# 11.1: How do I Research for my Speech?


Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, the student will be able to:

• Explain the difference between primary and secondary sources;
• Understand basic library research;
• Distinguish between reliable and unreliable information on the Internet;
• Access and find reliable information on the Internet;
• Construct a short survey usable for analyzing an audience;
• Conduct short interviews for information for speeches;
• Recognize information that should be cited;

We live in an age where access to information is more convenient than ever before. The days of photocopying journal articles in the stacks of the library or looking up newspaper articles on microfilm are over for most. Yet, even though we have all this information at our fingertips, research skills are more important than ever. Our challenge now is not accessing information but discerning what information is credible and relevant. Even though it may sound inconvenient to have to physically go to the library, students who researched the digital revolution did not have to worry as much about discerning. If you found a source in the library, you could be assured of its credibility because a librarian had subscribed to or purchased that content. When you use Internet resources like Google or Wikipedia, you have no guarantees about some of the content that comes up.

## The Research Process

As we noted in the "Getting Started" chapter, it’s good to speak or choose a topic with which you are already familiar. So existing knowledge forms the first step of your research process. Depending on how familiar you are with a topic, you will need to do more or less background research before you actually start incorporating sources to support your speech. Background research is just a review of summaries available for your topic that helps refresh or create your knowledge about the subject. It is not the more focused and academic research that you will actually use to support and verbally cite in your speech. Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$ illustrates the research process. Note that you may go through some of these steps more than once.

Doing research involves more than finding a few books or articles on a topic; a researcher’s job is to find useful, relevant, and reliable information, which can be challenging. This chapter will help by providing an introduction to research terminology and the research process.

### Primary and Secondary Sources

You may hear sources described as either “primary” or “secondary,” and understanding this distinction can help you assess what types of information are useful for your various needs.

A primary source is original and first-hand. This has different meanings depending on the context but generally refers to the product of someone’s original work, such as the results of a scientist’s study, or an author’s novel. You may access published primary sources in introductory college courses like this one, and you will definitely do so as you progress in your discipline. Keep in mind that primary sources are generally factual rather than analysis or interpretation, although not in all cases.

In your research, you more frequently use secondary sources, which are articles, books, and websites that involve analysis or interpretation of primary sources. While a scientific study would be a primary source, a magazine article about the findings of that study would be considered a secondary source.

Whether you use a primary or a secondary source depends on our purpose, topic, audience, and context. If you engage in undergraduate research in your junior or senior year and present at a conference, you will be expected to have some primary research. However, for most of your college work, you will be looking for reliable secondary sources. One way to assess the quality of a secondary source is to look at its references or bibliography. A reliable source will cite other sources to support its claims. Likewise, a well-researched speech will provide support for its argument by using evidence obtained from reliable sources.

Most researchers begin their work by evaluating the current information that exists on their topic. They may look at a combination of primary and secondary sources during this process. Their goal is to find out what is currently known about a topic and where the research may be headed. Students completing a research-based assignment will begin much the same way.

## Accessing Information Through a Library

The library plays an important role for researchers because materials in libraries have been selected for the information needs of their users. College and university libraries provide resources to support the academic programs of study at their institutions.

### Searching Databases

You’re already familiar with using search engines (like Google), but did you know that these tools only give you access to information that companies and people have shared for free? The content freely available online only represents a fraction of that which actually exists.

A lot of the information that isn’t free is protected by paywalls. You may have tried to read an article online, but weren’t able to see the full text because you were asked to pay. This can be frustrating when the content is useful for research! Fortunately, you have access to online databases through your library.

Library databases are available 24/7 and provide users with access to the full text of eBooks and articles from periodicals, works that are published on a regular, ongoing basis, such as newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and books from around the world. The content in library databases is available because libraries have paid to subscribe to the publications they offer. For the library user, this information is free—but you will have to search the library’s databases to access it. you can also use electronic resources such as library databases. Of course, libraries also house stores of physical resources like DVDs, books, academic journals, newspapers, and popular magazines.

