Chapter 4: Developing and Supporting Your Ideas

Conducting Your Own Research

Up to this point, we have discussed finding sources (both primary and secondary) that have been published. It is also possible for you to use some truly firsthand information in your speeches by conducting your own primary research.


One type of primary research you can use is surveys. Your instructor may ask you to construct a short survey to learn something about your audience before, for example, a persuasive speech. A survey can be helpful if the questions are well-written and if the survey is not too long.

For the most part, a survey should use objective questions. That means questions with a few predetermined answers for the survey-takers to choose from, such as multiple-choice, true-false, I agree/Neutral/I dis- agree, or yes-no. If the researcher wants to construct a multiple choice question, he or she must try to provide all the reasonable options.

For example, if a student wanted to give a speech about why consumers should not buy gas with ethanol, and used this question:

What grade of gas do you buy for your car? Regular Medium High Octane/ Premium

The survey writer left out the option of diesel, and failed to account for students who don’t own or drive a car, who are unsure what grade of gasoline they buy, or who buy more than one grade of gasoline.

Another misstep to avoid is asking open-ended questions. If you wanted to know what grocery store in the area your audience patronized, this question would not be ideal:

At which grocery store does your family shop?

This alternate version would be more useful and easy to interpret: At which of these grocery stores does your family shop?

•      Food City

•      Target

•      Publix

•      Kroger

•       Save-a-Lot

•      Walmart

•       Shoprite

•      Other:

Allowing the people taking your survey to select more than one of the responses is best, since few people shop at just one store. Or you could phrase the question, “At which of these grocery stores does your family spend most of its money?” In that case, there would only be one answer, and it would tell you more specific information.

The criteria for what constitutes a “short” survey are fluid, but five questions would probably be enough to let you know what you need. A survey taker might become tired of answering a long list of questions. Other things to keep in mind when writing questions are to avoid using too vague or too personal questions, because respondents may not know how or may not want to answer. Furthermore, to get honest responses, it helps to write questions in an unbiased way. “Do you favor raising the minimum wage in our state to $15.00 per hour?” is more balanced than “Do you believe that business owners in our state should be required to treat their employees better by having to raise their minimum wage to a more reasonable and fair $15.00 per hour?” You also would not want to insult your survey takers with questions such as “Do you agree that all math majors are antisocial?”

Finally, you will administer the survey. There are many free online tools for surveys; two popular options are Survey Monkey and Google Forms. These are easy to use and helpful for short surveys (you might need to pay a fee for longer surveys, or to send surveys to a large group of people). You can also conduct surveys in person, but that takes longer and would not be anonymous, meaning people may be less likely to answer honestly. Finally, your instructor may ask you to make paper copies and pass them around class.

You can use a variety of means to conduct surveys. Using surveys is valuable because knowing your audience’s level of knowledge and their attitudes about your topic ahead of time can be helpful in creating an audience-centered speech.


You may also benefit from conducting an interview with a person who is knowledgeable about your topic, such as a professional with educational and career credentials in their field. Using a first-hand interview will add a great deal of credibility to your speech, if done correctly. For example, if

you are going to give a speech about the effects of the No Child Left Behind policy or the Common Core standards, it makes sense to talk to an elementary school principal for her knowledge and expertise on the issue.

Here are some valuable tips:

  1. Do the interview after you have read some published sources on the topic, not before. You should have a good understanding of the basic issues involved.
  2. Choose the right person: someone who has first-hand knowledge of the topic, is available and is willing to be interviewed.
  3. Make an appointment with the interviewee, and arrive on time.
  4. Assume that the person you are interviewing is busy and cannot give you lots of time. This assumption may be wrong, but it’s better to go in with the expectation of limited time than to expect the person to speak with you for an hour.
  5. Prepare your questions in advance and have your questions in a logical order. Do not say, “I have to give a speech on . What can you tell me about it?”
  6. Ask the person for information you cannot get from other sources. The interviewee may not know national statistics off the top of her head. She will know about her daily experience with the topic.
  7. Be sure not to ask inappropriate, proprietary, or embarrassing questions. Your interviewee should know that it’s okay for them to refuse to answer if they are not comfortable.
  8. Finally, write the person a thank you note or email afterward. He or she has done you a big favor, and expressing your gratitude is a courteous gesture. It is also valuable to networking. Someday, your interviewee may be in the position to offer you a job.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Fundamentals of Public Speaking Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book