Handbook for Historians
- Choosing a Paper Topic
How to Create an Outline
- Thesis Statement
- What Sources Can I use?
- Gathering sources
- Find Primary Sources
- Paraphrasing and Quoting Sources
- How to create an Annotated Bibliography
- Formatting Endnotes/Footnotes
- Formatting Bibliographies
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Sample Papers
- Research Paper Checklist
The outline is an organized blueprint of the material presented in your paper. Writers who make use of outlines are unlikely to exaggerate one aspect of the subject at the expense of others, or to drift off into tantalizing but irrelevant subtopics. Readers appreciate a well developed outline because it provides a detailed table of contents and alerts them to the path the paper will follow.
Formal outlines usually employ Roman numerals, Roman letters, and Arabic numerals, as we see below:
- Example of a sub-idea
and so on . . . till your conclusion.
Begin by listing the main ideas you want to get across, or main points you wish to make. These will become your Roman numeral headings. Next, divide each of these into sub-ideas or subsections, labeled with a capital letter. Make sure that you have at least two subsections under each main heading; it is illogical to “divide” a section into one subdivision. Then, for each sub-idea, list various examples, bits of evidence, and information, numbering them with Arabic numerals. If necessary, these can be divided still further into details, preceded by lower case letters. Use either whole sentences or phrases, but be consistent throughout your outline: stick with one or the other. For a ten-page paper, a good comprehensive outline would normally be between one to two pages long, typewritten and double-spaced.
Here is an example of an outline for a HST paper.
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Steps for Writing a History Paper
Writing a history paper is a process. Successful papers are not completed in a single moment of genius or inspiration, but are developed over a series of steps. When you first read a paper prompt, you might feel overwhelmed or intimidated. If you think of writing as a process and break it down into smaller steps, you will find that paper-writing is manageable, less daunting, and even enjoyable. Writing a history paper is your opportunity to do the real work of historians, to roll up your sleeves and dig deep into the past.
What is a History paper?
History papers are driven by arguments. In a history class, even if you are not writing a paper based on outside research, you are still writing a paper that requires some form of argument. For example, suppose your professor has asked you to write a paper discussing the differences between colonial New England and colonial Virginia. It might seem like this paper is straightforward and does not require an argument, that it is simply a matter of finding the “right answer.” However, even here you need to construct a paper guided by a larger argument. You might argue that the main differences between colonial New England and Virginia were grounded in contrasting visions of colonization. Or you might argue that the differences resulted from accidents of geography or from extant alliances between regional Indian groups. Or you might make an argument that draws on all of these factors. Regardless, when you make these types of assertions, you are making an argument that requires historical evidence. Any history paper you write will be driven by an argument demanding evidence from sources.
History writing assignments can vary widely–and you should always follow your professor’s specific instructions–but the following steps are designed to help no matter what kind of history paper you are writing. Remember that the staff of the History Writing Center is here to assist you at any stage of the writing process.
- Sometimes professors distribute prompts with several sub-questions surrounding the main question they want you to write about. The sub-questions are designed to help you think about the topic. They offer ideas you might consider, but they are not, usually, the key question or questions you need to answer in your paper. Make sure you distinguish the key questions from the sub-questions. Otherwise, your paper may sound like a laundry list of short-answer essays rather than a cohesive argument. A helpful way to hone in on the key question is to look for action verbs, such as “analyze” or “investigate” or “formulate.” Find such words in the paper prompt and circle them. Then, carefully consider what you are being asked to do. Write out the key question at the top of your draft and return to it often, using it to guide you in the writing process. Also, be sure that you are responding to every part of the prompt. Prompts will often have several questions you need to address in your paper. If you do not cover all aspects, then you are not responding fully to the assignment. For more information, visit our section, “Understanding Paper Prompts.”
- Before you even start researching or drafting, take a few minutes to consider what you already know about the topic. Make a list of ideas or draw a cluster diagram, using circles and arrows to connect ideas–whatever method works for you. At this point in the process, it is helpful to write down all of your ideas without stopping to judge or analyze each one in depth. You want to think big and bring in everything you know or suspect about the topic. After you have finished, read over what you have created. Look for patterns or trends or questions that keep coming up. Based on what you have brainstormed, what do you still need to learn about the topic? Do you have a tentative argument or response to the paper prompt? Use this information to guide you as you start your research and develop a thesis.
- Depending on the paper prompt, you may be required to do outside research or you may be using only the readings you have done in class. Either way, start by rereading the relevant materials from class. Find the parts from the textbook, from the primary source readings, and from your notes that relate to the prompt. If you need to do outside research, the UCLA library system offers plenty of resources. You can begin by plugging key words into the online library catalog. This process will likely involve some trial and error. You will want to use search terms that are specific enough to address your topic without being so narrow that you get no results. If your keywords are too general, you may receive thousands of results and feel overwhelmed. To help you narrow your search, go back to the key questions in the essay prompt that you wrote down in Step 1. Think about which terms would help you respond to the prompt. Also, look at the language your professor used in the prompt. You might be able to use some of those same words as search terms. Notice that the library website has different databases you can search depending on what type of material you need (such as scholarly articles, newspapers, books) and what subject and time period you are researching (such as eighteenth-century England or ancient Rome). Searching the database most relevant to your topic will yield the best results. Visit the library’s History Research Guide for tips on the research process and on using library resources. You can also schedule an appointment with a librarian to talk specifically about your research project. Or, make an appointment with staff at the History Writing Center for research help. Visit our section about using electronic resources as well.