Note that if you are trying to use library databases remotely (not via a wired connection to the library’s actual network), such as from home or on a business’s free Wi-Fi network, you will probably be asked to log in to verify y that you are an authorized user of the library’s materials. Because the library has paid to access these subscription resources, they protect access by asking users to verify their status. Your library can help if you aren’t sure how to log in or experience difficulty when trying to do so.

While databases index newspapers and popular magazines, college-level researchers especially benefit from their inclusion of articles published in academic journals. Almost all content in academic journals is peer-reviewed. The authors of journal articles are experts in their subject areas, and after having conducted research on their topic, write up the results in an article that they submit for publication to a scholarly journal (a periodical whose target audience is other experts in that disciplinary field).

Before the editor approves the publication of an article in their journal, they send it to other scholars who are experts in the subject area. The other scholars, peers of the original author, then read the articles and evaluate them according to the standards of that discipline. Only after an article has passed the peer review process can it be published in the academic journal.

Something you may have wondered is whether the terms “scholarly,” “peer-reviewed,” and “academic” have different meanings when used to describe articles or the journals in which they are published. The answer is no. These terms are used interchangeably.

Historically, academic journals were primarily available in print, but today most readers access them online. When looking at a search results page, it can be challenging to figure out which articles are from popular magazines and which are from scholarly journals. Fortunately, most databases have a filter that lets you limit your results by publication type. As you continue to use the search function in databases, you will notice that it’s possible to put additional controls on the displayed results, allowing you to sort and refine.

Filtering your results is just one way to ensure that you find the information you need. Another option is to modify your search technique. The easiest way to do this is to put search phrases in quotation marks. If you’re looking for information about attention deficit disorder, using “attention deficit disorder” ensures that the three words stay together in the order in which you have typed them. This can be very helpful to optimize the relevance of your search results. Without quotation marks, the database will look for the words attention, deficit, and disorder. You can also combine search terms using Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT), try changing the search parameters, using truncation (to find similar words with the same root; typing medica* will give you results including medical, medically, medication, medications, etc.), or searching with subject headings. An example of a search using some advanced techniques is shown in Figure $$\PageIndex{3}$$. Figure $$\PageIndex{4}$$ clarifies how different disciplines may categorize primary vs. secondary sources.

### Other Library Services and Resources

A library’s online search tools allow you to search their extensive holdings. Know that you can (and should) ask for help if you have problems or questions. Remember that librarians are research experts and can help you to find information, select a topic, refine your search, cite your sources, and much more!

Did you know?

Many libraries offer resource-sharing services, which allow you to borrow items your library does not have available. The delivery can take a few days, so be sure to order items at least a week before you need them!

## Research on the Internet

Many of the techniques you use to improve your library searches can help you online too. Keeping phrases together with quotation marks works on many sites, and you can use the minus sign (-) to filter out search terms you’d prefer not to be included. Date range filters and other limiters are available too, helping you narrow your search down even further.

Finding information online is relatively simple, so the challenge researchers face is determining what information is useful and whether it’s credible. A quick assessment is easy, and here are a few questions to guide you:

• Is the information current relative to your needs? Information in a rapidly-changing field like science or medicine can quickly become outdated. Even social science research is time-sensitive. Laws and demographics can change quickly, and you’ll want to be sure the information you’re using is up-to-date.
• Does the information address your topic? You may not find any single source that directly addresses all facets of your approach to a topic. You can, however, use information from multiple sources to support different parts of your work.
• Who is the source of information? The advice of an expert in a subject may be more valuable than the opinion of a layperson or an unqualified source. On the other hand, a salesperson may know a lot about their product, but their perspective is informed by their goal of making a sale. With this in mind, you may ask yourself why was this information created?

The trustworthiness of information you find on the Internet can be harder yet to discern. While a source may have a current date listed, seem to offer relevant information, and claim to be an expert, it’s important to go beyond the information they give about themselves and verify that you can believe that they are honestly representing themselves and the information they offer.

