are less easily defined than primary sources. What some define as a secondary source, others define as a tertiary source. Nor is it always easy to distinguish primary from secondary sources.
For example,

  • A newspaper article is a primary source if it reports events, but a secondary source if it analyses and comments on those events.
  • In science, secondary sources are those which simplify the process of finding and evaluating the primary literature. They tend to be works which repackage, reorganize, reinterpret, summarize, index or otherwise "add value" to the new information reported in the primary literature.

Some Definitions of Secondary Sources:

  1. Describe, interpret, analyze and evaluate the primary sources
  2. Comment on and discuss the evidence provided by primary sources
  3. Are works which are written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight?

Some examples of secondary sources:

  1. bibliographies (may also be tertiary)
  2. biographical works
  3. commentaries
  4. dictionaries and encyclopedias (may also be tertiary)
  5. dissertations or theses (more usually primary)
  6. handbooks and data compilations (may also be tertiary)
  7. history
  8. indexing and abstracting tools used to locate primary & secondary sources (may also be tertiary)
  9. journal articles, particularly in disciplines other than science (may also be primary)
  10. newspaper and popular magazine articles (may also be primary)
  11. review articles and literature reviews
  12. textbooks (may also be tertiary)

Tertiary Sources

This is the most problematic category of all.
Some Definitions of Tertiary Sources:

  1. Works which list primary and secondary resources in a specific subject area
  2. Materials in which the information from secondary sources has been "digested" - reformatted and condensed, to put it into a convenient, easy-to-read form.
  3. Sources which are once removed in time from secondary sources

Some examples of tertiary sources:

  1. Almanacs and fact books
  2. Bibliographies (may also be secondary)
  3. Chronologies
  4. Dictionaries and encyclopedias (may also be secondary)
  5. Directories
  6. Guidebooks, manuals etc
  7. Handbooks and data compilations (may also be secondary)
  8. Indexing and abstracting tools used to locate primary & secondary sources (may also be secondary)
  9. Textbooks (may also be secondary)

Changing Needs

When needs change, requirements for information change. Information needs of users are changing as a result of changes in the availability of information content in electronic form. Changing needs of the users determine the nature of the physical form in which information content is currently being made available for users’ access and use in electronic information environments.
Information needs:

  • Each user has a different type of information need depending on what he's trying to find and why he's trying to find it. If we can determine the most common information needs a site's users have, we can select the few best architectural components to address those information needs.
  • For example, if a user is designing a staff directory, we can assume that most users are searching for items they already have information about. The user already knows exactly what he's looking for, he has the terms necessary to articulate that need, and he knows that the staff directory exists and that it's the right place to look. This type of information need would be best served by employing a search system. So resources should be invested in developing and maintaining a comprehensive search system.
  • Another example: the site's users are often new or infrequent visitors. And perhaps the site's content scope is changing frequently. So the information architecture probably should be very good at supporting orientation. If that's the case, invest in a table of contents or some other IA component that's effective at orienting users and communicating what content is contained in the site.