- By this point, you know what the prompt is asking, you have brainstormed possible responses, and you have done some research. Now you need to step back, look at the material you have, and develop your argument. Based on the reading and research you have done, how might you answer the question(s) in the prompt? What arguments do your sources allow you to make? Draft a thesis statement in which you clearly and succinctly make an argument that addresses the prompt. If you find writing a thesis daunting, remember that whatever you draft now is not set in stone. Your thesis will change. As you do more research, reread your sources, and write your paper, you will learn more about the topic and your argument. For now, produce a “working thesis,” meaning, a thesis that represents your thinking up to this point. Remember it will almost certainly change as you move through the writing process. For more information, visit our section about thesis statements. Once you have a thesis, you may find that you need to do more research targeted to your specific argument. Revisit some of the tips from Step 3.
- Now that you have a working thesis, look back over your sources and identify which ones are most critical to you–the ones you will be grappling with most directly in order to make your argument. Then, annotate them. Annotating sources means writing a paragraph that summarizes the main idea of the source as well as shows how you will use the source in your paper. Think about what the source does for you. Does it provide evidence in support of your argument? Does it offer a counterpoint that you can then refute, based on your research? Does it provide critical historical background that you need in order to make a point? For more information about annotating sources, visit our section on annotated bibliographies. While it might seem like this step creates more work for you by having to do more writing, it in fact serves two critical purposes: it helps you refine your working thesis by distilling exactly what your sources are saying, and it helps smooth your writing process. Having dissected your sources and articulated your ideas about them, you can more easily draw upon them when constructing your paper. Even if you do not have to do outside research and are limited to working with the readings you have done in class, annotating sources is still very useful. Write down exactly how a particular section in the textbook or in a primary source reader will contribute to your paper.
- An outline is helpful in giving you a sense of the overall structure of your paper and how best to organize your ideas. You need to decide how to arrange your argument in a way that will make the most sense to your reader. Perhaps you decide that your argument is most clear when presented chronologically, or perhaps you find that it works best with a thematic approach. There is no one right way to organize a history paper; it depends entirely on the prompt, on your sources, and on what you think would be most clear to someone reading it. An effective outline includes the following components: the research question from the prompt (that you wrote down in Step 1), your working thesis, the main idea of each body paragraph, and the evidence (from both primary and secondary sources) you will use to support each body paragraph. Be as detailed as you can when putting together your outline.
If you have trouble getting started or are feeling overwhelmed, try free writing. Free writing is a low-stakes writing exercise to help you get past the blank page. Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write down everything you know about your paper: your argument, your sources, counterarguments, everything. Do not edit or judge what you are writing as you write; just keep writing until the timer goes off. You may be surprised to find out how much you knew about your topic. Of course, this writing will not be polished, so do not be tempted to leave it as it is. Remember that this draft is your first one, and you will be revising it.
A particularly helpful exercise for global-level revision is to make a reverse outline, which will help you look at your paper as a whole and strengthen the way you have organized and substantiated your argument. Print out your draft and number each of the paragraphs. Then, on a separate piece of paper, write down each paragraph number and, next to it, summarize in a phrase or a sentence the main idea of that paragraph. As you produce this list, notice if any paragraphs attempt to make more than one point: mark those for revision. Once you have compiled the list, read it over carefully. Study the order in which you have sequenced your ideas. Notice if there are ideas that seem out of order or repetitive. Look for any gaps in your logic. Does the argument flow and make sense?
When revising at the local level, check that you are using strong topic sentences and transitions, that you have adequately integrated and analyzed quotations, and that your paper is free from grammar and spelling errors that might distract the reader or even impede your ability to communicate your point. One helpful exercise for revising on the local level is to read your paper out loud. Hearing your paper will help you catch grammatical errors and awkward sentences.
Here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself while revising on both the global and local levels:
– Does my thesis clearly state my argument and its significance?
– Does the main argument in each body paragraph support my thesis?
– Do I have enough evidence within each body paragraph to make my point?
– Have I properly introduced, analyzed, and cited every quotation I use?
– Do my topic sentences effectively introduce the main point of each paragraph?
– Do I have transitions between paragraphs?
– Is my paper free of grammar and spelling errors?
- Congratulate yourself. You have written a history paper!
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Insights from zachary schrag, author of the princeton guide to historical research, how to write an outline.
Updated December 2017
- Article Outline Example: Decimal format (PDF)
- Article Outline Template: Decimal format (.docx)
- Article Outline Example: alphanumeric format (PDF)
An outline is a map of a longer work, which can be anything from a brief essay to a full-length book. Authors write outlines at many stages in their projects, but especially when they have completed a fair amount of research and want to figure out how to organize their findings, and again when they have written a draft and want to check it for narrative or logical consistency.
An outline has two goals. The first is to organize a long work into smaller sections. This will be helpful to you as you write, since it will break an intimidating project into shorter, more manageable tasks. And it will help the reader follow your story or argument by drawing her attention to the key episodes or arguments.
The second goal, one sometimes overlooked, is to highlight the major findings of a body of research. The best way to do this is with what the authors of the Purdue OWL page on Types of Outlines and Samples call such an outline a “full sentence outline,” listing not merely topics to be covered, but claims to be made and supported with evidence.
Classic outlines denote the major sections of a work with upper case Roman numerals. Within each section, a subsection can be denoted with a capital letter, and smaller levels still with Arabic numerals, lower case letters, and, if really necessary, lower case Roman numerals. I have found, however, that decimal outlines are easier to work with, so I suggest them here.
