Chapter Seven – Conducting Research

What does the word “research” conjure up for you? Do you think about sitting in a library and sorting through books or searching online? Do you picture a particular type of person?

While these images aren’t incorrect (of course libraries are connected with research), “research” can feel like an intimidating process. When does it begin? Where does it happen? When does it stop?

It’s helpful to understand what research is – the process of discovering new knowledge and investigating a topic from different points of view. Research is a process; it’s an ongoing dialogue with information. But, as you know, not all information is neutral, and not all information is ethical. Part of the research process, then, is evaluating information to determine what knowledge is ethical and best suited for your argument.

This chapter will focus on the research process and the development of critical thinking skills—or decision-making based on evaluating and critiquing information— to identify, sort, and evaluate (mostly) scholarly information. To begin, we outline why research matters, followed by insights about locating information, evaluating information, and avoiding plagiarism.

Why Research?

Research gets a bad rap. It can feel like a boring, tedious, and overwhelming process. In our current information age, we are guilty of conducting a quick search, finding what we want to read, and moving on. Many of us rarely sit down, allocate time, and commit to digging deep and researching different perspectives about an idea or argument.

But we should.

When conducting research, you get to ask questions and actually find answers. If you have ever wondered what the best strategies are when being interviewed for a job, research will tell you. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a NASCAR driver, an astronaut, a marine biologist, or a university professor, once again, research is one of the easiest ways to find answers to questions you’re interested in knowing.

Research can also open a world you never knew existed. We often find ideas we had never considered and learn facts we never knew when we go through the research process. Maybe you want to learn how to compose music, draw, learn a foreign language, or write a screenplay; research is always the best step toward learning anything.

As public speakers, research will increase your confidence and competence. The more you know, the more you know. The more you research, the more precise your argument, and the clearer the depth of the information becomes.

Where to Start

With basic information in mind, ask: “what question am I answering? What should I be looking for? What do I need?”

Your specific purpose statement or a working thesis are good places to start. Take this example of a specific purpose: “to persuade my audience to support campus solutions to rising textbook costs.” Research can help zero in on a working thesis by a) finding support for our perspective and b) identifying any specific campus solution that we could advocate for.

When we begin researching, we have three initial questions that arise from our specific purpose: has the cost of college textbooks increased over time? What are the causes? And what are the opportunities to address rising textbook costs in a way that can improve access relatively quickly at your institution?

These are just our starting questions. It’s likely that we’ll revise and research for information as we learn more. As Howard and Taggart point out in their book Research Matters, research is not just a one-and-done task[3]. As you develop your speech, you may realize that you want to address a question or issue that didn’t occur to you during your first round of research, or that you’re missing a key piece of information to support one of your points.

Use these questions, prior experience, and insight from exploratory brainstorming to determine what to search and where to start. If you still feel overwhelmed, that’s OK. Start somewhere (or ask a librarian for help) and use the insights below about information types as a guide.

Locating Effective Research

Once you have a general idea about the basic needs you have for your research, it’s time to start tracking information down. Thankfully, we live in a world that is swimming with information.

As you search, you will naturally be drawn to tools and information types that are already familiar to you. Like most people, you will likely use Google as your first search strategy. As you know, Google isn’t a source, per se: it’s a search engine. It’s the vehicle that, through search terms and savvy wording, will direct you to sources related to those terms.

What information types would you expect to see in your Google search results? We are guessing your list would include: news, blogs, Wikipedia, dictionaries, and social media.

While Google is a great tool, all informational roads don’t lead to Google. Learning about different information types and different ways to access information can expand your search portfolio.

Information Types

As you begin looking for research, an array of information types will be at your disposal.

When you access a piece of information, you should determine what you are looking at. Is it a blog? an online academic journal? an online newspaper? a website for an organization? Will these information types be useful in answering the questions that you’ve identified?

Common helpful information types include websites, scholarly articles, books, and government reports, to name a few. To determine the usefulness of an information type, you should familiarize yourself with what those sources are and their goals.

Information types are often categorized as either academic or nonacademic.

