Doing Research

Doing Research

Jeremy was concerned. He was scheduled for his first speech in a week, but he hadn’t begun to find information. When he was in high school, he remembered discussing the subject of media violence in a class and he was really taken with the subject. Just a couple of months ago he had read an article in a magazine at the doctor’s office, but he couldn’t remember the issue of the magazine the article was in. He decided he’d better get to the library, but he wasn’t sure how he should proceed to find information.
Jeremy’s experience is not unlike that of many of us. We believe our views on subjects are worth being heard, but we just do not know how to go about explaining or supporting what we want to say.
You will recall that an effective speech plan is a product of five action steps. In this chapter, we consider the second of the five action steps for preparing a speech: Gather and evaluate material for use in the speech. Your search is for high quality information that will meet two functions: (1) support the specific speech goal, and (2) adapt to the audience. Research involves knowing where to look, knowing what to look for and citing what you find.

Where to Look: Traditional and Electronic Sources of Information

Whatever your speech topic, you will want to look at all available sources of information. Effective speakers develop a research strategy that starts by considering their own knowledge and experiences, moves on to potential information from books, relevant periodicals and other specialized sources accessed manually and through electronic databases like InfoTrac College Edition and considers the possibility of information that can be gained through interviews and surveys.

Personal Knowledge Experience and Observation

If you have chosen to speak on a topic you know something about, you are likely to have material that you can use as examples and personal experiences in your speech. For instance, musicians have special knowledge about music and instruments, entrepreneurs about starring up their own businesses and marine biologists about marine reserves. Thus Erin, who is a member of the varsity volleyball team, can draw material from her own experience and experiences of her teammates for her first speech on “How to Spike a Volleyball.”
For many topics, your personal knowledge from experience can be supplemented with careful observation. If, for instance, you are planning to talk about how a small claims court works or how churches help the homeless find shelter and job training, you can learn about each of these by attending small claims sessions or visiting a church’s outreach center. By focusing attention on specific behaviors and taking notes of your observations, you will have a record of specifics that you can use in your speech.

Library Manual and Electronic Research

Much of your best speech material is likely to come from research found in books, relevant periodicals and other specialized sources. These sources can be accessed manually or via electronic databases, which enable information retrieval from computer terminals.
Whereas in the past libraries had a card catalog listing all books and indexes held by the library and periodical catalogs listing magazines and journals in various categories, today books and periodicals are likely to be posted electronically. As a result, in this section we’ll mention hard copy sources, but assume that you will have access to electronic databases.
Since library methods and procedures change frequently due to increased usage of electronic means of research, please heed the following advice when you’re confused: Ask a librarian for help. Within a short period of time, he or she can help you learn about your library’s resources. A librarian can also refer you to one of the many workshops and learning programs that are sponsored by college and university libraries.

Books  Most libraries have transferred records of their book holdings to a computer online catalog system. But whether you are looking in a card catalog or on a computer, books are listed by title, author and subject. Although you may occasionally know the tide or author of a book you want, more often you will be looking for books using a subject label, such as “violence in the mass media.”
In addition to being able to search for author, title and subject, most online catalogs now also include search capabilities that enable you to enter keywords that you are likely to find most useful for your topic searches. Even with this user friendly system, you may find that you need to exercise some creativity in discovering the best” keywords” to use in the search.
For instance, if Jeremy looks for books on the subject “violence in the mass media,” within a few minutes of creative thinking he could come up with several keyword designations that would bring a variety of hits that is, books available. Notice the differences in hits Jeremy found using each of the following keywords:

media violence 95

violence in mass media 57

violence television 88

Under “media violence,” one book listed was Mayhem: Violence as Public Entertainment. Information about this book is shown on the library card. Although some of the information on the card may seem to be irrelevant, you certainly would want to note the location (for instance, the University of Cincinnati has several college libraries and one all university library on campus), the call number and the book’s availability. The other bit of useful information is under “Note,” which tells you that the book includes bibliographical references and an index.
In addition to providing a great deal of useful information, finding a book on your topic often leads you to additional sources. For instance, the library card for Sissela Bok’s book Mayhem shows a bibliography of references including twenty two pages of sources. Jeremy might find several excellent additional sources from the Mayhem bibliography alone.
Although using electronic access is a quick way to find appropriate books, it is not the only way. For instance, if you have the call number for a book, you can go to the section of the library in which books using that general call number are housed (in this case P96 V5 B65) and find other books on that subject in the same place. You can then thumb through them quickly to check their relevance.

