Conducting Research

Today it is so easy to find information, just go to the internet. Many of you are online every day gathering information: reconnecting with people, downloading driving directions, weather forecasts, song lyrics, recipes, etc. But gathering information is not research! Research requires that you find information, of course, but it also demands much more from you.

First thing you need to do is to do background research to identify the “who, what, when, why, where” information on your topic.
Conduct background research because:

  1. It is a great source of core knowledge on your topic
  2. It can generate ideas on different ways to focus your topic
  3. It can answer research questions you’ve already posed
  4. It may help you clarify and/or expand research questions
  5. It often points you towards other sources of information on your topic (bibliographies)

For research based speeches you will be using three basic types of information: Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary.  Your instructor will usually tell you what types of information he or she expects you to use for your research.  What is the difference between the three types?

Primary (Think of this as First Hand)

Primary information is comprised of original materials that were created first hand. This type of information is from the time period involved and has not been filtered through interpretation.  Examples are:

  • Diaries
  • Interviews (legal proceedings, personal, telephone, email)
  • Letters
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate or a trial transcript)
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings of Meetings, Conferences and Symposia.
  • Survey Research (such as market surveys and public opinion polls)
  • Works of Literature

Secondary (Think of this as Second Hand)

Secondary information is made up of accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. It is comprised of interpretations and evaluations of primary information. Secondary information is not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.  Examples are:

  • Biographies
  • Books
  • Commentaries
  • Dissertations
  • Indexes, Abstracts, Bibliographies (used to locate primary & secondary sources)
  • Journal Articles

Tertiary (Think of this as Third Hand)

Tertiary information is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary information. Examples are:

  • Almanacs
  • Encyclopedias
  • Fact books


To plagiarize means to try to pass off another person’s words, work, information or ideas as our own, without giving them credit.

Intentional Plagiarism
Sometimes plagiarism is committed on purpose. For instance, a student turning in an entire paper that he or she didn’t write, or cutting and pasting huge pieces of information from an online source into a paper without acknowledging the original source of information.

Unintentional Plagiarism
Unintentional plagiarism can occur when students aren’t aware of everything that must be cited. For instance, while most students know they must give credit for using someone’s exact words, some are unaware they must also give credit for using someone’s ideas…even if they have put those ideas into their own words.   Unintentinal plagiarism can also occur when students don’t keep track of their source material, so that by the time they return to their notes they cannot distinguish between what information they came to on their own, and what information came from an outside source.

Citing is requires for sources you quote word-for-word, for sources you paraphrase (rewrite using your own words), and for sources that give you ideas merely summarize within your work.

Example of word-for-word quote.The quote below appears exactly as it does in Joanna Santa Barbara’s article on child-rearing in the Encyclopedia of Violence Peace and Conflict.

“Adjusted data from seven U.S. surveys between 1968 and 1994 show a decline in approval of disciplinary spanking from 94% to 68%, or 26 percentage points in 26 years” (Santa Barbara 217).

Example of paraphrase: This sentence takes the information above and puts it into the author’s own words.

Studies show that Americans are becoming more critical of the concept of spanking children. Between 1968 and 1994 the so-called “approval rating” of spanking children dropped from 94% to 68% (Santa Barbara 217).

Example of summarizing an idea: The sentence below distills the main idea of the original information.

Studies have shown that Americans just don't approve of speaking like they used to (Santa Barbara 217). 

**Taken from Modesto Junior College Library**


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