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CMTH 221: History of Broadcasting: Getting Ready for Research

This guide is intended to help students with research assignments about the history of broadcasting.

Find out how to start your research, approach your topic, identify search keywords, and develop your topic further. See suggested search keywords and learn some basic search strategies to help you find the information you are looking for and the sources you need. Review what peer-reviewed, scholarly sources are before you start to work with them. 

Starting Your Research

Research is a process -- one where it's easy to overlook or underestimate the first few beginning steps. Taking the time to think about your topic, to brainstorm possible search keywords, and to gather some basic or background information often sets you up for success later and can help you avoid frustration or getting stuck. 

Exploration and discovery are a part of the process too. Doing some preliminary, initial searches to see what information it is available about your topic can reveal details or aspects about it you need to find more information on. It can also lead to questions that may guide the rest of your searches. Those questions may be the same ones your audience has about the topic that you may want to address in your paper or project. Or you may find one overarching question your paper or project will answer as a whole, giving you the basic setup and structure for your paper or project.

Developing your topic in this way and doing these activities at the beginning of your research can make your later searches, when you are likely to be looking for more detailed, in-depth, complex or specific information sources, more effective. Those deeper analyses, studies, and research articles may become easier to find. It will also help you more quickly decide what is useful and relevant for your needs and what is not. 

Approaching Your Topic

For your media history project, the challenge is not just picking a topic and giving a good overview of its history, but also analyzing it and arguing that it has significance -- that it has importance and made an impact or brought about change to the industry, society, or culture.  

To do this, you might need to look for information about:

  • what inspired it or led to its creation
  • why it was successful (or why it wasn't)
  • how it was influenced or influenced the society and culture it belonged to
  • how it impacted or changed the industry

You may have to search for some background or basic information before these ideas start to become clear. As you do, you will begin to gather search keywords to use later and you will start developing your topic - figuring out exactly the points you want to present about it. Your overarching research question, which your paper or podcast should answer, will also start to emerge. These steps of the process all related and may be intertwined with each other.

Identifying & Choosing Search Keywords

Finding the right search terms to use is one of the most difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming parts of research. It can be helpful to gather potential search keywords as you begin to become more knowledgeable about your topic.

Remember to try: 

  • words or short phrases that represent the main or most important ideas about your topic 
  • synonyms, nouns, or related ideas if necessary
  • broader and more specific terms or ideas
  • words that might appear in information/sources about your topic (words experts and professionals might use)
  • using a combination of keywords

Try to choose your search keywords carefully. The more precise and specific you can be, the more likely you are to find useful sources quickly. Vague search keywords that could apply to many broadcasting topics - not just yours, will give you too many results and sources to filter and read through.

Having a list of several possible search terms and keywords can help if a search doesn't work the way you thought it would - you will have other keywords to use instead. 

Here are 2 examples of how to recognize search keywords from general topic ideas and research questions:

  • Topic: radio sound effects 
    Question: How were radio sound effects creative representations of actual noises and how have evolved since the early days of radio?
    Possible keywords: radio, radio history, early radio, beginning radio, sound effects, evolution, noises, sound

  • Topic: MTV's The Real World
    Possible keywords: "The Real World", MTV, reality television, documentary television, popularity, real-life, dram
    Question: What inspired the creation of "The Real World" and how did its popularity influence later reality and documentary series?

Developing Your Topic

Developing your topic will lead you to a more specific focus for your paper or podcast and will help you present it within the page and time length guidelines without leaving out or ignoring important information about it. Choosing specific ideas to present about your topic will help you with this. 

When you start to work with your general topic idea and try to this specific focus, there are 2 common ways you might get stuck:

  • Problem: Your topic is too broad or big. 
    Possible Solution: You may have to choose some specific examples or identify some smaller pieces and points to focus on. Ask who, what, why, how about your topic to get at a more focused approach, and to find some of those smaller points.
  • Problem: Your topic is too narrow or small.
    Possible Solution: You may have to take a step back. Look at the bigger picture and bigger ideas. Think about the context of your topic, what it might be an example of, what larger subject area it falls into. Can you connect it to something else? There may be information about the bigger or related ideas that you can apply to your topic or that your topic illustrates.

This is a chance to do some really deep historical, cultural, and social research. It’s a little different than other research assignments you may have done. It might be more straightforward in some ways, but an added challenge here may reading the sources you find carefully for the elements of the topic that you want to present and connecting them to your audience so that they feel invested in the topic and recognize its importance.

A Word or Two about Scholarly & Peer-Reviewed Sources

The nature of your topic for this project is likely to lead you to some scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. You'll probably encounter them as you search, even if you aren't necessarily looking for them.

What does scholarly mean? It means the work (usually a book or article) is:

  • written by scholars, experts, or researchers
  • intended to be read by other scholars, experts, and researchers in the same field or discipline who have familiarity with the topic or subject
  • detailing a research study or studies, including original research, methodology, theory, and/or experimentation, analysis, or conclusions
  • sometimes these sources are also referred to as being 'academic'

Peer-reviewed sources meet the same criteria above, but their content has also gone through an intensive feedback process before publication. During this process, other experts or scholars in that same field review the article for accuracy and the findings or conclusions for validity. The authors make edits and changes based on that feedback and review before the article is published. All peer-reviewed sources are scholarly, but not all scholarly sources have been peer-reviewed. 

The types of scholarly and peer-reviewed articles and books you are likely to use for this assignment will be in-depth, detailed, critical analyses and examinations of your topic. They will be academic treatments -- how scholars and historians view the topic and its importance to the industry or society.

Sound familiar? You will be doing the same thing through your paper or podcast, which is why these types of sources may be helpful to use!