Periodicals Magazines and journals that appear at fixed periods are called periodicals. Material from weekly, biweekly and monthly magazines is more current than that which you find in books, so a periodical is likely to be your best source when your topic is “in the news,” when the topic is so limited in scope that it is unlikely to provide enough material for a book or when you are looking for a very specific aspect of a particular topic.
Most libraries no longer keep hard copy volumes of periodical indexes; look for the electronic indexes that your college or university subscribes to. Here are some sources for popular journals such as Time and Newsweek as well as academic journals such as Communication Quarterly and Journal of Psychology.
InfoTrac College Edition, the electronic index available to you by virtue of buying this textbook, gives you access to articles in more than seven hundred popular magazines and academic journals. Moreover, you can use InfoTrac College Edition from home or from your college dormitory if you have Internet access.
If you are accessing the indexes electronically, you begin by typing in the subject heading you are researching. The computer will search the index’s database and bring up citations that are related to your subject. You can then choose to access the individual articles and read or print them off the computer or use the list of citations to locate the original articles in your library’s periodical section. For instance, Rhonda has identified Ecstasy as a topic under the heading of “designer drugs” on her brainstorming list. Rhonda had written her tentative speech goal as, “I want my audience to understand the dangers of the drug Ecstasy.” Working from her computer at home, Rhonda opens up InfoTrac College Edition and types in “ecstasy” and finds fifty two citations including:

The Lure of Ecstasy: The elixer best known for powering raves is an 80 years old illegal drug. Time June 5, 2000 v155 123 p62+ The fight against ecstasy. Maclean’s May 1, 2000 p. 31 Ecstasy is becoming a drug of choice. Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly March 13, 2000 v12 I11 p8.

All three of these are available for downloading. At the University of Cincinnati college library, Rhonda could open the extended InfoTrac University Library index or Periodical Abstracts and find lists that include some of these and some different articles. Become familiar with the online indexes available at your library.
Some articles listed in indexes cannot be downloaded. For these, you will then go to your library’s journal and magazine index to see whether the library has hard copies of the journal articles you want. Then you can manually access those journals.
Now let’s turn to other resources your library is likely to have on its reference shelves.

Encyclopedias Most libraries have a recent edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana or World Book Encyclopedia. An encyclopedia can be a good starting point for research. Encyclopedias give an excellent overview of many subjects, but you certainly should never limit your research to encyclopedias. Your library is likely to have a wide variety of specialized encyclopedias to choose from in areas such as religion, philosophy and science. For instance, your library is likely to have the African American Encyclopedia, Latino Encyclopedia, Asian American Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Computer Science, Encyclopedia of Women and Encyclopedia of Women in American Politics, as well as many more.
Many libraries now have Encyclopedia Britannica online. If so, you will be able to access it just as you did the periodical sources.

Statistical Sources Statistical sources present numerical information on a wide variety of subjects. When you need facts about demography, continents, heads of state, weather or similar subjects, refer to one of the many single volume sources that report such data. Two of the most popular sources in this category are The Statistical Abstract of the United States (now available online), which provides reference material for numerical information and various aspects of American life and The World Almanac and Book of Facts. You will find many other almanacs in the same reference material section where these two sources are housed.

Biographical Sources When you need accounts of a person’s life, from thumbnail sketches to reasonably complete essays, you can turn to one of the many biographical sources available. In addition to full length books and encyclopedia entries, consult such books as Who’s Who in America and International Who’s Who. Your library is also likely to carry Contemporary Black Biography, Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Native American Women. Who’s Who Of American Women, Who’s Who Among Asian Americans and many more.

Books of quotations A good quotation can be especially provocative as well as informative. You are most likely to be familiar with Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which has quotations from historical as well as contemporary figures.
But your library is also likely to have The International Thesaurus of Quotations, Harper Book of American Quotations, My Soul Looks Back, “Less I Forget”: A Collection of Quotations by People of Color, The New Quotable Woman and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Newspapers Newspaper articles are excellent sources of facts about and interpretations of both contemporary and historical issues. At a minimum, your library probably holds both an index of your nearest major daily newspaper and the New York Times Index.
Three electronic newspaper indexes that are most useful if they are available to you are (1) National Newspaper Index, which indexes five major newspapers: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times; (2) News bank, which provides not only the indexes but also the text of articles from more than 450 U.S. and Canadian newspapers; and (3) InfoTrac College Edition’s National Newspaper Index.

