Topic Research: Gathering Materials and Evidence
Gathering Evidence: An Overview
The Importance of Gathering InformationGathering information can help speakers gain credibility and make their speech current and relevant.
Learning ObjectivesExplain how gathering research can provide additional credibility to a speech
- Don't simply rely on your own expertise to carry you through the speech. Seek out information to support your arguments and gain credibility with the audience.
- Instead of relying on generalizations or common sense, find current information to update your interpretation of the topic.
- Gather specialized information that will make your speech more relevant to your particular audience.
- evidence: The available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.
Why Gather Information?If you are already an expert on your topic, why should you take the time to gather more information? Personal expertise is a great source of anecdotes, illustrations, and insights about important issues and questions related to your topic. However, one person's opinion holds less weight than an opinion that is shared by other experts, supported by evidence, or validated by testimonials. The process of gathering information provides opportunities to step beyond the limitations of your own experience and enrich your own understanding of your topic. Here are a few of the benefits you can reap from gathering information:
Gain CredibilityIf you want the audience to trust your claims, back them up. Don't expect the audience to take your word for it, no questions asked. Find evidence, illustrations, anecdotes, testimonials, or expert opinions that support your claims. Compare these two statements—the first is a personal opinion, and the second is an argument supported with evidence. Which statement sounds more credible?
- I believe that building a parking garage near the town square would bring more traffic to local businesses and boost the local economy. Everyone knows it's impossible to find parking on weekends here, and that keeps a lot of people at home on weekends.
- Small businesses in our sister city, Springfield, reported losses comparable to ours after the financial crisis. However, everything changed for them last year: businesses reported that sales were up, and a few new businesses opened in the center of town, creating new jobs. Why didn't we get the same result? The mayor of Springfield credits the change to a new parking garage near the city center, which eased the parking shortage and brought more people into town on weekends. What can we learn from this story? There are people out there who want to patronize local businesses but are being driven away by the lack of parking. The plan for a new parking garage in our town square could bring us the same success we saw in Springfield.
The first statement relies on a "common sense" idea about parking convenience, which the audience may or may not agree with. By providing an example of a similar situation, the second statement lends credibility to the claim that a new parking garage would help the local economy.
Make It CurrentIf you want to assure your audience that you are well-informed about your topic, provide current information about it. Instead of relying on generalizations, gather up-to-date information about the particulars of your topic. See which of these two statements is more insightful:
- Teenagers spend too much time with their electronic gadgets. This obsession takes them away from the real world and leaves them unprepared for adult life.
- According to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, teenagers spend over seven and a half hours a day using electronic devices—mainly smartphones, computers, and TVs. This preoccupation leaves little time to give undivided attention to homework, family time, and extracurricular activities, all of which are essential steps toward adult life.
The first statement relies on unfounded opinions, leaving gaping holes in its argument. Perhaps teenagers do spend too much time with their devices, but how much time do they spend and why is it a problem? It sounds like a curmudgeonly rant about "kids these days." The second statement backs its claim up with evidence from a recent study and lists specific problems. Recent information makes it possible to define the problem clearly.
Keep It RelevantDifferent audiences have different needs. When you conduct an audience analysis, you will gain valuable demographic information—and you should use that information to guide the search for supporting evidence and illustrations. What would resonate with that particular group of people?
Let's say you are counseling an audience of nursing students in Florida about their job prospects. If you have general knowledge about nursing jobs, you have a good starting point. If you seek out information about the current market for nursing jobs in Florida, you will have information that is even more valuable to your audience. Make sure your speech is relevant to your audience: take the time to build on your area of expertise by gathering specialized information to fit the occasion.
Sources of InformationWhen you begin the research process, explore a variety of sources to discover the most useful information.
Learning ObjectivesState the best practices for conducting research
- Research librarians can help you get started on the research process. They can also help you refine your research and save time.
- If you're looking for the most current information about your topic, look for articles. Make sure their sources are trustworthy, though!
- When you are evaluating the credibility of a source, use the ADAM protocol: Age (how old is the information), Depth (how detailed is the information), Author (how qualified and reputable is the author), and Money (how monetary benefits may have produced biased information).
- bibliography: A list of books or documents relevant to a particular subject or author.
Sources of Information
Research LibrariansWhen it comes to research, do you feel completely lost, with no idea how or where to start looking for information? In these cases, a research librarian can be a real godsend. Research librarians are trained to give helpful advice about structuring the research process and looking in the right places for relevant information. Even if you're comfortable with research, a research librarian may be able to save a lot of time by helping you refine your search.
BibliographiesA bibliography is a collection of publication information about books, articles, and other resources that address a particular topic. You may be surprised to discover how many topics have bibliographies dedicated specifically to them, from very specific topics such as the novel David Copperfield to broader topics such as American environmental history. Annotated bibliographies are especially helpful, since they provide a summary of each resource listed.
BooksIf you are looking for general information about your topic, encyclopedias and other reference books are a great place to start. If you want something more specific, search for informative books about your topic and anthologies that include essays or articles about relevant issues.
