The most important element of the paper is the substance you wish to convey. It must be
presented in a clear and organized manner.
Your paper should be based on primary-source material (generally documents, but it could
include artworks and other artifacts). It should make an original contribution to the historiography of the
Verify your data carefully. Be particularly wary of any un-edited source (e.g., most web
sites, for which you should require independent verification).
You should begin by doing a search of secondary materials in the general area of your chosen
topic. Include books, articles, and dissertations in your search. That will give you an idea of what has
been covered. It may suggest questions that you would like to answer. It will also provide you with the
beginnings of a bibliography. Mine the footnotes and bibliographies in the secondary sources for
material that you can use.
Be objective in presenting the material you discover in your research. Do not omit, without
mention, sources that appear to contradict your conclusion. Analyze them and explain why they do not
alter your result.
In an assignment of this nature, the writing is important. If your paper is ponderous, people
will not read it and you might have brilliant ideas, but no one will know.
Write for an “
,” i.e., a person with college-level intellect, but no awareness
of any of the specific facts relating to your topic. Never use technical terms, acronyms, or words that are
not familiar to everyone without explaining their meaning.
Clarity, effectiveness, spelling, grammar, and style will affect your grade. Proofread very
carefully to catch typographical errors and to eliminate unclear or awkward passages. Use spell-check
for a first review, but don't rely on it. You must proofread personally. Read for substance and then
rewrite thoughtfully. Then proofread again. (It often helps to read your paper aloud quickly, as if
presenting it to a conference, to catch confusing, unintended, and overly complicated language.) It is
always a good idea to have another person read your paper, preferably one who will not spare your
feelings by holding back constructive criticism.
Structure and Organization:
Your paper must have an introduction and a conclusion.
It must be organized; in other words, your paragraphs should be ordered in a logical manner
(e.g., chronological or thematic). Your paper should be organized around a thesis (a
proposition you advance) or a question for which you provide an answer. Introduce your
position early in the paper in a clearly written “thesis sentence.”
Arrange your paper so that you do not repeat material. Repetition is an indication of
inadequate editing. You should be able to assume that your readers remember material once
they have read it.