To show how this looks in practice, I have outlined Christopher W. Wells, “The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age.” Technology and Culture 48, no. 3 (2007): 497–523. doi:10.1353/tech.2007.0142 . Most of this outline consists of sentences taken directly from Wells’s article; to avoid clutter I have copied them without quotation marks. Believing this to be fair use, I have not sought permission from the copyright holder, but I have received Professor Wells’s kind permission to repurpose his work in this way.
The titles of the sections (indicated by single digits) are those of the headings in the published article. The lower level headings (two- and three-digit numbers) are topic sentences from Wells’s essay, with the two-digit numbers indicating statements that summarize claims fleshed out in the three-digit paragraphs.
Most outlines need not be so detailed. To present the basic structure of a term paper, article, or chapter (that is, anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 words), two levels of headings should suffice, and that is what I’ve used for my Article Outline Example: Decimal format , which outlines Wells’s article in only two pages. Here, the highest-level headings signal new sections of the paper, and second-level headings indicate clusters of paragraphs. This format makes for a good discussion document for a student and an instructor. I have also posted a blank outline in .docx format , which you are welcome to use.
If you want to outline a multi-chapter work, such as a dissertation, then you will need to add another level to the hierarchy. In that case, single digits represent chapters, two-digit headings represent sections, and three-digit headings represent clusters of paragraphs.
I crafted the Wells outlines based on the finished work, a process called reverse outlining. (See University of Wisconsin – Madison Writing Center, “ Reverse Outlines ,” The Writer’s Handbook .) No doubt Wells’s working outline looked different, and perhaps he would outline the final project somewhat differently as well. (Though he tells me my version is pretty close to the one he used as he polished the piece for publication.) An outline need not be an exact map, only a rough guide to tell you where you’ve been, and where you are going.
Please note the following about this outline:
Each section presents a thesis.
I have started each section with its own thesis taken from the essay, one that supports the thesis of the article as a whole. Except for section 2, these do not appear at the start of the section in the article. The thesis for section 3 appears at the tail end of the previous section, while the thesis for section 4 appears in the final paragraph of that section. For student papers, and particularly for outlines, I suggest that you place the thesis for each section at the start of that section.
Notice how the section headings themselves suggest claims, not merely topics. Wells could have titled section 3, “Cars in Europe and America.” By titling it instead, “Updating the Horseless Carriage, Americanizing the Automobile,” he emphasizes the choices faced by American consumers and designers.
Each paragraph makes a claim.
While this is a narrative history, Wells takes care to make claims for each section of the narrative and in almost every topic sentence. Note his use of transitional words and phrases (more, thus) and contrast words (however, despite, yet, although). When a claim is spread across two paragraphs, he links the two through the repetition of key terms (“vanadium steel” in one topic sentence, “strong, lightweight materials” in the next). Only once does he include a quotation (from Scientific American ) in his topic sentence, and he does so when the source makes precisely the analytic argument that he himself wishes to make.
An article is built out of sections, which are built out of 5-paragraph essays.
The article is essentially composed of a series of 5-paragraph essays (designated by two-digit headings): the building blocks of so much formal writing. Sections (designated by single digits) can vary in length and complexity. But they don’t vary all that much, and the range here (roughly 10–20 paragraphs, or 2–4 subsections) is a good target. I outlined the entire article using only digits 1–5, and you shouldn’t need to go much beyond that in your outlines. Occasionally you might need 6, but if you hit 7, it’s probably time to split whatever you are working on into two or more units.
Key terms hold it all together.
In his introduction, Wells establishes a dialectic between the worldview of the horse-minded and that of the machine-minded. (Section 2 broadens the latter to the “mobility-minded.”) Note how he keeps coming back to this crucial comparison by repeating terms relating to horse-mindedness or mobility-mindedness. In the full article, the term “-minded” appears 29 times.
Christopher W. Wells, “The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age.”
Outlined by Zachary M. Schrag
1.1. lede: in 1920, a single vehicle dominated the american market for automobiles: ford’s famous model t., 1.2. research question: why did so many americans buy model t’s, making them the center of the american automotive revolution, 1.3. historiography: many scholars, such as rudi volti, argue that the model t “embodied few technological innovations, but was sturdy, reliable, and easy to drive by the standards of the time.”, 1.4. thesis: in fact, the model t’s design created a new type of motor vehicle—the lightweight automobile—that transformed the u.s. market from one of disagreement and division into a broad mass market focused largely (if not exclusively) on a single technology. in doing so, it reconciled two seemingly irreconcilable worldviews, one forged in the world of the horse, and the other guided by enthusiasm for machines..
[ZMS note: here I have reorganized some of Wells’s phrases to fit my thesis-statement template . Wells does not claim that Volti and others are wrong; rather, he offers a more complete explanation of the Model T’s popularity, arguing that its design was more innovative than Volti suggests. Wells presents a dialectic of opposing forces–horses and machines–and shows how the Model T resolved that contest by embodying the best of both.]
2. Competing Visions, Specialized Designs (16 paragraphs
2.1. thesis: as horseless carriages appeared more frequently on u.s. streets, turn-of-the-century observers debated the role that such expensive new machines should play in everyday life, 2.2. most early commentators on horseless carriages fell into one of two broad groups: the “horse-minded” who compared motor vehicles specifically to horses, and the “mobility-minded” who compared them to all other forms of transportation..