Nonacademic information sources are sometimes also called popular press information sources; their primary purpose is to be read by the general public. Most nonacademic information sources are written at a sixth to eighth-grade reading level, so they are very accessible. Although the information often contained in these sources can be limited, the advantage of using nonacademic sources is that they appeal to a broad, general audience.

Alternatively, academic sources are often (not always) peer-reviewed by like-minded scholars in the field. Academic publications can take longer to publish because academics have established a series of checklists that are required to determine the credibility of the information. Because of this process, it takes a while! That delay can result in nonacademic sources providing information before scholarly academics have tested or studied the phenomena.



The first source we have for finding secondary information is books. Now, the authors of your text are admitted bibliophiles—we love books. Fiction, nonfiction, it doesn’t really matter, we just love books. And, thankfully, we live in a world where books abound and reading has never been easier. Unless your topic is very cutting-edge, chances are someone has written a book about your topic at some point in history.

Historically, the original purpose of libraries was to house manuscripts that were copied by hand and stored in library collections. After Gutenberg created the printing press, we had the ability to mass produce writing, and the handwritten manuscript gave way to the printed manuscript. In today’s modern era, we are seeing another change where printed manuscript is now giving way, to some extent, to the electronic manuscript. Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, and Sony’s e-Ink-based readers are examples of the new hardware enabling people to take entire libraries of information with them wherever they go. We now can carry the amount of information that used to be housed in the greatest historic libraries in the palms of our hands. When you sit back and really think about it, that’s pretty darn cool!

In today’s world, there are three basic types of libraries you should be aware of: physical library, physical/electronic library, and e-online library. The physical library is a library that exists only in the physical world. Many small community or county library collections are available only if you physically go into the library and check out a book. We highly recommend doing this at some point. Libraries today generally model the US Library of Congress’s card catalog system. As such, most library layouts are similar. This familiar layout makes it much easier to find information if you are using multiple libraries. Furthermore, because the Library of Congress catalogs information by type, if you find one book that is useful for you, it’s very likely that surrounding books on the same shelf will also be useful. When people don’t take the time to physically browse in a library, they often miss out on some great information.

The second type of library is the library that has both physical and electronic components. Most college and university libraries have both the physical stacks (where the books are located) and electronic databases containing e-books. The two largest e-book databases are ebrary and netlibrary. Although these library collections are generally cost-prohibitive for an individual, more and more academic institutions are subscribing to them. Some libraries are also making portions of their collections available online for free: Harvard University’s Digital Collections, the e-book collection at the New York Public Library, the British Library Online Gallery, and the US Library of Congress.

One of the greatest advantages to using libraries for finding books is that you can search not only their books, but often a wide network of other academic institutions’ books as well. Furthermore, in today’s world, we have one of the greatest online card catalogs ever created—and it wasn’t created for libraries at all! Retail bookseller sites like can be a great source for finding books that may be applicable to your topic, and the best part is, you don’t actually need to purchase the book if you use your library, because your library may actually own a copy of a book you find on a bookseller site. You can pick a topic and then search for that topic on a bookseller site. If you find a book that you think may be appropriate, plug that book’s title into your school’s electronic library catalog. If your library owns the book, you can go to the library and pick it up today.

If your library doesn’t own it, do you still have an option other than buying the book? Yes: interlibrary loans. An interlibrary loan is a process where librarians are able to search other libraries to locate the book a researcher is trying to find. If another library has that book, then the library asks to borrow it for a short period of time. Depending on how easy a book is to find, your library could receive it in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. Keep in mind that interlibrary loans take time, so do not expect to get a book at the last minute. The more lead time you provide a librarian to find a book you are looking for, the greater the likelihood that the book will be sent through the mail to your library on time.

The final type of library is a relatively new one, the library that exists only online. With the influx of computer technology, we have started to create vast stores of digitized content from around the world. These online libraries contain full-text documents free of charge to everyone. Some online libraries we recommend are Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Read Print, Open Library, and Get Free E-Books. This is a short list of just a handful of the libraries that are now offering free e-content.