Some advice on how to effectively evaluate online information is offered by Washington State University Professor Michael Caulfield, who suggests doing the following:

• Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research. Dubious claims can quickly be debunked with a Google search. Some websites that are dedicated to fact-checking include FactCheck.org, Politifact, and Snopes. The first two are focused on political claims, while the third addresses stories from various sources.
• Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the source to understand the trustworthiness of the information. You can achieve this by identifying where the information originated. If an article is describing a scientific study, tracking down the original study may reveal that its significant findings weren’t accurately represented.
• Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network. While some sources may claim to be experts in their subject areas, it may turn out that other experts in the field consider that source questionable.
• Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions. If you feel that you are overwhelmed by the amount of information, or can’t tell if sources are actually still relevant to your topic, it might be time to start over or seek assistance.

There are many “tests” or “sets of criteria” that you can find in textbooks and on websites for deciding if a website is reliable. Words and concepts such as currency, authority, accessing only certain domain names (.org or .edu as opposed to .com), and inclusion of a bibliography or references section are common. Another is writing style: does the writing style show bias (such as the use of name-calling or loaded language) or poor grammar and editing? These are all good signs that your site may have an agenda beyond the fair presentation of facts. However, your site may seem to pass muster at first sight but not really provide what you need. That is why we have included the advice from Dr. Caulfield here. For more information on this topic, check out:

https://hapgood.us/2017/03/04/how-news-literacy-gets-the-web-wrong/

https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Teach-Information/243973

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3048994

### Wikipedia

One common source that many students have questions about using is Wikipedia. Most of us use Wikipedia or similar sites to look up the answers to pressing questions such as “Was Val Kilmer in the film Willow?” or “When is the next solar eclipse?” However, it is unlikely that your instructor will be satisfied with your using evidence from Wikipedia (or other Wiki-type sites).

Wikipedia revolutionized how many people retrieve information and pioneered an open-publishing format that allowed a community of people to post, edit, and debate content. While this is an important contribution to society, Wikipedia is not considered a scholarly or credible source. Like other encyclopedias, Wikipedia should not be used in college-level research, because it is not a primary source. In addition, since its content can be posted and edited by anyone, we cannot be sure of the credibility of the content. There is no guarantee that what you read will be up-to-date or correct. Sometimes Wikipedia pages display inaccurate information, including hoax articles or prank edits. Even though there are self-appointed “experts” who monitor and edit some of the information on Wikipedia, we cannot verify their credentials or the review process that information goes through before it’s posted.

When it comes down to it, Wikipedia is a good place to go to obtain basic information, general knowledge, personal research, developing news stories, or trivia about your subject. You should access the primary source, footnote citation references at the bottom of the page (if there are any) to look for information elsewhere. But saying to an audience, “my source for the information in this speech is Wikipedia” will probably do little to convince your audience that you are knowledgeable and have done adequate research for the speech.

## Types of Sources

Keeping in mind the considerations discussed in this section will help you select online sources for use in your work. They will also help you as you navigate the breadth of information on and offline in your daily life. We have already discussed most of these as available through your library database, but let's look specifically at these different types of sources that may be relevant for your speech topic. These include periodicals, newspapers, books, reference tools, interviews, and websites. You must know how to evaluate the credibility of each type of source material.

### Periodicals

Periodicals include magazines and journals, as they are published periodically. Many library databases can access periodicals from around the world and from years past. A common database is Academic Search Premier (a similar version is Academic Search Complete). Many databases, like this one, allow you to narrow your search terms, which can be very helpful as you try to find good sources that are relevant to your topic.

Within your search results, you will need to distinguish between magazines and academic journals. In general, academic journals are considered more scholarly and credible than magazines because most of the content in them is peer-reviewed. The peer-review process is the most rigorous form of review, which takes several months to years and ensures that the information that is published has been vetted and approved by numerous experts on the subject. Academic journals are usually affiliated with professional organizations rather than for-profit corporations, and neither authors nor editors are paid for their contributions. For example, the Quarterly Journal of Speech is one of the oldest journals in communication studies and is published by the National Communication Association.

