Yes, I know this is TeachingCollegeEnglish, not history. However, having been a double major undergrad (at least according to myself and the number of hours I took in both fields), history resonates with me. Also, I have students writing research papers. Some of them are on history. But really, lots of this can apply to anyone’s research project.
This was on the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums, in the HOF (Hall of Fame) section, written by marlborough back in 2011. Please go to the CHE for other fascinating statements and professors talking about professer-ing.
GI do this with pretty big 300 and 400 level history classes. I posted this on another thread, but here it is again. The bonus is that the steps are more or less plagiarist and ghost-proof. This is for History, but other fields may be able to adapt:
Primary Source Eval:
his form will not work perfectly for every source, so please follow to the best of your ability and improvise any replacement questions appropriate to your source.
1. Title and author of your source
2. When was this written, and subsequently, when was it published. If this is memoir published substantially AFTER the events described, how does the time gap affect the material (i.e. is this someone who is now an adult describing the actions of a child, this person’s politics changed, etc.)
3. Capsule biography of the author of your source–why is this person an appropriate or important source of information, what are his/her biases through religion, politics, class, gender, etc.
4. What are the limitations of this source–was this person absent at important events, or have a restricted view of them for some reason? Does this source have a bias that makes it problematic, and if so, what is it?
5. What does this source do well? What people, events and themes does it give useful information about?
6. Make a wish list of complementary primary sources you wish existed to fill out the blind spots or limitations of your primary source. They don’t have to really exist, just guess at what would give you a really complete picture of the scene you’ve touched on with this one source.
7. List at least ten solid historical questions for which this source would be good research material. These are likely theses for your research paper, so think carefully about this. List your questions and mark at least a couple of them which you feel are most promising as paper directions.
*Because this is a short paper, look for things that are narrowly defined–for example, instead of asking “what was life like for soldiers in the WWI trenches?” ask “what effect did letters from home have on WWI soldiers” or “how did WWI soldiers experience a poison gas attack?”
1. Which of your research questions have you chosen?
2. Why? What is interesting about this to you? What other skills/interests/background do you bring to this question?
3. What are your own immediate feelings about this question? What do you think the answer will be? What are your personal biases about this?
4. What other PRIMARY sources will you use to investigate this? List them in as much detail as possible if they exist, and also list “wish list” items that we will search for a little harder–sometimes they do exist.
5. What SECONDARY sources will you be consulting to round out your understanding of the context of the question and your source? List a preliminary pool of books, journal articles and other materials. Unless the websites you find are professionally handled collections of primary materials or secondary sources of REAL merit, don’t even bother, and don’t tick me off by including them with actual sources.
1. Have a really good, focused thesis question appropriate to a 10 page paper (chosen from your best research questions).
2. Assemble a big pile of sources likely to have some bearing on your question. Look everywhere you can, including JSTOR, worldcat.org, Google Books, the MnPals system in the library catalog search, the bibliographies of the primary and secondary sources you already have, etc. Use the key words you brainstormed.
3. Go through each of these with your _thesis question in mind_. Write it on your arm, if necessary. Each time you find something, stick a post-it note next to the information and move on. Pretty soon, you’ll have a stack of books and articles marked up with post-its.
4. Set aside several hours. Using Word, go to the pull-down menu Tools and click on “envelopes and labels.” Click on “options” and select Business Card, then click “New Document.” You will see a Word page that has been divided into business card sized sections. If you are old-school, you can do this on index cards, but this is easier to do, you can proofread it and save it forever. You will also be printing ME out a copy, or copying index cards. Your choice.
5. Start with the book on the top of the pile. Make a bibliography card by typing in the full and complete citation of the work into the first square on your page.
6. Then, for each post-it in the book, make a square, starting with a short citation (author, title if more than one work by author in your stack, and page number). If you cannot quote or summarize the post-it marked information in the space of a business card, you don’t understand it. Try again.
7. Once you have gone through your whole stack of sources, save your pages of squares and give back all of your sources to the library. Seriously, send them away. Avoid fines. Clean out your backpack. If you’ve done your notes correctly, you don’t need them any more. Print out your pages of squares and (carefully using a paper cutter) divide them into little separate squares.
8. Deal out of the stack all of the bibliography cards, putting them in alphabetical order for easy use later. Paper clip them and set them aside.
9. Take a while and sort what you have on the squares into different ways of answering the question. When you have a strong answer, try to phrase that answer in the form of a declarative sentence. Presto! You have a THESIS. See what you realistically have to work with and what arrangement of arguments works effectively for what you have to SUPPORT that thesis. If you are lacking an important element, go get a source to deal with that, post-it note it and make some more cards. If one stack gets big, divide it into more workable piles that make logical sense. Eventually, you should have about a stack of 1-2 squares for every paragraph in your paper. If it becomes obvious you’ll need some connecting paragraphs that come entirely from you, use a blank square and write up what needs to go in that connector.
10. Paperclip paragraphs together and then stack these in the order you want to use them in the paper. This is a nice time to make an outline so you can see the whole paper in skeleton form (AND turn in a required outline).
11. Sit down and write the paper. Just have the stack of squares next to you at the computer and go through them in order. When you quote something or reach the end of a paragraph, put in the citation, handily located at the top of the card (for your first citation, when you need full information, just pull out the bibliography card and put a little check mark on it that means you’ve done first full citation in the paper). When you’re done, get the bibliography cards and do the Works Cited, which is easy to arrange in alphabetical order, carefully discarding the cards for any unused works.
12. Go back and carefully proof-read your paper, careful to look for your/you’re and they’re/there/their mistakes, use of less than full names for people you’ve first mentioned in the paper, misspellings and other careless stuff likely to annoy me. Quote ends.
Marlborough. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2353.” Chronicle.com, 4 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2340.html. Accessed 29 December 2018.