2.2.1. Horse-minded observers voiced a variety of opinions about the new machines.
2.2.2. The predictions of mobility-minded observers were more varied.
2.2.3. Mobility-minded pragmatists were more forgiving, arguing that the machines should not be blamed for whatever problems accompanied their use.
2.2.4. A small group of mobility-minded utopians discerned limitless potential in motor vehicles.
2.2.5. At the dawn of the industry, however, engineers were unable to design motor vehicles flexible enough to perform the diverse tasks that early motorists desired.
2.3. The fact that designers chose from three major motor types—steam, electric, and gasoline—underscores both the diversity and the uncertainties of early horseless-carriage design.
2.3.1. Writers in the popular and trade presses assessed electric, steam, and gasoline engines differently.
2.3.2. With turn-of-the-century manufacturers jockeying for marketplace advantage, horseless-carriage enthusiasts peered into a murky future.
2.3.3. The uncertainty generated by the range of specialized motor-vehicle designs at the turn of the century casts doubt on the inevitable triumph of gasoline technology, a belief often shared by historians.
2.4. The declining importance of the market for commercial motor vehicles, such as urban trucks and taxis, and the rapid expansion of the market for private, recreational vehicles, helped cause manufacturers and consumers alike to develop an overwhelming preference for gasoline-powered vehicles
2.4.1. The emphasis that successful manufacturers placed on catering to personal pleasure suggests that the gasoline carriage triumphed in the United States because elites seeking recreational vehicles comprised the largest market for motor vehicles.
2.4.2. Viewed from the perspective of elite consumers looking for “adventure machines,” the internal-combustion engine indeed seemed superior to its steam and electric competitors.
2.4.3. The ability to escape the city to motor across the countryside held a powerful appeal for many new owners, giving the technology an almost magical aura.
3. Updating the Horseless Carriage, Americanizing the Automobile (19 paragraphs)
3.1. thesis: despite its strengths, the adventure-machine thesis does not fully explain the development of automotive technology in the united states, where the split between mobility-minded and horse-minded buyers put the evolution of automotive technologies on a very different trajectory from the adventure-oriented path followed in europe., 3.2. europe, and particularly france and germany, embraced gasoline carriages earlier and more fully than did the united states..
3.2.1. The Mercedes-style automobile opened new vistas for power and speed, pushing engineers beyond the design considerations that prevailed for horse-drawn carriages.
3.2.2. According to Scientific American, the nation’s most popular magazine devoted to mechanical innovations, Americans were gaining “an instinctive appreciation of the fact that an automobile belongs more to the class of the locomotive than that of the carriage.”
3.2.3. Reflecting this new conceptualization of “proper” motor-vehicle design, U.S. manufacturers quickly emulated the French-style automobile after its debut at the 1902 New York Motor Show. ”
3.3. Like most cultural imports, however, the social meanings that the French attached to the automobile were subject to subtle change when translated into the American idiom.
3.3.1. A large part of the U.S. market was still horse-minded, however, and rejected the paradigm-changing French-style automobile in favor of refined versions of the horseless carriage.
3.3.2. Two new types of gasoline carriages, both of which cost significantly less than Mercedes-style automobiles, claimed growing numbers of horse-minded buyers after 1902.
3.3.3. That runabouts and high-wheelers captured a growing share of the market even as technical opinion coalesced around the Mercedes-style automobile should give pause to those who would conclude that the internal-combustion engine triumphed simply because it was technologically superior, or even because it made the best “adventure machine.”
3.3.4. Measured against a horse’s cost and capabilities, many Americans—particularly those from rural areas—chose the cheap, utilitarian options provided by runabouts and high-wheelers over powerful Mercedes-style automobiles, fashionable electrics designed for city streets, or complicated steamers.
3.4. Perhaps, however, the most important factor explaining why so many horse-minded consumers chose gasoline-powered runabouts and high-wheelers lies in an important factor that all manufacturers had to address: the poor state of U.S. roads.
3.4.1. For Mercedes-style cars true to French designs and built for speed on smooth surfaces rather than for durability on rough ones, the bruising conditions on U.S. country roads initially limited their utility—and thus their market share.
3.4.2. The problem grew from the European practice of placing the automobile’s chassis close to the road to increase stability during rapid cornering.
3.4.3. For mobility-minded motorists interested primarily in high-speed racing, the dearth of good roads created major problems.
3.4.4. Yet securing good roads, even on a small scale, proved a slow and herculean task, and many elite—and impatient—motorists sought other solutions.
3.4.5. Expensive trips in search of smooth surfaces were at best a stopgap solution, and few elite racing enthusiasts had Vanderbilt’s resources to construct expensive private highways.
3.5. Engineers thus began adapting Mercedes-style automobiles to U.S. conditions by raising the chassis to provide greater road clearance.
3.5.1. The emergence of a distinctly American touring car based on French gasoline technology increased the average cost of automobiles in the United States.
3.5.2. At the same time and despite the emerging consensus that the modified Mercedes represented a superior design, the market for comparatively low-priced runabouts and high-wheelers also expanded, albeit more slowly.
3.5.3. With one eye on the potential profitability of the low-priced market and another on the strengths of the Americanized Mercedes style, some manufacturers began to develop stripped-down versions of the touring car.
4. Merging Worldviews in Ford’s “Universal Car” (9 paragraphs)
4.1. thesis: to label the model t “the universal car” was grandiose marketing hype and yet, as a description of the first automobile to appeal to horse- and mobility-minded consumers alike, it contained more than a little truth., 4.2. although the prospect of an inexpensive, powerful, lightweight, full-sized automobile had wide appeal, automakers struggled to design such vehicles in the half-decade before 1908..
4.2.1. Because increased power necessitated a heavier frame and thicker, stronger parts, weight-to-power ratios—a rough measure of performance—stabilized among better-quality vehicles in the neighborhood of 80:1.
4.2.2. Despite the difficulties that had to be surmounted, Henry Ford embraced the vision of a lightweight automobile.
4.2.3. For all its success, however, the Model N was still a two-passenger runabout, and Ford believed his company’s future lay in its ability to solve the riddle of how to build a lightweight, full-sized, amply powered automobile.
4.3. After much trial and error, Ford’s team developed a design—dubbed the Model T when it went into production—that finally seemed to thwart the circular curse of weight and power.
4.3.1. Ford’s confidence that he could do so grew partly from his belief that a workable solution to the weight-to-power dilemma lay in vanadium steel, a tough and light new alloy then commercially unavailable in the United States.
4.3.2. Coupling strong, lightweight materials with a four-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine, the Model T’s 100-inch wheelbase—a good deal shorter than that of other Americanized touring automobiles—carried only 1,200 pounds.
4.3.3. As such, the Model T delivered the first true Mercedes-style adventure machine to the high end of the low-cost market.
4.3.4. Although the Model T excelled as an adventure machine, it also featured functional, utilitarian characteristics that Ford emphasized to appeal to horse-minded consumers.
5.1. the model t’s design allowed it to bridge the technological and social chasm that divided mobility- and horse-minded motorists—a signal accomplishment. because of this fusion, the distinctions between horse- and mobility-minded motorists slowly began to blur and disappear..
How to Write a History Research Paper
- How do I pick a topic?
- But I can’t find any material…
See also: How to Write a Good History Essay
1. How do I pick a topic?
Picking a topic is perhaps the most important step in writing a research paper. To do it well requires several steps of refinement. First you have to determine a general area in which you have an interest (if you aren’t interested, your readers won’t be either). You do not write a paper “about the Civil War,” however, for that is such a large and vague concept that the paper will be too shallow or you will be swamped with information. The next step is to narrow your topic. Are you interested in comparison? battles? social change? politics? causes? biography? Once you reach this stage try to formulate your research topic as a question. For example, suppose that you decide to write a paper on the use of the films of the 1930’s and what they can tell historians about the Great Depression. You might turn that into the following question: “What are the primary values expressed in films of the 1930’s?” Or you might ask a quite different question, “What is the standard of living portrayed in films of the 1930’s?” There are other questions, of course, which you could have asked, but these two clearly illustrate how different two papers on the same general subject might be. By asking yourself a question as a means of starting research on a topic you will help yourself find the answers. You also open the door to loading the evidence one way or another. It will help you decide what kinds of evidence might be pertinent to your question, and it can also twist perceptions of a topic. For example, if you ask a question about economics as motivation, you are not likely to learn much about ideals, and vice versa.
2. But I can’t find any material…
No one should pick a topic without trying to figure out how one could discover pertinent information, nor should anyone settle on a topic before getting some background information about the general area. These two checks should make sure your paper is in the realm of the possible. The trick of good research is detective work and imaginative thinking on how one can find information. First try to figure out what kinds of things you should know about a topic to answer your research question. Are there statistics? Do you need personal letters? What background information should be included? Then if you do not know how to find that particular kind of information, ASK . A reference librarian or professor is much more likely to be able to steer you to the right sources if you can ask a specific question such as “Where can I find statistics on the number of interracial marriages?” than if you say “What can you find on racial attitudes?”
Use the footnotes and bibliographies of general background books as well as reference aids to lead you to special studies. If Carleton does not have the books or sources you need, try ordering through the library minitex. Many sources are also available on-line.
As your research paper takes shape you will find that you need background on people, places, events, etc. Do not just rely on some general survey for all of your background. Check the several good dictionaries of biography for background on people, or see if there is a standard book-length biography. If you are dealing with a legal matter check into the background of the judges who make the court decision and the circumstances surrounding the original incident or law. Try looking for public opinions in newspapers of the time. In other words, each bit of information you find should open the possibility of other research paths.
Learn to use several research techniques. You cannot count on a good research paper coming from browsing on one shelf at the library. A really pertinent book may be hidden in another section of the library due to classification quirks. The Readers’ Guide (Ref. A13 .R4) is not the only source for magazine articles, nor the card catalog for books. There are whole books which are listings of other books on particular topics. There are specialized indexes of magazine articles. Modern History Journals are indexed in the Social Studies and Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .R282) before 1976 After 1976 use the Social Sciences Index (REF A13 .S62) and the Humanities Index (Ref. A13 .H85). See also Historical Abstracts (Ref. D1 .H5). Reference Librarians would love to help you learn to use these research tools. It pays to browse in the reference room at the library and poke into the guides which are on the shelves. It also pays to browse the Internet.
3. Help! How do I put this together?
A. preliminary research:.
If you do not already have a general background on your topic, get the most recent good general source on the topic and read it for general orientation. On the basis of that reading formulate as clearly focused question as you can. You should generally discuss with your professor at that point whether your question is a feasible one.
B. Building a Basic Bibliography:
Use the bibliography/notes in your first general source, MUSE, and especially Historical Abstracts on cd-rom in the Library Reading Room (the computer farthest to the left in the front row as you walk past the Reference Desk — or ask there). If there is a specialized bibliography on your topic, you will certainly want to consult that as well, but these are often a bit dated.
