The information cycle is the life a work takes on after it is published. Upon publication, the creative process leading to the creation of the primarysource – the novel or poem or literary work itself – is complete, but its life in the cultural sphere into which it is introduced is just beginning. Knowing the basic trajectory of a work’s reception will help you understand the context and evaluate the quality of the secondary sources. For literature, secondary sources are all the other things that get written about the primary source. This includes reviews, commentary, literary criticism (which may come in the form of scholarly journal articles, books, book chapters, or a scholar’s website), reference works, and more.
When first learning about a topic you can start and move to any point in the research cycle depending on the type of information you need.