Lesson 4 Doing your Homework

research is a vital part of any speech, regardless of the topic. We’ve been emphasizing the importance of selecting a topic that you already know something about, but you will still need to do research even on a topic with which you are very familiar. For example, perhaps you are an avid traveler, and you’ve chosen the topic “How to Plan the Perfect Vacation.” Even though you’ve traveled all over the world, you’ll still need to do some research on appropriate destinations that might interest your audience, the range of airfares they might expect, what sort of accommodations will be available to them, what activities they can enjoy while there, and so forth.

This chapter outlines a variety of sources for your information, but it is not exhaustive. Many of these information sources will serve as springboards, bouncing you to some other source as you begin your research.

1 Quoted in Richard O’Connor, Rogue’s Progress: The Fabulous Adventures of Wilson Mizner (NY: Putnam, 1975), 167.



–doing Your HoMework–

taking notes

In Lesson 6, we will discuss the mechanics of collecting and organizing the information that you’ll use in your speech. For now, just concern yourself with gathering information and taking notes. Be specifc as you take notes, and always remember to write down where you found that information. For example, if you found some information in a book, you should write down the author, title, publisher, copyright date, and page number for that note. It is vitally important that you be able to go back to that book at a later date and fnd the information again.

The main rule here is to take copious notes! Any- thing that grabs your attention in your reading is worth noting down, even if you don’t think you’ll need it later. Trust me on this: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to outline a speech or essay and half-remembered something that I’d read that suddenly becomes perti- nent. If I failed to jot down a note on that item, I’m forced to retrace my steps looking for it, and that can be immensely frustrating and time-consuming.

The rule here is the opposite of our usual rule: When in doubt, don’t leave it out! Interesting illustra- tions, anecdotes, examples, and so forth are worth including in your notes. You don’t need to write down the entire quotation; just make a note that will help you fnd it later. For example, a magazine article might contain some facts and statistics that are interesting but not seemingly pertinent to your topic. Just jot down “statistics on thus and such” in your notes, with the page number where you found them. There’s actu- ally a good chance that you will want to fnd them again later, and this way you’ll know where to look.

using Personal experience

The best place to begin your research is with yourself. You have already chosen a topic that you know some- thing about, so use your own experience and knowledge to start your note-taking on the topic. Ask yourself what

you’d fnd interesting if you were to hear someone else speak on your topic. Brainstorm for interesting anec- dotes and personal experiences that might work as spice in your speech.

You are actually your best source of information on your topic, and you will want to include examples of your own experience in your speech. This will show the audience that you know what you’re talking about, giving you greater credibility and encouraging your audience to take an interest in what you have to say.

As you think through your topic, you will focus on two main things: information, anecdotes, and examples to use in your speech; and insight into what you don’t know. This second bit of information is immensely valuable, as it will help you know what fur- ther research you need to do before you start writing. Incidentally, it will also beneft you greatly in the long run, since you will be learning even more about a topic that already interests you. This is one of the real ben- efts of being a public speaker: The more you speak on a topic, the more of an expert you become in that topic—and the more likely you’ll be asked to speak!

interviewing other People

As you spend time thinking through your topic, mining yourself for experiences and information, you will probably think of friends and associates who share your interest in that feld. This will naturally occur when you discover a gap in your knowledge; you will instinctively think, “I bet Bill would know the answer to that!”

When that happens, get on the phone immedi- ately and tell your friend that you’re speaking on a topic of mutual interest. Don’t restrict your conversation to simply answering your question, but ask your friend what he or she would focus on if he or she were speak- ing on that topic. This will invariably bring up some facet of your topic that you hadn’t thought of, and you and your friend can then brainstorm on what informa- tion you might cover if you touched on that aspect.


You can also interview people who are experts in some aspect of your topic. Let’s return to our previous example, “How to Plan the Perfect Vacation.” You could call a travel agency and ask to spend a few minutes with a travel agent discussing ideal locations for vacationers on a budget. The travel agent might know someone who conducts tour groups to London or the Holy Land, and you could then set up an interview with that person—and that person might point you to yet another expert to interview.

Be sure, as always, to take notes while speaking to experts and friends. Remember also to note the person’s full name and title, plus the date when you spoke. You might also consider recording the interview if you have a small tape or digital recorder. Here are some basic things to remember as you set up interviews with experts:

n Be prepared: Have a series of questions in mind before you even make the interview


Use this form to prepare for an interview:

appointment. Also, make sure that your ques- tions can’t be answered by some simple research. Nobody likes being asked questions that are basic common sense.

n Be courteous: Remember that the person you’re interviewing has a busy schedule and has made time for you out of courtesy. Return the favor by being polite and professional.

n Be prompt: Arrive early for your appointment, and get right down to business rather than chat- ting about unrelated topics. When the interview is completed, thank the expert and leave.

n Be thorough: This interview may be your only opportunity to speak with the expert, so make sure that you understand the information that he or she is sharing. Even if you use a tape recorder, take notes while the expert speaks. Reiterate some of his or her points to ensure that you correctly understood what was said.


using the internet responsibly

The Internet is a good place to start your further research, but bear in mind that it is just that: a place to start. You can fnd a vast array of information on practically any topic simply by typing the topic into a search site such asGoogleorYahoo!,andsomeoftheinformationmight be very detailed. The problem is that there is very little accountability for what people post on the Internet. Anyone can create a website and then wax eloquent on any topic whatsoever—regardless of whether or not that person knows anything about that topic.

You will want to use Internet information to gain a broad overview of a topic and to fnd sources of more detailed and reliable information in books and peri- odicals. Use the Internet as your frst stop, and then plan on heading to the library.

Here are a few good starting points for Internet research:

n Search sites: Each search site will bring up a slightly different blend of hits on any given search—as well as a good deal of overlap. Try searching for the same topic on Google.

n Encyclopedias: Your first stop might be an online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia. Bear in mind, however, that entries on such sites can be written by anyone, whether or not that person has any depth of knowledge on the subject. Another online encyclopedias is Encyclopedia Britannica (Britannica.com).

n Library online catalogs: Finally, before actually visiting a library, spend some time on an online library catalog. Most states have their public libraries connected in an interlibrary loan program, and most local libraries have a website with a link to the state’s library catalog. You can do a search for books by subject, browse through titles, and request that specifc books be sent to the library nearest you.