When embarking on a research endeavor, most (if not all) people likely head for the student’s best friend: Google. This chapter will dedicate plenty of time to discussing how to effectively, efficiently, and accurately search electronic sources, but first will outline more traditional means of gathering information.
Traditional research sources (i.e., the ones that do not require internet access) include:
- Interviews with credible experts
- Peer-reviewed academic journals
Note: Researchers can technically find all of the above by way of the internet. Books, magazines, and newspapers now all have homes online, as do many interviews with experts, academic journals, and documentaries via sources such as YouTube or Netflix.
In the not-so-distant past, scholars considered all of the above sources automatically credible, but with more recent developments in communication technology, some of the above sources may require more careful consideration. Take, for instance, the fact that anyone with a computer and internet access can publish a book. So-called “vanity publishers” such as Lulu.com offer users the ability to upload document files and have them professionally printed and bound. “Vanity publishers” earned this distinction because they were once reserved for authors who “couldn’t cut it” in the traditional publishing market, but merely wanted to see their names on book jackets. However, more and more authors find this avenue of publishing a viable alternative, as self-publishing often offers authors a much higher percentage of royalty revenue. Take into account that contemporary publishers may not carefully verify information printed in their books. Some publishers even have unscrupulous motives for providing misinformation, such as driving book sales. Research the reputation and credentials of the article, for in public speaking, the responsibility sits with the speaker to show the audience why they should consider the source credible. Simply stating that an author published a book does not do enough to demonstrate validity.
Similarly, with respect to magazines and newspapers, an author of an article in the New York Times or Time may have automatic credibility, considering the acclaim these organizations have earned over the years. Some organizations and websites, however, present biased information.
Recognizing these biases and how an audience might perceive them helps the speaker know what research to use and what to avoid. If an audience survey reveals that the audience leans more to the left (slightly more liberal than conservative), then the speaker should probably avoid using sources like Fox News, and instead, look for the same or equivalent information via a publication that the audience will more likely perceive as credible and trustworthy.
Interviews with experts can add credibility to the speech, but also come with the caveat that the speaker must know how an audience may perceive that expert.
Finally, consider referring to peer-reviewed academic journals, such as Communication Monographs or the Journal of the American Medical Association . These periodic publications rank among the most trusted and widely revered sources of information regarding credibility, and for good reason. The process of peer review makes achieving publication in one of these journals a gargantuan feat for many would-be contributors. As soon as an author submits an article (often a research study or a theoretical article), it gets dispatched to a team of expert volunteer reviewers. These renowned authorities on the article’s subject know nothing about the author of the article (called a blind review). They proceed to read, fact-check, and provide suggestions for editing as needed. The rate of rejection varies depending on the reputation of the publication, though most rank generally high. An author may receive stacks of rejection letters before successfully achieving publication. By the time such an article reaches this point, the audience can rest assured that experts have carefully scrutinized and edited the piece, making the source among the most credible possible.
Although this section has covered “traditional” sources, one can find all of the above online with knowledge of where and how to search. Google Books, Amazon, and others can provide helpful previews of books, some magazines and newspapers provide access to their articles free of charge, online sites publish interviews with experts, and students can review scholarly journals via their college library’s website. However, having the skill to conduct effective searches can prove quite challenging to some and may require outside assistance. For that reason, spend time consulting with a college reference librarian after selecting a topic to formulate a general research plan. Consulting these highly trained and well-educated specialists can help uncover the most credible and beneficial information. In addition, their expertise in knowing where and how to look for credible information, once tapped, can save quantifiable amounts of time.