How to research a speech

The key to how to research efficiently is to know how, where, and what to look for! It sounds simple, but sometimes it’s a challenge.

This is a step by step guide intended for novice researchers to help put a workable method in place. It's needed particularly for informative or persuasive speeches requiring evidence based examples to back main ideas.

  1. Starting - audience analysis
  2. Completing and using a speech outline
  3. Locating information
  4. Researching on the internet
  5. Using a library
  6. Using the telephone
  7. The challenge of collating results
  8. How to process and prioritize information

Knowing the audience

The starting point is always to know as much as possible about your audience.

(This is covered fully under the heading WHO: on this page about how to plan a speech)

Knowing who you are talking to will give you a fairly accurate gauge of the degree of complexity or depth required to meet their needs.

Now combine your audience analysis with the length of time, and the brief (subject and purpose of the speech) you’ve been given.

Using a Speech Outline

The next step is to find out how much you already know and what you need to find out. Grab the outline you made earlier.

(If you haven't made one - do! It will make your entire speech preparation, including research easier. Click the link to find instructions as well as downloadable outline template to complete.)

You will have noted down your topic heading and thesis statement (the angle you are going to take on the topic) and several (1, 2, 3 or more) main ideas with sub-headings. Each one of these gives important information and you’ll want to support that with good examples.

Go systematically through your headings making yourself notes about what you need to research and where you think you’ll find it. If you already have the information at your finger tips, jot that down too.

Locating information

The two principal information location areas are:

  • Internet
  • Libraries

Other sources are:

  • International, national and local authorities/organizations (reachable through either their internet site or telephone book listing)
  • Newspapers (again often available on-line)
  • Magazines(try on-line for these too)
  • Radio/TV(also often on-line)
  • Specific specialist resource people (interviews)

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Researching on the internet

computer screen and keyboard with hand over the keys

Using an internet search engine (eg, Google, Yahoo or Bing) is a superb place to begin. To avoid spending hours sifting through endless websites to finish with nothing, use a few search tricks.

  • Use distinctive phrases rather than general terms to narrow the results e.g.: "effects of cigarette smoking" rather than "cigarettes" or "cigarette smoking"
  • If you know the proper name of the organization or person enter it
  • Type AND between your search terms to link two or more subjects together e.g. children AND reading AND success
  • Be aware of different spellings, synonyms or alternate forms you could use for your search term
  • Try using speech marks around your phrase e.g. “children AND reading AND success”

Try different search engines with the same search terms to see what each delivers. There could be interesting and valuable differences.

Check website credibility

Having found web pages offering information you want, evaluate them. The internet is a self-publishing paradise. Anybody can put up a website and they’re generally free to say whatever they like on whatever subject! So before you leap and grab the first ‘authority’ fitting what your topic, look carefully.

Is the website believable?
How do you know?
Is this one person’s voice and if so, who are they?
What are their credentials?
Is this an official organization’s site?
Are contact details available?

A rule of thumb is to check at least three reputable websites. If they all are saying similar things about your topic, you can probably safely assume the information is valid.

If you want more information than is available on site, use the contact page and send an email. You may or may not be rewarded with a response but a polite detailed inquiry outlining who you are, what information you want and the purpose for asking is worth a go!

To easily collect the information for future reference copy and paste into a word document. Remember to take the url as well as whatever information you need for citing purposes and bookmark the site before leaving.

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How to Research Using a Library

books stacks in a library

There are bonuses to the library not available on the internet. You get live people (librarians) to talk to and real books to handle!

Use a similar system as for the internet.

Enter the details of your subject into the library on-line data base and again the more specific you can be, the more likelihood you’ll find what you want. The results will let you know what material is held where and direct you to find it.

If you can’t find what you want ask a librarian how to research using the library's system. They enjoy being involved in ensuring people get what they need.

If you get a large number of results; different books and perhaps magazine or newspaper articles as well, use the rapid scan technique to do an initial sort for suitability.

For a book or magazine flip open the contents page and quickly read the chapter or article headings.

If there’s an index at the back search out your key words. Nothing? Put it back. Something? Keep it for closer reading.

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How to Research Using the Telephone Book

If you have the name of either an organization or person who could supply the information you need, ring them!

How to tips for top telephone results

  • Don’t dial the number before preparing.
  • Write yourself a list of the questions you want to ask.
  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Rank your questions from most important to least.
  • Gauge how much time you are asking for. If you’ve prepared 30 minutes of question and answer, a busy person, may not have that to give you!
  • Have a piece of paper and pen handy for writing down the answers.
  • If possible know at least a little about the organization and /or person before ringing
  • If you’re ringing a large organization and don’t know who to ask for, ask the receptionist who would be the most suitable person to talk to you about your topic.
  • Get their name and ask if they are available.
  • If so, introduce yourself, state your purpose ie. collecting information for a speech to be given to xxxx in two weeks time, ask if they have x amount of time to talk to you.
  • If you get the go ahead, ask your questions and carefully record the answers. Be sure to thank the person for their time.
  • If the person is not able to answer your questions right away, ask if there is a time when you could call back.

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How to Research: Collating Results

Collating your material can be a breeze or a mission. It depends on you.

Mission people are those who have to read everything and then have to re-evaluate their outline to see if they’re missing something they simply must put in. Once they start to re-evaluate they begin to question their choices.

(I know this type of doubting intimately because I’ve done and still do it occasionally. It’s called wanting to make it perfect and while that's good in smallish doses, too much saps your confidence. The end result of ‘too much’ is paralysis. You end up blocked and anxious, and finally, scrambling to honor your deadline. Avoid it. If you can, catch yourself doing it and STOP.

If you’ve done your homework and found out what your audience expects and wants, then you do understand. You simply need get on with it rather than make it more complicated for yourself!)

By contrast the breeze people sail through, cool as could be. How do they do it?

They stick to their main idea headings in their original outline. They ONLY take information if it supports and extends their ideas in a substantial way.

If the information is off-track or of little consequence they discard it. They stop reading. They don’t take notes. They move on to the next source. And they ONLY read what is necessary to understand what is being said and how it fits with their speech.

In other words if you don’t have to read a whole book, don’t. Take the bits you need and no more. Knowing what to take and what to leave is part of learning how to research effectively. Like most things, you'll get more efficient through practice.

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How to Process Information from either Print Material or a Website

Firstly collect up all your source material. Print off selected text from the websites you’ve book-marked and have any other material (books, newspapers, magazines, interview notes etc.) ready for action. To speed your progress, sort them into piles matching each of your main ideas.

Write your first main idea heading at the top of a blank sheet of paper.
Example: ‘The Impossible Does Happen’

Now go to your ‘The Impossible Does Happen’ resource pile to begin processing the material.

Under the heading on your paper write the type and name of the first source.

Example: Book: ‘Lesser Known Facts of Flying Pigs’ by John Dreamer, Published by Inspired Life, 2004

Now you can either summarize in your own words the information you need or take a direct quote from the text.

If you have more than one point to summarize from the same source rank them in order from the most important to the least.

If you wish to use a passage straight from the text without summarizing, copy the section down. Note the page number (or website url etc.), so you can return if need be.

If you have more than one source per main idea, be sure to number them as you process them.

Once you’ve finished working with your first main idea, start another sheet of paper for the second and third and so on.

Your notes could look like this.

Heading (Main Idea One): The Impossible does Happen

  • Book: Lesser Known Facts of Flying Pigs, John Dreamer, Inspired Life, 2004
  • Summary:
    Flying Pigs are not a figment of an over active imagination. They have been seen on numerous occasions in the skies over Little –Weeble-Onsea, in the North of England. Detailed reports span 3 decades. The latest sighting was in 2003.
  • Direct Quote:
    ‘My neighbor shouted at me to come and look. I rushed outside and saw at least twenty pigs flying in formation. They looped around the church steeple several times before disappearing over the hills. It was weird. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.’ Mrs Molly Green, resident, Little-Weeble-Onsea talking about the sighting in 2003. Pg 24.
  • Next Source…

Be sure to keep all your pieces of paper clearly marked and together! (You’ll be using them soon to write your speech.)

Keep in mind as you go of both the audience and the length of time you’re speaking for.

If you gather too much information you’ll be unable to use it inside the time frame. Choose the best to use first.

Please note the rules around taking other people’s words to use.

Always acknowledge the original speaker or writer. Most people do not mind you using their work; in fact most of them appreciate and enjoy it.

BUT they do mind if you do not say where you got your information from or try to pass it off as your own. This is called plagiarism and can incur hefty fines if you get caught. And they mind if you twist, distort or manipulate their words to fit your own ends.

Play fair … be nice. Be honest.