General-Interest Periodicals

The second category of information you may seek out includes general-interest periodicals. These are magazines and newsletters published on a fairly systematic basis. Some popular magazines in this category include The New YorkerPeopleReader’s DigestParadeSmithsonian, and The Saturday Evening Post. These magazines are considered “general interest” because most people in the United States could pick up a copy of these magazines and find them interesting and topical.


Special-Interest Periodicals

Special-interest periodicals are magazines and newsletters that are published for a narrower audience. In a 2005 article, Business Wire noted that in the United States there are over ten thousand different magazines published annually, but only two thousand of those magazines have significant circulation.[1] Some more widely known special-interest periodicals are Sports IllustratedBloomberg’s Business WeekGentleman’s QuarterlyVoguePopular Science, and House and Garden. But for every major magazine, there are a great many other lesser-known magazines like American Coin Op MagazineVarmint HunterShark Diver MagazinePet Product News InternationalWater Garden News, to name just a few.


Newspapers and Blogs

Another major source of nonacademic information is newspapers and blogs. Thankfully, we live in a society that has a free press. We’ve opted to include both newspapers and blogs in this category. A few blogs (e.g., The Huffington PostTalkingpoints MemoNews MaxThe Daily BeastSalon) function similarly to traditional newspapers. Furthermore, in the past few years we’ve lost many traditional newspapers around the United States; cities that used to have four or five daily papers may now only have one or two.

According to, the top ten newspapers in the United States are USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the New York PostLong Island Newsday, and the Houston Chronicle. Most colleges and universities subscribe to a number of these newspapers in paper form or have access to them electronically. Furthermore, LexisNexis, a database many colleges and universities subscribe to, has access to full text newspaper articles from these newspapers and many more around the world.

In addition to traditional newspapers, blogs are becoming a mainstay of information in today’s society. In fact, since the dawn of the twenty-first century many major news stories have been broken by professional bloggers rather than traditional newspaper reporters[4]. Although anyone can create a blog, there are many reputable blog sites that are run by professional journalists. As such, blogs can be a great source of information. However, as with all information on the Internet, you often have to wade through a lot of junk to find useful, accurate information.

We do not personally endorse any blogs, but according to, the top eight most commonly read blogs in the world (in 2011) are as follows:

  1. The Huffington Post (
  2. Gizmodo (
  3. TechCrunch (
  4. Mashable! (
  5. Engadget (
  6. Boing Boing (
  7. The Daily Beast (
  8. TMZ (


Another type of source that you may encounter is the encyclopedia. Encyclopedias are information sources that provide short, very general information about a topic. Encyclopedias are available in both print and electronic formats, and their content can range from eclectic and general (e.g., Encyclopædia Britannica) to the very specific (e.g., Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture, or Encyclopedia of Afterlife Beliefs and Phenomena). It is important to keep in mind that encyclopedias are designed to give only brief, fairly superficial summaries of a topic area. Thus, they may be useful for finding out what something is if it is referenced in another source, but they are generally not a useful source for your actual speech. In fact, many instructors do not allow students to use encyclopedias as sources for their speeches for this very reason.

One of the most popular online encyclopedic sources is Wikipedia. Like other encyclopedias, it can be useful for finding out basic information (e.g., what baseball teams did Catfish Hunter play for?) but will not give you the depth of information you need for a speech. Also keep in mind that Wikipedia, unlike the general and specialized encyclopedias available through your library, can be edited by anyone and therefore often contains content errors and biased information. If you are a fan of The Colbert Report, you probably know that host Stephen Colbert has, on several occasions, asked viewers to change Wikipedia content to reflect his views of the world. This is just one example of why one should always be careful of information on the web, but this advice is even more important when considering group-edited sites such as Wikipedia.



Websites are the last major source of nonacademic information. In the twenty-first century we live in a world where there is a considerable amount of information readily available at our fingertips. Unfortunately, you can spend hours and hours searching for information and never quite find what you’re looking for if you don’t devise an Internet search strategy. First, you need to select a good search engine to help you find appropriate information. Table 7.1 “Search Engines” (below) contains a list of common search engines and the types of information they are useful for finding.

Table 7.1 General search engines Searches US government websites Searches only trustworthy medical websites Largest search engine for medical related research Comparison shopping search engine Provides statistics about the US population Searches for art-related information Searches for job postings across job search websites


In addition, be cognizant of who produces information and who that information is produced for. Table 7.2 simplistically illustrates the producer and audience of our short list of information types.

Table 7.2

Information Type

What does it do?

Who is it produced by?

Who is it produced for?

News Report

Inform readers about what’s happening in the world.

General Public / Journalist

General Public

Social Media

Connects individuals, groups, and consumers

General Public

General Public

Peer Reviewed Scholarly Journal Article

Provides insight into an academic discipline

Academic Researchers/Scholars

Academic Researchers/Scholar/ Students

Academic Books

Provides insight into an academic discipline

Academic researchers/Scholars

Academic Researchers/Scholars /Students

Government reports

Shares information on behalf of a government agency

Government Agencies

Policy/Decision Makers

Data and Statistics

Reports statistical findings

Government Agencies

Policy/Decision Makers

Academic Researcher


Inform, persuade, or entertain readers about a topic through a digital medium

Can be Self-Published or Published through a Scholar / Agency

General Public


This is not an exhaustive list of information types. Others include: encyclopedias, periodicals or blogs. For more insight on information types, check here.

With any information type, the dichotomy of producer/audience helps us with evaluating the information. As you’ve learned from our discussion of public speaking, the audience informs the message. If you have a clearer idea of who the content is written for, you can determine if that source is best for your research needs.

Having a better understanding of information types is important, but open and closed information systems dictate which source material we have access to.


Librarians are ResourcesRemember that librarians are research experts and can help you to find information, refine an argument, locate search terms, cite your sources, and much more!


Open/Closed Information Systems

An open system describes information that is publicly available and accessible. A closed system means information is behind a paywall or requires a subscription.

Let’s consider databases as an example. It’s likely that you’ve searched your library’s database. Databases provide full text periodicals and works that are regularly published. This is a great tool because it can provide you links to scholarly articles, news reports, e-books, and more.

“Does that make databases an open system?” you may be asking. Access to databases is purchased by libraries. The articles and books contained in databases are licensed by publishers to companies, who sell access to this content, which is not freely available elsewhere. So, databases are part of a closed system. The university provides you access, but non-university folks would reach a paywall.

Table 7.3 illustrates whether different information types are like to be openly available or behind a paywall in a closed system. Knowing if an information is type is open or closed might influence your tools and search strategies used to discover and access the information.


Table 7.3

Information Type

Open Access

Closed Access

News Report

Some content exposed to internet search engines and open

Licensed content available with subscription or single access payment

Social Media

General public and open

Privacy settings may limit some access

Peer Reviewed Scholarly Journal Article

Scholarship labeled as “Open access” are free of charge

Licensed content available with subscription or single access payment

Academic Books

“Open access” books are free of charge

Many books require payment and purchase

Government Reports

Government information in the public domain is open

Classified government information – restricted access

Government Data/Statistics

Open government data

Classified government information – restricted access


Information isn’t always free. If you are confronted with a closed system, you will have to determine if that information is crucial or if you can access similar information through an openly accessible system.

Having a better understanding of information types and access will assist you in locating research for your argument. We continue our discussion below by diving into best practices for locating and evaluating research.


Academic Information Sources

After nonacademic sources, the second major source for finding information comes from academics. The main difference between academic or scholarly information and the information you get from the popular press is oversight. In the nonacademic world, the primary gatekeeper of information is the editor, who may or may not be a content expert. In academia, we have established a way to perform a series of checks to ensure that the information is accurate and follows agreed-upon academic standards. For example, this book, or portions of this book, were read by dozens of academics who provided feedback. Having this extra step in the writing process is time consuming, but it provides an extra level of confidence in the relevance and accuracy of the information. In this section, we will discuss scholarly books and articles, computerized databases, and finding scholarly information on the web.

Scholarly Books

College and university libraries are filled with books written by academics. According to the Text and Academic Authors Association (, there are two types of scholarly books: textbooks and academic books. Textbooks are books that are written about a segment of content within a field of academic study and are written for undergraduate or graduate student audiences. These books tend to be very specifically focused. Take this book, for instance. We are not trying to introduce you to the entire world of human communication, just one small aspect of it: public speaking. Textbooks tend to be written at a fairly easy reading level and are designed to transfer information in a manner that mirrors classroom teaching to some extent. Also, textbooks are secondary sources of information. They are designed to survey the research available in a particular field rather than to present new research.

Academic books are books that are primarily written for other academics for informational and research purposes. Generally speaking, when instructors ask for you to find scholarly books, they are referring to academic books. Thankfully, there are hundreds of thousands of academic books published on almost every topic you can imagine. In the field of communication, there are a handful of major publishers who publish academic books: SAGE (, Routledge (, Jossey-Bass (, Pfeiffer (, the American Psychological Association (, and the National Communication Association (, among others.

In addition to the major publishers who publish academic books, there are also many university presses who publish academic books: SUNY Press (, Oxford University Press (, University of South Carolina Press (, Baylor University Press (, University of Illinois Press (, the University of Alabama Press (, the University of Minnesota Libraries (, and OpenStax ( are just a few of them.


Scholarly Articles

Because most academic writing comes in the form of scholarly articles or journal articles, that is the best place for finding academic research on a given topic. Every academic subfield has its own journals, so you should never have a problem finding the best and most recent research on a topic. However, scholarly articles are written for a scholarly audience, so reading scholarly articles takes more time than if you were to read a magazine article in the popular press. It’s also helpful to realize that there may be parts of the article you simply do not have the background knowledge to understand, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many research studies are conducted by quantitative researchers who rely on statistics to examine phenomena. Unless you have training in understanding the statistics, it is difficult to interpret the statistical information that appears in these articles. Instead, focus on the beginning part of the article where the author(s) will discuss previous research (secondary research), and then focus on the end of the article, where the author(s) explain what was found in their research (primary research).


Computerized Databases

Finding academic research is easier today than it ever has been in the past because of large computer databases containing research. Here’s how these databases work: a database company signs contracts with publishers to gain the right to store the publishers’ content electronically. The database companies then create thematic databases containing publications related to general areas of knowledge (business, communication, psychology, medicine, etc.). The database companies then sell subscriptions to these databases to libraries. Your tuition dollars help to pay these subscription fees, so you’re essentially doing yourself a disservice NOT to use them!

The largest of these database companies is a group called EBSCO Publishing, which runs both EBSCO Host (an e-journal provider) and NetLibrary (a large e-book library) ( Some of the more popular databases that EBSCO provides to colleges and universities are: Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, Communication and Mass Media Complete, Education Research Complete, Humanities International Complete, Philosopher’s Index, Political Science Complete, PsycArticles, and Vocational and Career Collection. Academic Search Complete is the broadest of all the databases and casts a fairly wide net across numerous fields. Information that you find using databases can contain both nonacademic and academic information, so EBSCO Host has built in a number of filtering options to help you limit the types of information available.

We strongly recommend checking out your library’s website to see what databases they have available and if they have any online tutorials for finding sources using the databases to which your library subscribes.



woman smiling and using laptop
Photo by Christina Morillo. [6]


Scholarly Information on the Web

In addition to the subscription databases that exist on the web, there are also a number of great sources for scholarly information on the web. As mentioned earlier, however, finding scholarly information on the web poses a problem because anyone can post information on the web. Fortunately, there are a number of great websites that attempt to help filter this information for us.

Website Type of Information The Directory of Open Access Journals is an online database of all freely available academic journals online. Google Scholar attempts to filter out nonacademic information. Unfortunately, it tends to return a large number of for-pay site results. Communication Institute for Online Scholarship is a clearinghouse for online communication scholarship. This site contains full-text journals and books. This is an open access site devoted to making physical science research accessible. BioMed Central provides open-access medical research. The E-print Network provides access to a range of scholarly research that interests people working for the Department of Energy. This site provides the public with free access to medical journals. This is the link to Stanford University’s free, full-text science archives. This is the Public Library of Science’s journal for biology. The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world The WWW Virtual Library provides annotated lists of websites compiled by scholars in specific areas.


Evaluating Research

Going Deeper through Lateral Reading

Imagine that you’re online shopping. You have a pretty clear idea of what you need to buy, and you’ve located the product on a common site. In a perfect world, you could trust the product producer, the site, and the product itself and, without any research, simply click and buy. If you’re like us, however, being a knowledgeable consumer means checking product reviews, looking for similar products, and reading comments about the company. Once we have a deeper understanding of the product and process, then we buy!

Argument research is similar. Feeling literate about the information types described above is key, but inaccurate or untrustworthy content still emerges.

In response, we recommend lateral reading – fact-checking source claims by reading other sites and resources.

Lateral reading emerged after a group of Stanford researchers pitted undergraduates, professors with their Ph.D.s in history, and journalists against each other in a contest to see who could tell if information was fake or real. The results? Journalists identified fake information every time, but the Ph.D.s and undergraduates struggled to sniff out the truth.

Why is this?

Well, journalists rarely read much of the article or website they were evaluating before they dove into researching it. They would read the title and open a new tab to check out if anyone else had published something on the same topic. Reading what other people had written gave the journalists some context or background knowledge on the topic, better positioning them to judge the argument and evidence made. They would circle back to the original article, identify the author, and open more tabs to verify the identity of the author and their credentials to write the piece. Once the journalists were satisfied with this, they had enough background information to start judging the argument of the original piece. Essentially, journalists would read the introduction and pick out big ideas or the argument, people, specific facts, and the evidence referenced in the first paragraph.

Mike Caulfield (2017), a professor who specializes in media literacy, read the Stanford study and identified steps to evaluate sources. One of those steps is to read laterally, and three additional steps include:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • 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.

Let’s apply lateral reading to the college textbook affordability topic with the specific purpose to “to persuade my audience to support campus solutions to rising textbook costs.”

You decide to search “textbook affordability” into Google. Google identifies approximately 1 million sources – whoa. Where do you start? Click on one those stories, “Triaging Textbook Costs” – a 2015 publication from Inside Higher Ed. From it, you learn about research on the rising costs of textbooks over time, how some students navigate those costs, and something called “open educational resources” (OER) as a strategy for reducing costs. You’ll use lateral reading to follow up on some of the sources linked in the story and do a little more research to fact check this single source. By searching “OER,” you can verify that yes, many universities are turning to open educational resources to combat textbook affordability. Now, you can dive deeper into OERs as a potential solution to the problem.


image of library with books and students at desks
Photo by Cottonbro Studio. [7]


Questioning Selected Source Information

Practicing lateral reading will provide you better insight on what diverse sources say about your argument. Through that process, you’ll likely find multiple relevant sources, but is that source best for your argument? Perhaps, but ask yourself the following questions before integrating others’ ideas or research into your argument:

  • What’s the date? Remember that timeliness plays a key role in establishing the relevance of your argument to your audience. Although a less timely source may be beneficial, more recent sources are often viewed more credibly and may provide updated information.
  • Who is the author / who are the authors? Identify the author(s) and determine their credentials. We also recommend “Googling” an author and checking if there are any red flags that may hint at their bias or lack of credibility.
  • Who is the publisher? Find out about the publisher. There are great, credible publishers (like the Cato Institute), but fringe or for-profit publishers may be providing information that overtly supports a political cause.
  • Do they cite others’ work? Check out the end of the document for a reference page. If you’re using a source with no references, it’s not automatically “bad,” but a reputable reference page means that the author has evidence to support their insights. It helps establish if that author has done their research, too.
  • Do others cite the work? Use the lateral reading technique from above to see if other people have cited this work, too. Alternatively, if, as you research, you see the same piece of work over and over, it’s likely seen as a reputable source within that field. So check it out!

It can feel great to find a key piece of information that supports your argument. But a good idea is more than well-written content. To determine if that source is credible, use the questions above to guarantee that you’re selecting the best research for your idea.

Think of a research strategy as your personal map. The end destination is the actual speech, and along the way, there are various steps you need to complete to reach your destination: the speech. From the day you receive your speech assignment, the more clearly you map out the steps you need to take leading up to the date when you will give the speech, the easier your speech development process will be. In the rest of this section, we are going to discuss taking notes, time management, determining your research needs, finding your sources, and evaluating your sources.

Take Notes & Keep a Log of Research

Remember: this is a lot of stuff to keep track of. We suggest jotting down notes as you go to keep everything straight. According to a very useful book called The Elements of Library Research by M. W. George, a research log is a “step-by-step account of the process of identifying, obtaining, and evaluating sources for a specific project, similar to a lab note-book in an experimental setting”[2]. In essence, George believes that keeping a log of what you’ve done is very helpful because it can help you keep track of what you’ve read thus far. You can use a good old-fashioned notebook, or if you carry around your laptop or netbook with you, you can always keep it digitally – whatever works best for you.

This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked. Poor note taking or inaccurate notes can be devastating in the long-term. If you forget to write down all the source information, backtracking and trying to re-search to locate citation information is tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient. Without proper citations, your credibility will diminish. Keeping information without correct citations can have disastrous consequences – as discussed in the chapter on Ethical Implications.


spread of lined note careds
Photo by Pixabay. [8]

Allotting Time

First and foremost, when starting a new project, no matter how big or small, it is important to seriously consider how much time that project is going to take. To help us discuss the issue of time with regard to preparing your speech, we’re going to examine what the Project Management Institute refers to as the project life cycle or “the phases that connect the beginning of a project to its end”[5]. Often in a public speaking class, the time you have is fairly concrete. You may have two or three weeks between speeches in a semester course or one to two weeks in a quarter course. In either case, from the moment your instructor gives you the assigned speech, the proverbial clock is ticking. With each passing day, you are losing precious time in your speech preparation process. Now, we realize that as a college student you probably have many things vying for your time in life: school, family, jobs, friends, or dating partners. For this reason, you need to really think through how much time it’s going to take you to complete your preparation in terms of both research and speech preparation.

Research Time

The first step that takes a good chunk of your time is researching your speech. Whether you are conducting primary research or relying on secondary research sources, you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time researching.

A good strategy is to devote no more than one-third of your speech preparation time to research (e.g., if you have three weeks before your speech date, your research should be done by the end of the first week). If you are not careful, you could easily end up spending all your time on research and waiting until the last minute to actually prepare your speech, which is highly inadvisable.


Speech Preparation Time

The second task in speech preparation is to sit down and actually develop your speech. During this time period, you will use the information you collected during your research to fully flesh out your ideas into a complete speech. You may be making arguments using the research or creating visual aids. Whatever you need to complete during this time period, you need to give yourself ample time to actually prepare your speech. One common guideline is one to two hours of speech preparation per one minute of actual speaking time.

By allowing yourself enough time to prepare your speech, you’re also buffering yourself against a variety of things that can go wrong both in life and with your speech. Let’s face it, life happens. Often events completely outside our control happen, and these events could negatively impact our ability to prepare a good speech. When you give yourself a little time buffer, you’re already insulated from the possible negative effects on your speech if something goes wrong.

The last part of speech preparation is practice. Although some try to say that practice makes perfect, we realize that perfection is never realistic because no one is perfect. We prefer this mantra: “Practice makes permanent.”

And by “practice,” we mean actual rehearsals in which you deliver your speech out loud. Speakers who only script out their speeches or only think through them often forget their thoughts when they stand in front of an audience. Research has shown that when individuals practice, their speech performance in front of an audience is more closely aligned with their practice than people who just think about their speeches. In essence, you need to allow yourself to become comfortable not only with the text of the speech but also with the nonverbal delivery of the speech, so giving yourself plenty of speech preparation time also gives you more practice time. We will discuss speech development and practice further in other chapters.





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  3. Howard, R. M., & Taggart, A. R. (2010). Research matters. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 102–103.
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  6. Photo by Christina Morillo: 
  7. Photo by cottonbro studio:
  8. Photo by Pixabay:


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