Writing Research Papers in History

Dr. Richard Heiser, History Department, Presbyterian College
1. Handing in a poorly-written paper need not happen as resources abound that can help you achieve the
goal of writing a quality paper. The PC Writing Center can assist you. Use the tutors who are on duty. Ask
a professor for help. Run spell-check and proofread carefully.
2. By now you should have mastered the use of the English language, and you should be familiar with the
rules of citation. It is, therefore, quite unacceptable that you should turn in a paper that is sloppily written
and/or cited. Contained in this document are guidelines that I am expecting you to follow. If you do not
follow these guidelines, I will read only to the point where it is evident that grammatical, typographical, or
spelling mistakes characterize the paper. The paper will fail, and I will return it to you for resubmission
should you desire to do that. The resubmitted paper cannot receive full credit. I will allow only one
resubmission, and I will not receive a resubmission more than a week after I have returned it to you, in
which case the failing grade will stand. For those papers for which a draft process was established, there
will be no opportunity for resubmission.
3. Student syllabi clearly state the dates on which papers and assignments are due. Papers and assignments
will be accepted up to the close of the class period in which they are due. Failure to meet the stated
deadline will result in a failing grade for the exercise.
1.The thesis statement is your answer to your research question. State your thesis clearly early in the paper,
preferably within the first paragraph. It should be free of ambiguity yet concise. Everything in the paper
should contribute to the process of proving the thesis. In a strong paper, the author proceeds systematically
and logically from point to point, seeking to convince the reader of the validity of his/her argument. Good
organization enhances credibility.
2. Paragraphs:
a. Paragraphs must not be too long or too short. Those that span several pages are obviously too
long, but so are paragraphs of reasonable length that cover several topics. Paragraphs should
contain material related to only one topic.
b. Do not have paragraphs of less than three sentences; these should be reworked and merged with
the surrounding paragraphs or omitted.
3. Sentence Structure:
a. Use complete sentences.
b. Vary your sentence structure throughout your paper; otherwise the paper takes on choppy and
elementary characteristics.
4. The conclusion is one of the most important parts of your paper. It should flow logically and smoothly
from the body of the paper, tying together loose ends but not raising new questions. It needs to demonstrate
sound logic and clear analysis. You should be aware of the two types of conclusion.
a. After presenting the data that supports the thesis statement, you should spend time considering,
reflecting, and analyzing what you have just written. Here is where you ask and as answer the ‘so
what?’ question. What are the implications of your argument? How do they affect the larger
historical picture? What are the lessons learned?
b. The last paragraph of the paper simply closes the paper with a few sentences.
5. Remember, writing is a process, not an event. Working through multiple drafts of a paper is the ONLY
way that a paper can improve. Numerous drafts allow the author to see problems, reorganize, tighten, etc.
Reading the paper aloud also identifies trouble spots. Start the writing project with plenty of time as these
steps cannot be accomplished the night before.
1. Hint: The first thing that I read when I grade a paper is the bibliography and footnotes. It is my
experience that if excellence has been pursued in these areas of tedium and detail, then excellence probably
characterizes the body of the paper. Furthermore, good work in the bibliography and footnotes puts me in a
better frame of mind and you would be well served not to have me grumpy when grading your paper.
2. Synthesis of sources is how a person takes information and creates something that is uniquely their own.
The higher the degree of synthesis usually produces a superior final result. Papers that have long strings of
citations from the same source or that utilize only a small number of sources are hardly more than book
reports. They are definitely not research papers, and they show very little thought, less initiative, and
virtually no excellence.
3. History papers employ footnotes or endnotes and use superscript numbers as shown below and in the
various writing manuals in the Writing Center.
a. Why footnote? Because it is an honorable thing to do. It is your opportunity to give credit to the
person(s) who did the work from which you are benefiting. In other words, we footnote because it
is the right and honorable thing to do, giving credit to whom credit is due.
b. What to footnote? Views, ideas, facts, charts, statistics, etc. that are not your own and for which
you relied on the work of another. Footnoting is NOT restricted to direct quotations. A simple test
is to ask yourself two questions, 1) did I know this before I read it in this book or article? If not,
footnote it. If so, 2) ask if it is appropriate to acknowledge this person’s work. If so, footnote it. It
is hard to over-footnote.
c. Paraphrasing is more than taking an idea or statement and putting in synonyms, and it is more
than changing a couple words but leaving the remainder as found in the source. Both of these
methods constitute plagiarism. Instead, reformulate the idea in your own words. Your goal is to
retain the original idea but express it differently and uniquely.
d. How to footnote? Place citation at the end of the sentence and use formats shown below and/or
listed in the various resource books found in the Writing Center.
PAPER. Improper footnoting is an infraction of the Honor Code.
4. Footnotes:
a. Examples of footnotes for books:
First entry: Ralph V. Turner, Men Raised from the Dust: Administrative Service and Upward
Mobility in Angevin England (Philadelphia, 1988), 39.
