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CMJ 103: Public Speaking & Information Literacy Guide

Research as Exploration

Research is an exploratory process that helps us focus our interests, answer questions, and increase our understanding of a given topic. Let yourself be taken and surprised by what you are finding and learning, and allow research to shape the focus of your speech.

You will most likely begin your research with a general idea of what interests you. Then, you will start exploratory research - talk with people, access various sources, and see what other sources your sources reference. You will take notes, jot down questions, and reflect on what it means to you that you’re asking these questions or that you don’t know the answers. As you gather multiple perspectives on the topic or idea that interests you, you will refine or even change the focus of your speech. Embrace this as a part of the process and remember to start your research early to allow yourself enough time to explore, learn, and have fun along the way.

Make sure you select a topic that is not too narrow and not too broad, considering the requirements of your speech assignment and your own interests. Selecting your topic is an important part of the research process (not something that comes before you begin researching). When you think of topic selection and research as exploration, you are preparing for a confident, credible, and knowledgeable delivery of a speech that both YOU and YOUR audience will enjoy.

Picking Your Topic IS Research

Meet Jennie. Jennie has a research project due in a few days. She picked a topic when her professor first assigned the project. She chose her favorite TV show Bridezillas. It seemed like a good idea, but now that she's doing her research, she's having a lot of trouble finding sources. She's freaking out.

Jennie's problem started with her mental model of the research process, which she sees as a one-way street. Like many students, Jennie thinks that once a project is assigned, she should pick her topic right away. Then she can move on to finding sources and reading through them. And once she has all her sources, she can start writing her paper.

But, the research process is a lot messier than that, and picking your topic is intertwined with finding and reading sources and writing and editing your paper.

Picking your topic IS research.

When you first pick a research topic, it isn't set in stone. It's just an idea that you test with some exploratory research. If it looks good, you find and read some more sources. At this point, you might find that the published research leads you away from your original topic. That's OK.

You can let the research you find guide you and tweak your topic a bit. And by the time you have gone through this cycle a few times, you may find that you have enough sources to start writing and editing your paper. Even then, as you're writing, you may find that you need to pull in additional pieces of information and you may return to the research cycle.

So, let's wind the clock back for Jennie, bringing her back to the day her professor assigned this project, and allow her to do it again with this research model.

Again, Jennie picks a topic that is interesting to her: the reality TV show Bridezillas. As she tests the topic with some Internet research and in article databases, she discovers that there is lots written about it in the popular press, but not much scholarly research, which her professor requires.

Realizing that maybe her topic is a bit too narrowly defined, Jennie decides to tweak it by broadening her scope to "Reality TV" in general. But when she tests this new topic, she winds up drowning in a sea of research all of which has to do with Reality TV, but doesn't tie together to help her form a coherent thesis.

Back at the drawing board, she wonders if there's a happy medium between Bridezillas, which is too narrow a topic, and "Reality TV" which is too broad. Since Bridezillas is just one of several reality TV shows about brides and weddings, perhaps there's more written about this sub genre. Testing this topic in some of the library's research databases yields a promising, but not overwhelming, number of results.

Instead of realizing too late that her topic was un-researchable, Jennie built in the time to test and tweak her topic, so she could take her original idea and shape it into a topic that she still finds interesting and can realistically use for a short research assignment.

If you want to know more about the research process or about how to pick a good topic, Ask a Librarian for help!

Video by North Carolina State University Libraries. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

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