As mentioned earlier, most databases have a filter that lets you limit your results to “peer-reviewed.” There are also subject-specific databases you can use to find periodicals. For example, Communication and Mass Media Complete is a database that includes articles from hundreds of journals related to communication studies. It may be acceptable for you to include magazine sources in your speech, but you should still consider the credibility of the source. Magazines like Scientific American and Time are generally more credible and reliable than sources like People or Entertainment Weekly.

### Newspapers and Books

Newspapers and books can be excellent sources but must still be evaluated for relevance and credibility. Newspapers are good for topics that are developing quickly, as they are updated daily. While there are well-known newspapers of record like the New York Times, smaller local papers can also be credible and relevant if your speech topic doesn’t have national or international reach. You can access local, national, and international newspapers through electronic databases like LexisNexis. If a search result comes up that doesn’t have a byline with an author’s name or an organization like the Associated Press or Reuters cited, then it might be an editorial. Editorials may also have bylines, which make them look like traditional newspaper articles even though they are opinion-based. It is important to distinguish between news articles and editorials because editorials are usually not objective and do not go through the same review process that a news story does before it’s published. It’s also important to know the background of your paper. Some newspapers are more tabloid-focused or may be published by a specific interest group that has an agenda and biases. So it’s usually better to go with a newspaper that is recognized as the newspaper of record for a particular area.

Books are good for a variety of subjects and are useful for in-depth research that you can’t get as regularly from newspapers or magazines. Edited books with multiple chapters by different authors can be especially good to get a variety of perspectives on a topic.

To evaluate the credibility of a book, you’ll want to know some things about the author. You can usually find this information at the front or back of the book. If an author is a credentialed and recognized expert in his or her area, the book will be more credible. But just because someone wrote a book on a subject doesn’t mean he or she is the most credible source. For example, a quick search online brings up many books related to public speaking that are written by people who have no formal training in communication or speech. While they may have the public speaking experience that can help them get a book deal with a certain publisher, that alone wouldn’t qualify them to write a textbook, as textbook authors are expected to be credentialed experts—that is, people with experience and advanced training/degrees in their area. The publisher of a book can also be an indicator of credibility. Books published by university/academic presses (University of Chicago Press, Duke University Press) are considered more credible than books published by trade presses (Penguin, Random House) because they are often peer-reviewed and they are not primarily profit-driven.

### Reference Tools

Unfortunately, many college students are reluctant to give up their reliance on reference tools like dictionaries and encyclopedias. While reference tools like dictionaries and encyclopedias are excellent for providing a speaker with a background on a topic, they should not be the foundation of your research unless they are academic and/or specialized.

Dictionaries are handy tools when we aren’t familiar with a particular word. However, citing a dictionary like Webster’s as a source in your speech is often unnecessary. Webster’s Dictionary is only useful when you need to do something in passing, like challenge a Scrabble word, but it isn’t the best source for college-level research. You will inevitably come upon a word that you don’t know while doing research. Most good authors define the terms they use within the content of their writing. In that case, it’s better to use the author’s definition than a dictionary definition. Also, citing a dictionary doesn’t show deep research skills; it only shows an understanding of alphabetical order. So ideally you would quote or paraphrase the author’s definition rather than turning to a general dictionary like Webster’s. If you must turn to a dictionary, you should look for an academic dictionary like The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is the most comprehensive dictionary in the English language, with more than twenty volumes. You can’t access the OED for free online, but most libraries pay for a subscription that you can access as a student or patron. While the OED is an academic dictionary, it is not specialized, and you may need a specialized dictionary when dealing with very specific or technical terms. The Dictionary of Business and Economics is an example of an academic and specialized dictionary.

Many students have relied on encyclopedias for research in high school, but most encyclopedias, like World Book, Encarta, or Britannica, are not primary sources. Instead, they are examples of secondary sources that aggregate, or compile, research done by others in a condensed summary. As noted earlier, reference sources like encyclopedias are excellent resources to get you informed about the basics of a topic, but at the college level, primary sources are expected. Many encyclopedias are Internet-based, which makes them convenient, but they are still not primary sources, and their credibility should be even more scrutinized. As with dictionaries, there are some encyclopedias that are better suited for college research. The Encyclopedia of Black America and the Encyclopedia of Disaster Relief are examples of specialized academic reference sources that will often include, in each entry, an author’s name and credentials and more primary source information.

### Websites

Most well-known organizations have official websites where they publish information related to their mission. If you know there is an organization related to your topic, you may want to see if they have an official website. It is almost always better to get information from an official website because it is then more likely to be considered primary source information. However, keep in mind that organizations may have a bias or a political agenda that affects the information they put out. If you do get information from an official website, make sure to include that in your verbal citation to help establish your credibility. Official reports are also often best found on websites, as they rarely appear in their full form in periodicals, books, or newspapers. Government agencies, nonprofits, and other public service organizations often compose detailed and credible reports on a wide variety of topics.

As we mentioned earlier, you must evaluate the credibility of a website by determining the site’s accountability. By accountability, we mean determining who is ultimately responsible for the content put out and whose interests the content meets. The more information that is included on a website, the better able you will be to determine its accountability. Ideally, all or most of the following information would be included: organization/agency name, author’s name and contact information, the date the information was posted or published, name and contact information for the person in charge of web content (i.e., web editor or webmaster), and a link to information about the organization/agency/business mission. While all this information doesn’t have to be present to warrant the use of the material, the less accountable information is available, the more you should scrutinize the information. You can also begin to judge the credibility of a website by its domain name. Some common domain names are .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, and .gov. For each type of domain, there are questions you may ask that will help you evaluate the site’s credibility. You can see a summary of these questions in Figure $$\PageIndex{10}$$: “Website Domain Names and Credibility”. Note that some domain names are marked as “restricted” and others aren’t. When a domain is restricted, .mil for example, a person or group wanting to register that domain name has to prove that their content is appropriate for the guidelines of the domain name. Essentially, this limits access to the information published on those domain names, which increases the overall credibility.

Up to this point, we have discussed finding sources (both primary and secondary) that have been published. It is also possible for you to use some truly firsthand information in your speeches by conducting your own primary research.

### Surveys

One type of primary research you can use is surveys. Your instructor may ask you to construct a short survey, or questions used to learn something about your audience before the speech. A survey can be helpful if the questions are well-written and if the survey is not too long.

For the most part, a survey should use objective questions. That means questions with a few predetermined answers for the survey-takers to choose from, such as multiple-choice, true-false, I agree/Neutral/I disagree, or yes-no. If the researcher wants to construct a multiple-choice question, he or she must try to provide all the reasonable options.

For example, if a student wanted to give a speech about why consumers should not buy gas with ethanol and used this question:

The survey writer left out the option of "diesel" and failed to account for students who don’t own or drive a car, who are unsure what grade of gasoline they buy, or who buy more than one grade of gasoline.

Another misstep to avoid is asking open-ended questions. If you wanted to know what grocery store in the area your audience patronized, this question would not be ideal:

At which grocery store does your family shop?

_______________________

This alternate version would be more useful and easy to interpret:

At which of these grocery stores does your family shop?

• Food City
• Target
• Publix
• Kroger
• Save-a-Lot
• Walmart
• Shoprite
• Other: ______________________

Allowing the people taking your survey to select more than one of the responses is best since few people shop at just one store. Or you could phrase the question, “At which of these grocery stores does your family spend most of its money?” There would only be one answer in that case, and it would tell you more specific information.