C. Building a Full Bibliography:
Read the recent articles or chapters that seem to focus on your topic best. This will allow you to focus your research question quite a bit. Use the sources cited and/or discussed in this reading to build a full bibliography. Use such tools as Historical Abstracts (or, depending on your topic, the abstracts from a different field) and a large, convenient computer-based national library catalog (e.g. the University of California system from the “Libs” command in your VAX account or the smaller University of Minnesota library through MUSE) to check out your sources fully. For specific article searches “Uncover” (press returns for the “open access”) or possibly (less likely for history) “First Search” through “Connect to Other Resources” in MUSE can also be useful.
D. Major Research:
Now do the bulk of your research. But do not overdo it. Do not fall into the trap of reading and reading to avoid getting started on the writing. After you have the bulk of information you might need, start writing. You can fill in the smaller gaps of your research more effectively later.
Write a preliminary thesis statement, expressing what you believe your major argument(s) will be. Sketch out a broad outline that indicates the structure — main points and subpoints or your argument as it seems at this time. Do not get too detailed at this point.
B. The First Draft:
On the basis of this thesis statement and outline, start writing, even pieces, as soon as you have enough information to start. Do not wait until you have filled all the research gaps. Keep on writing. If you run into smaller research questions just mark the text with a searchable symbol. It is important that you try to get to the end point of this writing as soon as possible, even if you leave pieces still in outline form at first and then fill the gaps after you get to the end.
Critical advice for larger papers: It is often more effective not to start at the point where the beginning of your paper will be. Especially the introductory paragraph is often best left until later, when you feel ready and inspired.
C. The Second Draft:
The “second draft” is a fully re-thought and rewritten version of your paper. It is at the heart of the writing process.
First, lay your first draft aside for a day or so to gain distance from it. After that break, read it over with a critical eye as you would somebody else’s paper (well, almost!). You will probably find that your first draft is still quite descriptive, rather than argumentative. It is likely to wander; your perspective and usually even the thesis seemed to change/develop as you wrote. Don’t despair. That is perfectly normal even for experienced writers (even after 40 years and a good deal of published work!). You will be frustrated. But keep questioning your paper along the following lines: What precisely are my key questions? What parts of my evidence here are really pertinent to those questions (that is, does it help me answer them)? How or in what order can I structure my paper most effectively to answer those questions most clearly and efficiently for my reader?
At this point you must outline your paper freshly. Mark up your first draft, ask tough questions whether your argument is clear and whether the order in which you present your points is effective! You must write conceptually a new paper at this point, even if you can use paragraphs and especially quotes, factual data in the new draft.
It is critical that in your new draft your paragraphs start with topic sentences that identify the argument you will be making in the particular paragraph (sometimes this can be strings of two or three paragraphs). The individual steps in your argument must be clearly reflected in the topic sentences of your paragraphs (or a couple of them linked).
D. The Third or Final Draft:
You are now ready to check for basic rules of good writing. This is when you need to check the diction, that is, the accuracy and suitability of words. Eliminate unnecessary passive or awkward noun constructions (active-voice, verbal constructions are usually more effective); improve the flow of your transitions; avoid repetitions or split infinitives; correct apostrophes in possessives and such. Make the style clear and smooth. Check that the start of your paper is interesting for the reader. Last but not least, cut out unnecessary verbiage and wordiness. Spell-check and proof-read.
– Diethelm Prowe, 1998
How to Write a History Essay?
04 August, 2020
10 minutes read
Author: Tomas White
There are so many types of essays. It can be hard to know where to start. History papers aren’t just limited to history classes. These tasks can be assigned to examine any important historical event or a person. While they’re more common in history classes, you can find this type of assignment in sociology or political science course syllabus, or just get a history essay task for your scholarship. This is Handmadewriting History Essay Guide - let's start!
Purpose of a History Essay
Wondering how to write a history essay? First of all, it helps to understand its purpose. Secondly, this essay aims to examine the influences that lead to a historical event. Thirdly, it can explore the importance of an individual’s impact on history.
However, the goal isn’t to stay in the past. Specifically, a well-written history essay should discuss the relevance of the event or person to the “now”. After finishing this essay, a reader should have a fuller understanding of the lasting impact of an event or individual.
Need basic essay guidance? Find out what is an essay with this 101 essay guide: What is an Essay?
Elements for Success
Indeed, understanding how to write a history essay is crucial in creating a successful paper. Notably, these essays should never only outline successful historic events or list an individual’s achievements. Instead, they should focus on examining questions beginning with what , how , and why . Here’s a pro tip in how to write a history essay: brainstorm questions. Once you’ve got questions, you have an excellent starting point.
Preparing to Write
Evidently, a typical history essay format requires the writer to provide background on the event or person, examine major influences, and discuss the importance of the forces both then and now. In addition, when preparing to write, it’s helpful to organize the information you need to research into questions. For example:
- Who were the major contributors to this event?
- Who opposed or fought against this event?
- Who gained or lost from this event?
- Who benefits from this event today?
- What factors led up to this event?
- What changes occurred because of this event?
- What lasting impacts occurred locally, nationally, globally due to this event?
- What lessons (if any) were learned?
- Why did this event occur?
- Why did certain populations support it?
- Why did certain populations oppose it?
These questions exist as samples. Therefore, generate questions specific to your topic. Once you have a list of questions, it’s time to evaluate them.