United States government publications Some government publications are especially useful for locating primary sources. The Federal Register publishes daily regulations and legal notices issued by the executive branch and all federal agencies. It is divided into sections such as rules and regulations and Sunshine Act meetings. Of special interest are announcements of hearings and investigations, committee meetings and agency decisions and rulings. The Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications covers publications of all branches of the federal government. It has semiannual and annual cumulative indexes by title, author or agency and subject.

The Internet

Whatever your topic, you will want to begin with library sources. More than likely, you will find that plenty of material is available at your library, manually or through electronic indexes and other online databases.
In addition, you may want to access the Internet, an international electronic collection of thousands of smaller networks. The World Wide Web (WWW) is such a network and is used widely in searching for information on a broad range of topics. Today, most students with access to a university library or computer labs or terminals at various locations on campus have access to this vast supply of information. Public libraries also often provide Internet access. This access connects you to databases and bulletin boards, scholarly and professional electronic discussion groups, library holdings at colleges and universities across the United States and abroad and even enables you to take online courses.
If your school or public library does not have access to the Internet and you have your own personal computer (Mac or PC) and a modem, you can purchase access by subscribing to a commercial server such as America Online (AOL), CompuServe or Prodigy. For a fee, they will give you the modem software you need to connect to the Internet. Additionally, you will be charged a monthly access fee. With this subscription, you get features such as an email address, customer support services, up to date news and stock prices, access to countless computer games and the ability to shop for almost anything you can think of online. Some databases have an additional connection charge or are available only to those who subscribe to their particular service.

Tips for Researching

Have a strategy and organize your search. Go first to library resources. Then, if you do not have all that you want or need, conduct research on the Web.
When you type in a keyword for your search, find out which computer symbols help limit and focus your search. For example, if Jeremy is using AltaVista and puts quotation marks around the words “media violence,” he will only get hits in which these two words appear together. If he does not use quotations, he will get hits in which either word appears, which gives him a lot of information that is not useful to his speech.
If you wait until the last minute to finish researching your speech topic and you plan to use the Internet for source material, you may have to wait to get online. Modems connect via telephone lines and many people may be “dialing in” at the same time you are. Rather than hits, you may only get a busy signal. Start early on your research!
Be especially suspicious of online sources that cite information that seems far out of line with what you have gotten elsewhere. There is no research librarian either organizing Internet information or ensuring that it is up to date or even correct. The Internet contains information that is self published and it is up to you to evaluate the information and authorship of the material. Make sure that a source is given and that the material is dated (Courtright & Perse, 1998, p. 261). If a source is not given and the material is not dated, don’t use the material.

Skimming to Determine Source Value

Because you are likely to uncover far more articles and books than you can use, you will want to skim sources to determine whether or not to read them in full. Skimming is a method of rapidly going through a work to determine what is covered and how.
If you are evaluating a magazine article, spend a minute or two finding out whether it really presents information on the exact area of the topic you are exploring and whether it contains any documented statistics, examples or quotable opinions. (We will examine the kind of information to look for in the next section.) If you are evaluating a book, read the table of contents carefully, look at the index and skim pertinent chapters, asking the same questions as you would for a magazine article.
Skimming helps you decide which sources should be read in full, which should be read in part and which should be abandoned. Minutes spent in such evaluation will save hours of reading.
If you are compiling a periodical bibliography on the computer, you will discover that the services your library subscribes to are likely to include short abstracts for each article that comes up on the computer screen. A look at these abstracts will help you determine which sources you want to read in their entirety. Once you have the sources in hand, however, you still need to follow a skimming procedure.


Like media reporters, you may get some excellent information from interviewing, skillfully asking and answering questions. To be effective, select the best person to interview and have a list of good questions to ask.

Selecting the best person Somewhere on campus or in the larger community there are people who have information you can use in your speech. Usually a few telephone calls will lead you to the person who would be best to talk with about your topic. Rhonda, who is speaking on “designer drugs,” may well call the college or university health service and make an appointment with a doctor or nurse to get specific campus related information on such drugs. When you have decided whom you should interview, make an appointment you cannot walk into an office and expect the prospective interviewee to drop everything just to talk to you. Be forthright in your reasons for scheduling the interview. Whether your interview is for a class speech or for a different audience, say so.
Before going to the interview, make sure you have done some research on the topic. Interviewees are more likely to talk with you if you appear informed; moreover, familiarity with the subject will enable you to ask better questions.
Writing good questions The heart of an effective interviewing plan is a list of good questions that are likely to be a mix of open and closed primary or follow up questions that are phrased to be neutral rather than leading.
Recall from our discussion of questions, open questions are broad based questions that ask the interviewee to provide whatever information he or she wishes to answer the questions. Closed questions are narrowly focus questions that require very brief answers. Neutral questions are those that enable a person to give an answer without direction from the interviewer. Leading questions are phrased in a way that suggests the interviewer has a preferred answer. Follow up questions can be planned or be spontaneous but are designed to pursue the answers given to primary questions.
How many questions you plan to ask depends on how much time you have for the interview. Keep in mind that you never know how a person will respond. Some people are so talkative and informative that in response to your first question they answer every question you were planning to ask in great detail; other people will answer each question with just a few words.
Early in the interview, plan to ask some questions that can be answered easily and that will show your respect for the person you are interviewing. In an interview with a professor, you might start with background questions such as “How did you get interested in doing research on the effects of media violence?” The goal is to get the interviewee to feel at ease and to talk freely.
The body of the interview includes the major questions you have prepared. You may not ask all the questions you have prepared, but you should continue the interview until you have the important information you intended to get. Be sure your questions are designed to get the information necessary to achieve your goal.

Conducting the interview By applying the interpersonal skills we have discussed in this book, you will find that you can turn your careful planning into an excellent interview.

1. Be courteous during the interview. Start by thanking the person for taking the time to talk to you and throughout the interview respect what the person says regardless of what you may think of the answers.
2. Listen carefully. Incorporate the skills relating to attending, understanding and remembering, with special emphasis on asking questions, paying attention to nonverbal cues and paraphrasing.
3. Keep the interview moving. Although some people will get so involved that they will not be concerned with the amount of time spent, most people have other important business to attend to.
4. Make sure your nonverbal reactions are in keeping with the tone you want to communicate. Monitor your facial expressions and gestures. Maintain good eye contact with the person. Nod to show understanding. And smile occasionally to maintain the friendliness of the interview.

Processing the interview As soon as possible after the interview, sit down with your answers to the questions and make note cards of the key points you want to use in the speech. It is likely that your notes were taken in an outline or shorthand form, so be sure you can make sense out of them. If at any point you are not sure whether you have accurately transcribed what the person said, take a minute to telephone the interviewee to make sure.


A survey, often in the form of a questionnaire, is a means of gathering information directly from people. Surveys may be conducted orally or in writing. For speeches on such diverse topics as student reaction to dormitory food or the local volleyball team’s chances in an upcoming match, you can obtain useful information through a survey. The four kinds of questions most likely to be used in a survey are called two sided, multiple choice, scaled and open ended.
1. Two sided questions get a yes no or true false response. These questions are used most frequently to get easily sorted answers. For a survey on television violence, you might consider a two sided phrasing such as this:

Do you believe prime time television programming contains too much violence?
__ Yes __ No
Although two sided questions do not offer people the opportunity to express their degree of agreement or disagreement, you do get a quick count of opinion. Also, these surveys are easy to conduct orally.

2. Multiple choice questions give respondents alternatives. For a survey of student television viewing, you might use the following question:
For the following question, check the choice that is most accurate.
I watch television
o to 5 hours a week
5 to 10 hours a week
10 to 15 hours a week
15 to 20 hours a week
more than 20 hours a week

3. Scaled questions allow a range of responses to a statement. Scaled responses are particularly good for measuring the strength of a person’s attitude toward a subject. For a question about television violence, you might want to give each person a range of choices. Here is an example that measures a range of audience attitudes.
For the following statement, circle the answer that best represents your opinion:
I believe programming on prime time television contains too much violence.
Strongly agree  I Agree somewhat I Don’t know  I Disagree somewhat  I Strongly disagree You could, of course, include more than one question.

4. Open ended questions encourage a statement of opinion. These questions produce the greatest amount of depth, but because of the likelihood of a wide variety of responses, they are the most difficult to process. For your survey on television violence, you might ask this open ended question:
If you were to write a letter to the FCC about whether there was too much violence on prime time television, what would you recommend?

After you give the survey you need to process the results. If the survey indicates a clear cut trend, then use the results of the poll to help make a point in your speech. If the poll is inconclusive, then it is wise to avoid making too much of the results.

What Information to Look For

Whatever the source, you will be looking for factual statements and expert opinions.