The criteria for what constitutes a “short” survey are fluid, but five questions would probably be enough to let you know what you need. A survey taker might become tired of answering a long list of questions. Other things to keep in mind when writing questions are to avoid using too vague or too personal questions, because respondents may not know how or may not want to answer. Furthermore, to get honest responses, it helps to write questions in an unbiased way. “Do you favor raising the minimum wage in our state to $15.00 per hour?” is more balanced than “Do you believe that business owners in our state should be required to treat their employees better by having to raise their minimum wage to a more reasonable and fair$15.00 per hour?” You also would not want to insult your survey takers with questions such as “Do you agree that all math majors are antisocial?”

Finally, you will administer the survey. There are many free online tools for surveys; two popular options are Survey Monkey and Google Forms. These are easy to use and helpful for short surveys (you might need to pay a fee for longer surveys or send surveys to many people). You can also conduct surveys in person, but that takes longer and would not be anonymous, meaning people may be less likely to answer honestly. Finally, your instructor may ask you to make paper copies and pass them around the class.

You can use a variety of means to conduct surveys. Using surveys is valuable because knowing your audience’s level of knowledge and their attitudes about your topic ahead of time can help create an audience-centered speech.

### Interviews

Once you have identified a good interviewee, you will want to begin researching and preparing your questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” and can provide descriptions and details that will add to your speech. Quotes and paraphrases from your interview can add a personal side to a topic or at least convey potentially complicated information in a more conversational and interpersonal way.

Closed questions can be answered with one or two words and can provide a starting point to get to more detailed information if the interviewer has prepared follow-up questions. Unless the guidelines or occasion for your speech suggest otherwise, you should balance your interview data with the other sources in your speech. Don’t let your references to the interview take over your speech.

#### Tips for Conducting Interviews

1. Do preliminary research to answer basic questions. Many people and organizations have information available publicly. Don’t waste interview time asking questions like “What year did your organization start?” when you can find that on the website.
2. Plan questions ahead of time. Even if you know the person, treat it as a formal interview so you can be efficient.
3. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with only a yes or no. Questions that begin with how and why are generally more open-ended than doing and did questions. Make sure you have follow-up questions ready.
4. Use the interview to ask for the personal side of an issue that you may not be able to find in other resources. Personal narratives about experiences can resonate with an audience.
5. Make sure you are prepared. If interviewing in person, have paper, pens, and a recording device if you’re using one. Test your recording device ahead of time. If interviewing over the phone, make sure you have good service so you don’t drop the call and that you have enough battery power on your phone. When interviewing on the phone or via video chat, make sure distractions (e.g., barking dogs) are minimized.
6. Whether the interview is conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or via video (e.g., Skype), you must get permission to record. Recording can be useful, as it increases accuracy and the level of detail taken away from the interview. Most smartphones have free apps now that allow you to record face-to-face or phone conversations.
7. Whether you record or not, take written notes during the interview. Aside from writing the interviewee’s responses, you can also take note of follow-up questions that come to mind or notes on the nonverbal communication of the interviewee.
8. Mention ahead of time if you think you’ll have follow-up questions, so the interviewee can expect further contact.
9. Reflect and expand on your notes soon after the interview. It’s impossible to transcribe everything during the interview, but you will remember much of what you didn’t have time to write down and can add it in.
10. Follow up with a thank-you note. People are busy, and thanking them for their time and the information they provided will be appreciated.

Definition: Word

• Library resources like databases and reference librarians are more suitable for college-level research than general search engines.
• Primary sources are always preferred over secondary sources
• The credibility of your sources should be evaluated.

Exercises

1. Getting integrated: Identify some ways that research skills are helpful in each of the following contexts: academic, professional, personal, and civic.
2. Go to the library webpage for your school. What are some resources that will be helpful for your research? Identify at least two library databases and at least one reference librarian. If you need help with research, what resources are available?
3. What are some websites that you think are credible for doing college-level research? Why? What are some websites that are not credible? Why?

11.1: How do I Research for my Speech? is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.