Step one: Choosing a Topic
Choosing a topic is often difficult for students. In cases where the parameters are well-defined or assigned by the professor, the process is easy. However, in cases where the student can choose anything, it can be overwhelming. In the COMM 2045 class, students can usually pick anything they want for the presentations they are expected to deliver.
When a topic can be anything, it might be useful for the student to not only consider something that interests them, but also to consider something that may help them build on work they may be doing in other classes. For example, if you are in a nursing program, a topic for a demonstrative presentation might be “how to tie a tourniquet” or some other first aid topic. Another example in this same field would be to do a persuasive presentation on the ethics of some medical procedure.
Students who are not sure what to do for their presentations should also consider using some of the resources available to them to find a topic. Some of the more popular resources used include:
These are just two resources that can be used. For further information on how to choose a topic, take a look at:
Step two: Performing Background Research
More often than not, the initial choosing of a topic leaves the student with way too much material to cover. In the COMM 2045 class, presentations are expected to be around five minutes long and the initial topic selected could actually be discussed extensively. The next step in conducting research helps to narrow the focus of the topic into something more manageable in the time frame allowed. The best way to begin to narrow the topic is to perform background research on the general topic chosen.
Background research is often used to ensure that the student has a more complete understanding of the general topic. Additionally, developing a more comprehensive understanding of the topic provides the student with possibilities for narrowing the topic to something more specific. As an example, if a student picks the Civil War as a topic, background research may lead the student to selecting a particular aspect of the Civil War to discuss in a presentation, such as “the impact of the Civil War on farming in the south.” This topic might also be narrowed by further research, and this gives the student a chance to discuss the subject in the allotted time.
Most background research is performed using resources that provide broad information on various topics, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and other ready reference materials. Here are a few sources that can be used to begin performing background research:
In addition to these general resources, there are also a number of subject-specific sources available that can be used for background research once you have begun to narrow your topic. Some examples of these can be found here:
Finding a dictionary or encyclopedia in a specific subject can be done by searching in the library catalog using the subject term of your topic and the keyword “encyclopedia” or “dictionary.”
Step three: Creating a Research Question
After a student has performed background research, the student should have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. After developing a deeper understanding of the topic, it is important to determine what questions might be of interest. Choosing a question is the next step in the process of focusing the topic into a paper or presentation that can be covered in the amount of time allotted for a presentation or the number of pages required by the professor.
Creating a research question is also important because it provides the audience with a context for the work being presented. Even if there is no question written into a paper or presentation, it should be clear that a question and answer are being discussed. For example, if the student is delivering a persuasive presentation that argues for compensating college athletes, then even if there is nothing specifically asking “Should college athletes be paid for their efforts?,” the question should be obvious.
Step four: Identifying Resources
Once the student has a more comprehensive overview of the subject area and narrowed down the topic, it is time to start determining the best places to find answers to the research question. To assist with identifying possible resources for researching a topic, the librarians at Austin Peay State University have created subject guides (link) that have links to various databases, books, and journals that may be useful. In many cases, the student can determine the best subject guide by going to the guide that corresponds to the course they are taking. For example, if the paper or presentation is being prepared for a physics class, then the physics subject guide may be the best place to look for resources.
Although, it will often be easy to use the subject guides to look for resources, there will be times when a paper or presentation will be on a topic that doesn’t fit exactly into a specific course. It is important for the student to think critically about the work they are doing when determining the resources they will use. The presentations for the COMM 2045 class are a good example of the need to evaluate the topic. There is a subject guide for communications, but many of the presentations may be on topics that are better researched using other areas. In one example, an informative presentation regarding “the effect of COVID on unborn children” may have better information when using resources listed in the medical sciences, nursing, or allied health subject guides.
Step five: Collecting Your Data and Examining Your Results
After gaining a better understanding of the topic by doing background research and creating a research question, the student should have plenty of terms and phrases in mind to look for information on a focused topic. Searching the resources identified in the major subject areas will provide a number of ideas for the topic.
To help with collecting information, the APSU librarians have created a few “How to Guides" that explain some of the searching techniques used for finding scholarly literature. These guides cover topics such as:
After searching and discovering resources, it is important to evaluate any information gathered. The resources listed in the APSU subject guides, as well as many other university websites, have been vetted to ensure they are academic and provide access to the best information. However, if you are finding resources using other methods such as Google, it is important to evaluate the information you find much more rigorously. For information on how to evaluate any information you find, please review the library’s “How to Guide" on evaluating websites.
Even when using the resources provided by APSU, it is important to understand the difference between popular and scholarly information. The faculty expect that scholarly resources will be used for any papers or presentations assigned in classes. For more detailed information on understanding the difference between popular and scholarly resources, please review the “How to Guide" provided by the APSU librarians.
Step six: Re-evaluating Your Research Question
For this step in the research process, it is important to review all the discovered information. It might be necessary to revise the research question. When there is too little information to support the answer to a research question, the student needs to either look for other variations of the terms used in the search process, or if the topic is too obscure, the student may need to try a broader question. Conversely, if there is too much information available, the student may want to examine the results and determine if there is a need to refine the question.
Step seven: Collect More Research
This step is important if the same question is being used, but not enough information has been discovered to support an answer. It is also important to collect more information if a new question has been proposed. In this phase of the research process, it is also useful to explore any opposing research that may be found. Looking for contradictory information can ensure a stronger paper or presentation by preparing the student for difficult questions that may be asked by the audience. These potential questions may also be incorporated into the work being presented, along with explanations.
Step eight: Synthesizing the Research
In this step, the student begins to put all the research together. Reading over the results from the background research and the sources discussing the research question requires time. It is good practice to spend time processing this information before attempting to express the information. In this step, it also may be useful to create an outline organizing the information that will be covered in the final product. The outline may be tweaked a few times to make sure it follows the logical sequence that will be used in the final product.
For more information about synthesizing information, watch this video.
Step nine: Expressing the Findings
Every step in the research process has led to this point: expressing the findings. Whether it is a paper or a presentation, it is time to write an opinion, backed up with the evidence that has been found. This is a point where starting with an outline becomes more essential. In writing for a presentation, the outline can be fleshed out to include the points that will be discussed. For a paper, the outline can be used to create headers for paragraphs that cover the points listed in the paper. The guidelines for how to write papers and presentations will be directed by the professor in each class.
When writing, it is important to cite the information that inspired the ideas. Not only is citing important for giving credit to the person that originated these thoughts, but it is also important for providing a trail to the professor that shows how the ideas and opinions were formed. When you do not provide a reference that gives credit to the original author, you are plagiarizing. To avoid plagiarizing and the consequences that can come from even accidentally doing so, watch the following video.
The librarians at APSU have also set up a “How to Guide" on citing sources that has links to various citation styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, and more. These links go to webpages that provide further information and examples for citing in each particular style.
Anyone that needs further assistance with citing or other parts of the research process can always ask for help at the Research Assistance Desk. Click on the Ask A Librarian page to find out how to contact someone for assistance. The library also has a Writing Center available if further assistance is needed on any papers or presentations.
To view chat hours, submit an e-mail question, or view other contact options, please visit the Ask a Librarian webpage.
Are your searches not yielding the results you expected? Are you having trouble finding the information you need? You may schedule a private consultation with a librarian to obtain assistance with developing strategies for your research.
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If you have problems accessing resources from off campus, please call the Library’s Access Services Desk at 931-221-7978 or Ask a Librarian.