Evaluating the Question
Seasoned writers approach writing history by examining the historic event or individual. Specifically, the goal is to assess the impact then and now. Accordingly, the writer needs to evaluate the importance of the main essay guiding the paper. For example, if the essay’s topic is the rise of American prohibition, a proper question may be “How did societal factors influence the rise of American prohibition during the 1920s? ”
This question is open-ended since it allows for insightful analysis, and limits the research to societal factors. Additionally, work to identify key terms in the question. In the example, key terms would be “societal factors” and “prohibition”.
Summarizing the Argument
The argument should answer the question. Use the thesis statement to clarify the argument and outline how you plan to make your case. In other words. the thesis should be sharp, clear, and multi-faceted. Consider the following tips when summarizing the case:
- The thesis should be a single sentence
- It should include a concise argument and a roadmap
- It’s always okay to revise the thesis as the paper develops
- Conduct a bit of research to ensure you have enough support for the ideas within the paper
Outlining a History Essay Plan
Once you’ve refined your argument, it’s time to outline. Notably, many skip this step to regret it then. Nonetheless, the outline is a map that shows where you need to arrive historically and when. Specifically, taking the time to plan, placing the strongest argument last, and identifying your sources of research is a good use of time. When you’re ready to outline, do the following:
- Consider the necessary background the reader should know in the introduction paragraph
- Define any important terms and vocabulary
- Determine which ideas will need the cited support
- Identify how each idea supports the main argument
- Brainstorm key points to review in the conclusion
As a rule, history essays require both primary and secondary sources . Primary resources are those that were created during the historical period being analyzed. Secondary resources are those created by historians and scholars about the topic. It’s a good idea to know if the professor requires a specific number of sources, and what kind he or she prefers. Specifically, most tutors prefer primary over secondary sources.
Where to find sources? Great question! Check out bibliographies included in required class readings. In addition, ask a campus Librarian. Peruse online journal databases; In addition, most colleges provide students with free access. When in doubt, make an appointment and ask the professor for guidance.
Writing the Essay
Now that you have prepared your questions, ideas, and arguments; composed the outline ; and gathered sources – it’s time to write your first draft. In particular, each section of your history essay must serve its purpose. Here is what you should include in essay paragraphs.
Unsure of how to start a history essay? Well, like most essays, the introduction should include an attention-getter (or hook):
- Relevant fact or statistic
- Rhetorical Question
- Interesting quotation
- Application anecdote if appropriate
Once you’ve captured the reader’s interest, introduce the topic. Similarly, present critical historic context. Namely, it is necessary to introduce any key individuals or events that will be discussed later in the essay. At last, end with a strong thesis which acts as a transition to the first argument.
Indeed, each body paragraph should offer a single idea to support the argument. Then, after writing a strong topic sentence, the topic should be supported with correctly cited research. Consequently, a typical body paragraph is arranged as follows:
- Topic sentence linking to the thesis
- Background of the topic
- Research quotation or paraphrase #1
- Explanation and analysis of research
- Research quotation or paraphrase #2
- Transition to the next paragraph
Equally, the point of body paragraphs is to build the argument. Hence, present the weakest support first and end with the strongest. Admittedly, doing so leaves the reader with the best possible evidence.
You’re almost there! Eventually, conclusion paragraphs should review the most important points in the paper. In them, you should prove that you’ve supported the argument proposed in the thesis. When writing a conclusion paragraph keep these tips in mind:
- Keep it simple
- Avoid introducing new information
- Review major points
- Discuss the relevance to today
Problems with writing Your History essay ? Try our Essay Writer Service!
Proofreading Your Essay
Once the draft is ready and polished, it’s time to proceed to final editing. What does this process imply? Specifically, it’s about removing impurities and making the essay look just perfect. Here’s what you need to do to improve the quality of your paper:
- Double check the content. In the first place, it’s recommended to get rid of long sentences, correct vague words. Also, make sure that all your paragrahps contain accurate sentences with transparent meaning.
- Pay attention to style. To make the process of digesting your essay easier, focus on crafting a paper with readable style, the one that is known to readers. Above all, the main mission here is to facilitate the perception of your essay. So, don’t forget about style accuracy.
- Practice reading the essay. Of course, the best practice before passing the paper is to read it out loud. Hence, this exercise will help you notice fragments that require rewriting or a complete removal.
History Essay Example
Did you want a history essay example? Take a look at one of our history essay papers.
Make it Shine
An A-level essay takes planning and revision, but it’s achievable. Firstly, avoid procrastination and start early. Secondly, leave yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, outline, research and write. Finally, follow these five tips to make your history essay shine:
- Write a substantial introduction. Particularly, it’s the first impression the professor will have of the paper.
- State a clear thesis. A strong thesis is easier to support.
- Incorporate evidence critically. If while researching you find opposing arguments, include them and discuss their flaws.
- Cite all the research. Whether direct quotations or paraphrases, citing evidence is crucial to avoiding plagiarism, which can have serious academic consequences.
- Include primary and secondary resources. While primary resources may be harder to find, the professor will expect them—this is, after all, a history essay.
History Essay Sample
Ready to tackle the history essay format? Great! Check out this history essay sample from an upper-level history class. While the essay isn’t perfect, the professor points out its many strengths.
Remember: start early and revise, revise, revise . We can’t revise history, but you can revise your ideas until they’re perfect.
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How to Write a History Research Paper
Table of Contents
Need help to complete your history research paper? History papers entail essential dates and events from the old and modern epochs. Students might find it overwhelming to write about history since the subject matter encompasses past human affairs records. Since it is an immense and diverse subject, historians often rely on fragments of recorded information to develop insightful analysis.
