If you’ve decided to read this, then you may well be on the first steps to deciding on the best course to take for your history research paper. This is something that, while of course being hard work and requiring dedication and a lot of your time, can be an activity that is rewarding and gives you an incredible sense of satisfaction at the end. Embarking on this path can seem a little daunting, but hopefully this how to guide will help you on your way to making the best effort you possibly can.
The three-step guide
The easiest way to look at this when considering your research paper is to divide it into three separate steps. Doing this can initially make the task seem a lot less daunting than it might otherwise be.
Step one: Your topic
This is, for many people, the most important part of the process. If you’re someone who frequents The History Junkie, chances are you’ll have a sound appreciation of the Military, War and US campaigns through the centuries. Therefore, you may want to choose to write about something on this topic. However, it isn’t a good idea to make your chosen research paper topic “The American Civil War” for instance. This is such a wide open and possibly vague subject that you may well find you become bogged down with far too much material and evidence to wade through – which will be overwhelming and potentially turn the experience into something quite unpleasant.
Instead, turn your focus to perhaps one aspect of the war, or maybe indeed focus on one specific battle. From this figure out your research question.
There are many avenues you can choose to take with this. For instance, think about the social, economic or political results of a particular conflict and research them in detail. Don’t just stop your research in the immediate aftermath of the battle – move them forward, as far forward as you can and look at the reaching implications that the decisions had on the people who were involved at all levels.
Step two: Your research
When homing in on your topic it is important to do a little preliminary research to make sure that sources/books/archive materials will be available for you to study during the course of your writing. It’s no good coming up with a superb subject, an idea for a paper and then finding out there is nothing for you to research, or so little to go on that you end up writing too much in the way of conjecture.
In order to answer the research question you’ve posed, you need to be able to find out what you need to know to be able to answer it successfully. Do you require any of the following?:
- Statistical information
- Contemporary or eyewitness accounts
- Personal letters
- Background political information
If you aren’t sure where to look or feel stumped then ask someone. Talk to your teacher, your professor, another student or simply go to the reference library or archive and ask to see what information is available and when it can be used.
Books and written materials on your topic matter are important, not just for what they contain, but also for the author’s own research sources too. Always check the footnotes, the bibliographies and appendices of any books you read to find out how the author came across their information. These sources can also be invaluable to your research too.
Step three: Your writing
By this time, you’ve done some research, you’ll know the line you want to take and so therefore the time has come to start planning your writing. First of all you need to create an outline. This can be, depending on what kind of a writer you are, something broad – or more detailed. This will help you see clearly how you are progressing, help you organise your word count and make sure you’re sticking to your arguments/points in a relevant and timely fashion.
Plan your writing like this:
Title: Choose your title and the question you want to answer. Put this as the heading on your cover page and as the title before your introduction.
Introduction: This is where you need to strike to engage the reader. Set out your argument and the themes/ideas you will consider. An introduction (depending on the word count of course) is usually only a paragraph or two – but can be much longer if writing a more serious piece such as a dissertation or thesis.
Main body/arguments: This is where you bring together all the arguments and source materials to answer the question you have posed. Consider your own personal take on the topic as well as thinking about whether you agree or disagree with statements and facts presented by other historians in archive/source material you are using.
Conclusion: Finish strongly, really thinking about summarizing your debate in a few neat paragraphs. Have the courage of your convictions to try and persuade the reader of your viewpoint.
Bibliography: Finally list all your source materials. It can help to use a technique such as Harvard Referencing to make it look professional and accurate.
Points to note and remember
It can be tricky sometimes to look at history without commenting on it from a twenty-first century perspective. As an example of this think about how soldiers in battle are looked after and treated now as opposed to how they would have been hundreds of years ago. There were no real medical resources and little in the way of psychological after care to treat people who were suffering from conditions like PTSD or alcoholism as a result of the horrors that they witnessed. These days a soldier may receive Alcohol Treatment in West Palm Beach FL or get counselling and psychotherapy for their issues. Back then, soldiers would have had nothing to help them. When writing about issues such as this it can be hard not to get bogged down in the emotional detail and write from the heart rather than the head. You always need to remember to present the facts clearly and try to think about the time you are writing about rather than making a comparison with modern times and modern thinking.
Some students can find that when writing or preparing for something like this, their initial viewpoint or stand on the matter changes as they write. Therefore, whilst planning ahead for the writing is always important it can sometimes be worth writing your introduction paragraphs last rather than first – especially if you find as you’re writing your main body that your opinions are changing. This doesn’t apply to every scholar, but it can be worth noting and thinking about.