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Hints about Research and Writing

Hints about Research and Writing

Arguments and theses: Remember what you have learned from Paideia I onward.  The best senior papers are not surveys of historical events or summaries of the historical literature but ARGUMENTS.  That is, you focus on a problem, determine you thesis and support it using reasoning and evidence to argue a particular point.

The best way to devise a thesis is to pose questions about subjects which interest you.  Start out by examining historical questions which interest you.  For example: how and why was non-violence developed as a strategy of the Civil Rights movement?  As you learn more, refine your questioning until you develop the problem that will serve as your topic.  Ideally, your questions will be interesting enough to enable you to write a sophisticated paper but narrow enough for you to do a thorough job.  The more your questions become either big and unanswerable or uninteresting, the more trouble you will have with the paper. 

Obviously, it is the sources which provide you with the raw material from which you seek answers to your questions.  But remember, the best questions in the world are relatively useless without data necessary to answer them.  The more quickly you determine the major sources for your paper the better off you will be.  Don’t make the mistake of spending the majority of your time locating the sources.  Sources should be either already available in Preus Library or quickly available through interlibrary loan.  Luther has an excellent and dedicated staff of research librarians and Linda Hanson is wonderful about interlibrary loan requests.  Go to them for help with your projects. 

Working with primary sources sometimes poses difficulties you may not have encountered before this.  Listed below are a series of guides which are designed to assist you with style and format and for assistance with writing.  These can be used in addition to the Holt Handbook.

  • Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. (6th edition), Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996.  An excellent general guide, especially useful for citation styles.
  • Benjamin, Jules P.  A Student’s Guide to History. (7th Edition), Boston: Bedford Books, 1998.

Covers everything from taking notes to library research. Includes sample research paper and glossary of terms.

Formatting Hints

Here are a few general hints to provide a quick reference for you.  Detailed answers should come from Holt or other guides and from your topic advisor.

Title: As indicated above, each senior paper requires a title page conforming to the proper style adopted by the department.

Bibliography: Paper ends with the bibliography which should begin on a separate page and be labeled as a “Bibliography” or “Works Cited.”  Citations should conform to Chicago Manual of Style.  Most instructors agree that all works which are consulted should be included in your paper even if you do not actually quote from them in the paper.  Consult with your topic advisor concerning their specific requirements.

Line Spacing: Text should be double-spaced, footnotes and bibliographic entries should be single spaced (but double spaced between separate entries). Block quotes should be single spaced.

Margins: One inch margins for sides, top and bottom of your paper.

Typeface: use a simple font such as Times New Romans or Calibri.  11 or 12 pt are the best choices.  Use italics according to the CMS guidelines.

Page Numbering: Each page should be numbered.  On the first page of the text, the number is absent. 

Extra Formats: Some word processing programs permit special formatting options such as widow/orphan protection, block protection and other aids.  Take advantage of such capabilities according to your preference and judgment but keep in mind the overall objective of presenting your work clearly and simply.  

Spell checking etc. : Computerized spelling and grammar checks are wonderful advances in some ways but do not rely on them too much.  Especially when spell checking, beware of homonyms.  Remember, you are the final editor and are ultimately responsible for your work.

A Brief Checklist for Paper Writers

Before submitting your paper, complete the following checklist.  This probably sounds like mindless drivel in many ways but it will help some of you in the end. 

INTRODUCTION

My introduction tells the reader the subject of my research and defines key terms I will be using in my thesis.

My introduction contains a clearly worded thesis that explains why the problem I am investigating is important and how my thesis offers a solution or answer to that problem.

PARAGRAPHING

I have thought carefully about how my paragraphs are arranged and structured so that they offer the best support for my argument.

I have checked to make sure that I properly tackle one part of my argument before moving on to the next part of the argument. 

I have checked to ensure that each paragraph is focused on a main idea which is stated in the topic sentence.  

Each paragraph employs evidence relevant to the main idea of the paragraph.  That evidence is analyzed, meaning that I have used my own words to explain to the reader why and how my evidence supports the topic sentence.

Each paragraph includes a transition to the next paragraph.

ARGUMENTATION

I have thought seriously about the arguments that could be marshaled against mine and have addressed these either through refutation or concession.

QUOTES AND CITATIONS

All material I have quoted directly from sources appears in quotation marks.

I have minimized block quotations and where they are necessary to use, I have indented them on the left, single-spaced them and not put quotation marks at the beginning and end.

Each time that I bring in evidence that is not common knowledge, I have cited the source of that information with footnotes or endnotes.

Each time that I quote, I have checked to make sure that the quotation is properly integrated into the sentence.

Each of my quotations includes clearly relates to a footnote or an endnote that is properly integrated into the sentence or paragraph.

In each of my quotations, either the source, the speaker is clearly indicated and the circumstances in which the speaker authored the words are indicated (relevant time, place context).

My footnotes (endnotes) conform to the proper CMS style.

I have included a bibliography which includes all my sources and which conforms to the correct style.

STYLE

Each page is numbered consecutively.

I have used a common typeface throughout the main text.

I have used the proper line-spacing and margins indicated in the department style  sheet.

The title is on a separate page; it indicates clearly the contents or the question I am addressing.

EDITING

I have proofread the paper for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

I have gone through several drafts, eliminating instances of passive voice, inconsistent tense usage, subject/verb disagreement, dangling clauses, improper pronouns, comma splices, run-on sentences and sentence fragments.

I have eliminated use of informal language and colloquial phases.

I have read the paper aloud to a friend or to myself to discover sentences which are overly long or which do not work well.