Introduction to the Study of History

Choosing and Defining a Research Topic


Choosing a good topic for your essay is necessary work. A few preliminary suggestions are accordingly appropriate:

1. The topic should interest you and you should consider it important;
2. It must be limited; choose a broad topic and narrow it down;
3. It must be feasible within the time limits of this course and using local resources (libraries, computer networks, and so on);
4. Primary sources for your topic must be available and you must be able to read them.

5. It must respond to a significant question or questions you (and your potential readers) want answered.

If you are enrolled in a class that requires a research paper or an essay, you may complete this exercise by working on that assignment (make sure you have your professor’s permission).  Otherwise, you are free to chose a topic about which you would like to know more.
1. Begin by listing all the possible topics that occur to you. Put down anything, from topics you would personally like to know more about to topics you think you should know more about.

2. Group your potential topics (put similar topics together, making perhaps a single topic that includes others); then rank them in order of importance; your preferred topic should be first.

3. Think about your preferred topic: List everything that you already know about it and the questions about it that you would like to have answered.  Consulting a standard reference work (not Wikipedia) is advisable.

4. Using both your knowledge and your questions, write a rough draft of your topic statement. Explain your subject clearly (including information regarding people, places, time frame, etc.) and list the questions (see Rampolla on historical questions, pp. 3-4) you want answered. Also explain why the topic is worth researching.

5. Go to the library or other resources (including the Internet) and find out if primary and secondary materials are available to get you started. You should find at least four or five items, including at least two primary sources and one article in a scholarly journal.  These items will make up your Preliminary Bibliography.

6. If adequate materials are available locally, then write a version of your topic statement and preliminary bibliography following the required format and turn it in to your instructor.

7. Using the suggestions from your instructor, prepare a revised Statement of Topic and an Annotated Bibliography at at least 10 items (see the handout on the Annotated Bibliography for complete instructions) following the required format and turn it in on the due date.

 Introduction to the Study of History

 Format for the Statement of Topic and Preliminary Bibliography on
 (Your Topic)

The Statement of Topic

1. A precise statement of the topic and preliminary thesis (one-two paragraphs).

2. A list of the historical questions to be answered.

3. A statement of the topic’s importance.

The Preliminary Bibliography

I. Primary Sources.

II.  Secondary Sources.

 A. Books.

 B. Articles in Scholarly Journals.

III. Internet Resources.

IV. Indexes/Research Aids Consulted:

Introduction to the Study of History

Guidelines for the Presentation of the Research Prospectus
and Annotated Bibliography

1. Each student has five (5) minutes to speak about his/her topic.  You may use notes, but do not read to the class.

2. State concisely the exact topic and scope of the paper.  Give a brief overview of the entire project, including your working thesis.

2. Summarize the major historical questions you will be asking.

3. Explain why you chose this topic and why it is important.

4. Describe the major primary, secondary, and internet sources you have found.

5. Summarize any preliminary conclusions you have reached.

6. If the focus of your topic has shifted during your preliminary research, explain how and why.

7. Describe the additional research that needs to be done on this project.

8. Be prepared to answer questions from the audience.

This Page is Maintained by Robert W. Brown;
Last Update: 08.I.2008.

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