Subsequent, abbreviated entry: Turner, Dust, 45.
b. Examples of footnotes for journal articles:
First entry: Richard R. Heiser, ‘Richard I and His Appointments to English Shrievalties,’ English
Historical Review 112 (1997): 178.
Subsequent, abbreviated entry: Heiser, ‘Richard and Shrievalties,’ 183.
c. Examples of footnotes for an article that is part of a collection in a book:
First entry: David Crouch, ‘Normans and Anglo-Normans: A Divided Aristocracy?’, in English
and Normans in the Middle Ages. David Bates and Anne Curry, eds. (London, 1994): 57.
Subsequent, abbreviated entry: Crouch, ‘Normans and Anglo-Normans’, 63.
d. Examples of footnotes for book reviews:
First entry: Alexander Xenophon Caviris, review of King Hammurabi of Babylon, by Marc van de
Mieroop, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 70 (2011): 128.
Subsequent, abbreviated entry: Caviris, review of Hammurabi, 129.
5. Your bibliography should include the sources with which you have spent considerable time and that are
cited in your paper. Sources that you consulted but were not helpful may be included as well, but do not
pad the bibliography. Textbooks, encyclopedias, and lecture notes are not valid sources for a research
paper. Bibliographies are to be alphabetized, and the lines following the first one are indented (hanging
a. Examples of bibliographical entries for books:
Gillingham, John. Richard I. New Haven, CT, 1999.
b. Examples of bibliographical entries for journal articles:
Carpenter, D.A. ‘Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall’s Account of the Last Years of King Richard and the First
Years of King John’ English Historical Review 113 (1998): 1210-30.
c. Examples of bibliographical entries for an article that is part of a collection in a book:
Stacey, Robert C. ‘Anti-Semitism and the Medieval English State’ in The Medieval State: Essays Presented
to James Campbell. J.R. Maddicott and D.M. Palliser, eds. (London, 2000): 163-177.
d. Examples of bibliographic entries for book reviews:
Caviris, Alexander Xenophon. Review of King Hammurabi of Babylon, by Marc van de Mieroop, Journal
of Near Eastern Studies 70 (2011): 127-29.
6. Internet Sources:
a. The Internet has opened research in ways that defy description, but always use the Internet with caution.
It is virtually unregulated and the material that is on it is not necessarily reliable. Be critical of your
discoveries until they are proven worthy of trust. A site entitled www.thecrusadesbybubba.com may be a
suspicious source, while most sites sponsored by a university have more credibility. Many websites do not
tackle topics in the depth that is needed for research, which means that they ought to be treated like
textbooks and encyclopedias. Unless instructed otherwise, Internet sources are to be limited only to
primary source materials.
b. Necessary citation information besides title and author: publication medium (online), name of computer
service or network (AOL, CompuServe, Internet), date of access, availability (address of material).
University of Albany Libraries. Evaluating Internet Resources. Online. Internet. 23 August 2001.
Available: http://www.albany.edu/ library/evaluate.html.
7. For the format of footnotes and bibliography entries that are not covered above, such as newspapers,
interviews, etc., see the various writing manuals in the Writing Center.
1. Pur speling habits are unaxeptible fir edjukated peeple, a grupe to wich colage students belong. It is
especialy gulling in the day of compuder spel-chekers. Check spelling closely, especially of words often
misspelled – its/it’s, there/their/they’re, alot/a lot, to/too/two, etc. Even with spell-checkers, proofreading is
necessary because some words, such as ‘from/form’, will not be caught by computer programs.
2. Capitalize all proper nouns and adjectives – French, American, Italy, Henry VIII, Parliament. Terms,
such as ‘pope’, ‘king’, and ‘church’ are not capitalized unless used as proper nouns, i.e. – King John,
Emperor Napoleon, Pope Innocent III, Anglican Church.
3. Quotations are difficult literary tools to use. Instead of direct quotations, it is better to paraphrase the
statement in your own words and then footnote where you found the material.
4. Personal pronouns (i.e. I, we, us, you) are unnecessary and undesirable in formal papers and, therefore,
shall not be used in history papers. Put the statement in the third person.
5. Do not use contractions in a formal paper – DON’T!
6. Pronouns must always have antecedents – ‘Bob went to the store and bought it.’
7. In a historical paper, verbs are in the past tense. Use active verbs as often as possible to keep the paper
lively. Passive voice can be boring. For example, ‘Saladin was defeated by Richard Lionheart’ is better
stated ‘Richard Lionheart defeated Saladin.’ Watch the helping verb ‘would’ as it often throws the sentence
into a tense that does not work in history papers. For instance, it is incorrect to say ‘Richard would go on
crusade’ when in fact ‘Richard went on crusade’.
8. Watch split infinitives – ‘to boldly go’.
9. Use punctuation correctly. Commas and periods are essential composition tools and work well when
used properly. Get a writing manual and follow its instructions.
10. Spell out numbers below one hundred, except when reporting time/date or money amounts – $23, 47
B.C., 2:00 p.m., twentieth century, thirty-eight chairs.