What Is a History Research Paper
It is an academic assignment that comprises factual evidence from various primary sources. The paper follows a historical question to develop arguments while linking the topic to other credible scholars. With data from other historians, you will extract secondary sources that will help you to build your thesis.
Unlike other subjects, the information on this paper must align with the period the research addresses. The thesis should report significant claims from other scholars and present arguments with valid evidence. Hence, your assignment may support or contest the claims while giving a specific standpoint about the conversations.
Since this paper contains primary and secondary research sources, you also need to include your personal understanding of the topic. If you want to make an authentic argument, ensure you write your thesis from a historical question, conduct in-depth analysis and evaluate other unanswered questions about your topic. Your academic paper should provide a refreshing insight with a new way to solve a particular historical issue.
How to Start a History Research Paper
Most students don’t know how to start writing a historical document, resulting in a poorly-written essay. The first essential step is to study the topic question extensively. Whether it is a cause and effect paper about a specific event or a descriptive essay, you must evaluate the topic and know the expectations.
Therefore, ensure you read the topic question carefully several times and extract the main keywords.
What is the subject matter? Are you analyzing a particular event or person? Is there a specific timeframe for the occurrence? Also, you need to identify the problem the paper requires you to carry out an in-depth analysis.
Start your history document with a clear introduction that reveals your subject matter immediately. Do not write irrelevant phrases that might bore the reader. It allows you to write your thesis statement without complicating the theme.
Proceed to write a clear and concise thesis statement about the subject matter. A persuasive thesis must answer the research question. For instance, how did a particular event occur and why. Make your readers understand the purpose of your thesis.
How to Structure a History Research Paper
Each thesis must follow a particular structure, and a history assignment is not an exception. It has an outline like any standard essay, with an introduction, body, and conclusion. However, you must always begin by planning your paper immediately after you receive it. As mentioned above, take adequate time to study the topic question first.
Brainstorm all possible scenarios and note down the major points and ideas. What do you think about the answers to the topic question? Are there any other problems, events, or people linked to your subject matter? Find out if there are other similar topics or occurrences that you need to investigate. Also, don’t forget to include significant historians related to the thesis and analysis period.
When you have all the information, you can now use the outline to develop your thesis. Having a proper structure allows you to know what to write in each section.
Your history essay must entail a consistent sequence of events that allow readers to follow your arguments. It must have proper and logical information flow that transitions from one point to the next without confusion.
Historians rely on facts rather than feelings; thus, you need to be a critical thinker to develop insightful arguments. Proving your perspective requires valid evidence and analysis and not emotions.
While research essays may have different format styles, students must also learn how to write a history research paper in APA format. Understand the academic formatting style your tutor requires before you finish off your thesis.
Make sure you include proper quotations from credible researchers to authenticate your assignment. Don’t pile up sources because each quote must be relevant to the argument.
How to End a History Research Paper
It would be best if you had a strong conclusion to end your thesis effectively. The audience must understand the document’s significance and the purpose of your analysis. Therefore, ensure you paraphrase your thesis statement to refresh the reader’s mind about your subject matter. Indicate any historical implications about your study briefly by restating the major points from the body.
Leaving a lasting impression on your audience is essential since they will know your level of understanding and the importance of the study. However, do not add any new information since you will confuse the readers and complicate the paper.
History Research Paper Outline
An outline helps you in thought organization and articulation in a logical order. It would be best if you incorporated an outline in all research documents to avoid unclear statements. In a thesis, the first step is to have a thesis statement at the beginning of the introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Below is an overview of the outline:
- Thesis statement
- Brief introduction
- Background information
- Hook phrases
- Factual information
- Real evidence – quotes or references
- Summarize each paragraph.
- Summary of major points
- Rewrite thesis statement
- Connect thoughts with arguments.
- Significance of analysis
History Research Paper Introduction
This section entails a thesis statement, a brief introduction, and background information about the topic. Ensure it has a description relating to the topic question, for instance, the event’s period or historical problem and the prominent people involved. It is vital to make your readers understand the topic’s relevance to help them follow the arguments later in the essay.
Don’t forget to make your introduction captivating to grab the interest of the audience.
History Research Paper Body
The body holds the effectiveness of any research paper since it contains all the arguments and supporting evidence. In this section, you need to describe, analyze, and integrate relevant data from the sources.
The body entails factual information relating to the main topic while presenting real evidence from primary and secondary information resources.
You must have proper sentence structures that connect each argument to the next. Also, ensure that you carry out thorough research to develop an accurate and compelling thesis. Historians rely on accuracy to build concrete evidence about a particular person or occurrence.
History Research Paper Conclusion
Finally, write a definite conclusion that leaves a lasting impact on your audience.
Summarize your significant points in the body while explaining the significance of the study. Is there a lesson from the historical implication? Paraphrase the thesis statement and include your perspective regarding the topic question. Your paragraph must connect with the introduction to make your thesis effective. Ultimately, this section should summarize, present, explain and satisfy the audience about the historical question
History Research Paper Help
Writing a history research paper can be a demanding endeavor, necessitating a deep understanding of historical events, contexts, and interpretations. This type of paper requires extensive research, careful analysis, and the ability to construct compelling arguments based on historical evidence, which can be time-consuming and challenging. Given the complexity and depth of knowledge required, students may find it beneficial to seek professional assistance.
By ordering a paper from professional writers who specialize in history, students can ensure their research paper is comprehensive, well-argued, and meets the highest academic standards.