Specialized Search Engines and DatabasesSpecialized search engines and databases make it easier to target specific information and filter out irrelevant material. If you are affiliated with a university, you probably have free access to research databases such as JSTOR, EBSCO, ProQuest, and LexisNexis Academic. These services provide a variety of search criteria for finding relevant academic articles and news stories. If you are conducting independent research, try Google Scholar, which is free for everyone.
ArticlesIf you want the most up-to-date sources of information about your topic, look for articles in academic journals and news publications. The Internet is a great resource for finding articles, but you have to be careful—make sure your sources are trustworthy. Books and articles published in academic journals usually go through a lengthy peer review process that verifies the author's expertise and the material's accuracy. Online publications and blogs may not have such reliable fact-checking procedures. If you find useful information in an unfamiliar online source, try to verify it elsewhere before incorporating it into your speech.
ADAMThe "ADAM" protocol is a great way to evaluate the credibility of a resource. Consider these criteria:
- Age: Is the source recent? For most topics, current articles are more reliable than old articles, although some topics call for older research.
- Depth: How deep and detailed is the analysis ? Are its claims supported by valid evidence?
- Author: What are the author's qualifications? Do the author's biography and reputation raise the possibility of potential conflicts of interest or biases? What is the author's agenda in writing the article?
- Money: Are the authors or publishers affiliated with institutions or corporations that have material benefits at stake in the issue?
News Sources vs. Scholarly SourcesNews sources often contain both factual content and opinion content. News reporting from less-established outlets is generally considered less reliable for statements of fact. Editorial commentary, analysis and opinion pieces, whether written by the editors of the publication (editorials) or outside authors (op-eds) are reliable primary sources for statements attributed to that editor or author, but are rarely reliable for statements of fact. When taking information from opinion content, the identity of the author may help determine reliability. The opinions of specialists and recognized experts are more likely to be reliable and to reflect a significant viewpoint.
For information about academic topics, scholarly sources and high-quality non-scholarly sources are generally better than news reports. News reports may be acceptable depending on the context. Articles which deal in depth with specific studies, as a specialized article on science, are apt to be of more value than general articles which only tangentially deal with a topic. Frequently, although not always, such articles are written by specialist writers who may be cited by name.
Research Tips: Start Early, Use a Bibliography, and Evaluate Material CriticallyStart the research process early, consult a bibliography to find credible sources, and evaluate those sources critically.
Learning ObjectivesExplain why starting research early, using a bibliography, and evaluating material critically is crucial to the research process
- Even seasoned public speakers start preparing early—follow their lead!
- Bibliographies, which compile many different sources that address a particular topic, are great research tools.
- Make sure you understand the context of your research, especially if you are looking at unfamiliar sources.
- bibliography: A list of books or documents relevant to a particular subject or author.
- critical thinking: he application of logical principles, rigorous standards of evidence, and careful reasoning to the analysis and discussion of claims, beliefs, and issues
By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail. -Benjamin Franklin
Well begun is half done. -Aristotle
Start EarlyMark Twain once said, "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. " If it took that long for Mark Twain, one of the most eloquent speakers in American history, to write a "good impromptu speech," students of public speaking should take note and get a nice, early start on the research process. American philosopher Wayne Burgraff estimated that speakers should spend one hour of preparation for every minute of presentation.
Use a BibliographyConsulting a bibliography will make your research process more efficient. Bibliographies compile publication information about books, articles, and other resources that address a particular topic. Some bibliographies appear as standalone books, while others appear in academic journals or online resources. Annotated bibliographies summarize the main argument of each resource. If a bibliography is recent enough, it can be a one-stop shop for all of your research needs, pointing to many credible sources. However, if the bibliography is old, or if you need the most current information about your topic, you should fill the gap between the end of the bibliography and the present time by looking for articles and books from that time period.
Evaluate Material Critically
"90% of everything" might be an exaggeration, but, sadly, there is a lot of garbage out there. If you carefully evaluate your sources to make sure they are credible, you stand to save yourself a lot of trouble. Here's a cautionary tale: Iranian news outlet Fars became a laughingstock after it picked up an American news story claiming that the majority of white Americans in rural areas would rather vote for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Barack Obama. That doesn't sound quite right, does it? Of course, the original story came from The Onion, a satirical newspaper. If the journalists at Fars had checked out their source, they could have avoided an embarrassing mistake. Use your critical thinking skills to make sure you understand the context of your research!90% of everything is garbage! -Theodore Sturgeon
Reliable sources must be strong enough to support the claim. A lightweight source may sometimes be acceptable for a lightweight claim, but never for an extraordinary claim.Questionable sources are those with a poor reputation for checking the facts, or with no editorial oversight. Such sources include websites and publications expressing views that are widely acknowledged as extremist, that are promotional in nature, or which rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions. Questionable sources are generally unsuitable for citing contentious claims about third parties, which includes claims against institutions, persons living or dead, as well as more ill-defined entities. The proper uses of a questionable source are very limited.
Sometimes "non-neutral" sources are the best possible sources for supporting information about the different viewpoints held on a subject. When dealing with a potentially biased source, editors should consider whether the source meets the normal requirements for reliable sources, such as editorial control and a reputation for fact-checking. Editors should also consider whether the bias makes it appropriate to use in-text attribution to the source. Each source must be carefully weighed to judge whether it is reliable for the statement being made and is an appropriate source for that content. In general, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication.