Research Paper: History

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.

Quote here:

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?” 

Research Proposal:
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,, 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.”, 4 January 2011,,30991.2340.html. Accessed 29 December 2018.

A = Analogies

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

Other Crazy Emails

In my classes, first-year composition and business writing, we talk about appropriate emails. Here are some additional examples I can use to perhaps catch their attention.

Email example 1:
Just got an email from a student at another university asking about graduate school in our department. The email has a range of questions such as:

-Do you like it?
-What’s the department budget?
-What is tuition?
-How do I get funding?

This was sent as a mass email to about half of the department graduate students.

Question: Name two (or five) problems with this email.

Email example 2:
After spending the beginning of two classes teaching and answering questions about citing research sources and providing students with extensive reading suggestions and handouts to help them, I received this message tonight about a major paper due on Tuesday:

[E-mail is prefaced with a note saying student knows the importance of citing information properly. Then…] “I was wondering what format are you looking for? Can I write it like this?

Name of the organization
Name of the person to contact
telephone number

Is that enough? or we need more information?”

Question: What was the student thinking? What is her/his background? Why did he/she write this?

Email example 3:
First day of class, I mention to them that the publisher neglected to include in the new edition of the textbook Chapter 17, on Important Topic, but they should have all noticed that a separate magazine-like thing was shrink-wrapped with their text. This is Chapter 17. Don’t lose it. If you do lose it, it’s available free as a PDF from the textbook’s website. Which has a direct link to it on the course website.

The remainder of the first two weeks, as they get their books, I remind them again.

When we finally get to Important Topic, I remind them yet again.

Tomorrow is the test that covers Important Topic. Guess what I got a voice mail at 8:45 this evening about?

“Uh, hi, Professor Hedgehog, this is Student from your class. Listen, uh, the review sheet said to study from chapters 8, 10, and 17, but in the book there is no 17, so I don’t know how you expect any of us to study something that’s not even there. If you can, give me a call back at 555-555-5555. Thank you.”

At least with voice mail, I can imagine the capitalization and punctuation to be correct.

Other professor’s similar experience
I got a similar email last year, asking how I expect them to do the assignment if the anthology doesn’t even have the full text blah blah blah. The student sent me two or three increasingly frustrated emails, and I still couldn’t understand what her problem was. In the end, I told her to bring her copy of the anthology to class the next day, so she could show me exactly what the problem was. Her last email read:

no. i read the text because i went on line to do so. but i don’t understand how you could possably assign readings that we do not have. the text lines stop at 190. the lines start up again at 703. there is nothing in between to read. so obviously it is not requiered by the school to read or it would b printed in the book. thanks for pointing out my gramor problems though. thats nice to see that when some one trys to tell you somthing you come back with a remark like that

Fast forward to the next class. Before class began, I asked her to show me the problem with her anthology. Since everyone else had the full text, I thought maybe she’d gotten the wrong edition or something. Nope. She didn’t even own a copy of the textbook. Hadn’t bothered to buy it. I guess that would explain why she didn’t have the full text, wouldn’t it?

From the CHE Fora

Introducing Technology

For FYC semester 2, everyone in class writes on the same topic. I was hoping to induce the students to write on technology, which I have seen many good papers on and which is more familiar to the students. Recently I was involved in a discussion on physical manipulation of objects to improve learning so, I thought I would try to make a connection for the students through touch.

As part of the introduction, I brought in everyday objects (including telephones, car keys, and umbrellas) at various tech levels. For example, I brought in a metal car key, a car key with a chip, and a key that doesn’t get pushed into a slot but is only electrical.

I didn’t put the connected ones on the same tables, so folks had to get up and move around. No one could just stay at the table, because they couldn’t collect the various examples of a single type of object. Most of the objects students could figure out the relation. There was an antique lamp lighter and an ultramodern car key that were confusing, so I had to explain what those were.

Then students were invited to talk about the differences in the objects that were related to one another.

It was a fun and interesting day.

The students did not choose to write on technology, though.

This might be a useful exercise to do for some other class. Or I might be able to adapt it to a different lesson.

Maybe if students choose to write on technology I can do this again. Students did enjoy it.

Revision or Editing

Rebecka Scott, Abilene Christian U
“Holistic Revision Instead of Afterthought Editing”

connecting rhetoric, composition, and WC theories to editing and publishing

incorporation of scaffolding and peer review, becoming increasingly aware of writing process

would not recognize term re-writing
instead revision and editing separated in classroom
useful for helping explain: re-envision

creates inconsistencies
also we ignore editing as a recursive process

many comp students do not understand rewriting as a complex stage of writing

initial steps of evaluation

writing considered linear. Writing still linear. Comp studies, though, it is recursive.

Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Lindemann
Not separate stages. Instead, the writers are prewriting, writing, and editing during the experience.
Defines rewriting as including revising and editing. These tasks are separate but equally relevant for rewriting. (RS includes proofreading)
Wants to draw rewriting back into the end. Revision isn’t the last stage of composing.

Lack of connection between revision and editing. More space given to revision than editing.
Revision supersedes term rewriting.
Editing = final check for formatting

Looked at various freshman composition textbooks on topic.

Rewriting is part of the writing process.

Books don’t show how they are cyclical. Books don’t even use language consistency.

Emphasis of one over the other in classroom can influence students.
Students are most concerned with grammar.
Organization and syntax matter.
Essentially the same act with a different focus.
Limited research on best way to teach these.

Initial steps:
Realign by evaluating language we use
Engage in discussion of recursive
Editing as a purposeful task of rewriting

Evaluate the purpose of rewriting as presented in textbook
Rewriting may be one element of the text that can be supplemented

Being aware of what may be lacking in our textbooks is essential for success.

Have language discussion even if confusing for students.
Part of the recursive writing.

Students are not receiving consistent presentation.

Many profs avoid. Students are unfamiliar with terms and have negative experiences.
These discussions can lead to better understanding.

Give adequate time to editing, revision, and rewriting.
This re-enforces that revising, editing, and proofreading are unimportant and part of the end-process only.

Notes from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies

Personal Literacy Digital Narrative

While traditionally literacy has meant reading and writing, we have begun to discuss math literacy, digital literacy, and research literacy.

The first composition in one of the fyc classes I am teaching culminates in a personal literacy digital narrative. Students are allowed to choose to present on anything they remember learning, though I recommend having it be something that they learned vocabulary for as well.

These can be quite well done. I have received excellent videos on such diverse topics as learning to sight-read music and moving to a new country. One student did one on how she learned to enjoy reading and another did one on how to train Pokemon (which you would have to have learned how to do in order to provide an instructional video).

While I had quite an interesting collection of examples to show, I somehow managed to misplace the main USB file the digital narratives were in. Because of that, and time constraints, I only showed three examples before asking the students to think about topics for their own videos. Unfortunately, the topics they have come up with all follow the examples fairly closely. That means they won’t be particularly good or varied, I think.

I am trying to find the other videos and sending emails to last semester’s students, asking if they would mind sharing their videos again.

I am also going to put up a list of potential topics, including the two that I considered for my own video last semester.

Email Etiquette Reminder

Every semester I review email etiquette with my freshmen. Then I require an assignment that has them send me an email and I grade both the assignment and their email etiquette. Throughout the semester I pick at least two other emails to assign grades to regarding email etiquette. (I do more if the students are not doing well with the email etiquette–and I let them know I am going to.)

Here is a review I sent for a student who was not in class for the email etiquette:

1. Pick a good subject title. (Don’t just respond to an email I wrote, usually. When you are asking a question about something specific I wrote in an email, you can respond to that email. Otherwise start a new email.) Something like “topic for 106” or “question on 106 homework” will let me know how important it is to read the email as soon as I see it.

2. Address the email with a salutation. For school, that would mean “Dear Dr. Davis” or “Dear Dr. Lynn.” If you don’t know if a professor has a doctorate, assume they do. No one is insulted by being presumed to have more education than they do.

3. Make sure all the information needed is in your email and write in the best English you can. Don’t use things like u for you or b4 for before.

4. Sign your email with the name you use in class, both your called name and your family/last name.

5. Somewhere make sure you indicate the class you are in (and the time if the professor might have more than one class of that kind). For 106 this semester I only have one class. As long as 106 is in your email, after your name or in the subject line, then you are good. However, last semester I had two 106 classes, so those students had to write either the section number or the time that the class met as well as 106.

These are good tips for writing emails to professors in any department. Using them shows respect for the instructor and the course, which enhances your credibility and lets your discussion with your professor start off well.

DWme: Music

While I like music, I often don’t listen to it.

I haven’t made a whole playlist of songs I enjoy and could just call up on my computer or phone. Perhaps I should. I might enjoy it.

My husband actually has a specific playlist of “happy” songs. He plays it in the morning while he is getting dressed for work and it helps him to start the day off with a positive attitude. I think that is an excellent idea, but I have not gotten around to doing it. At the rate this semester is going, I won’t, either.

Maybe I’ll ask him to create a set for my birthday. Or not. It probably wouldn’t be hard to do it myself.

Yesterday I needed some music while I was grading the fyc papers. So I pulled up my reggae collection and listened to that. I need more reggae, because on my computer I only have one album and that music quickly finished.

Usually when I am driving around in the car I listen to country-western music. However, as I mentioned in class, lately all the songs have been about bars and cheating. I don’t really want that kind of music to get in my head and stay there. I am not an alcoholic and am happily married, but no one needs those ideas in their heads.

I am not as fond of alternative as my husband but I do like rock, so maybe I need to temporarily (at least) reset my radio buttons to rock.

DWme: After the first week of school, I…

I have rearranged my office twice. We got new furniture because D left and C’s desk is now outside in the vestibule, mine is back in my office, and C has D’s nice desk. Her office looks better–even though it looked good and mine looks way better because KC helped me figure out how to rearrange and improve it. I still have to put up the saris for drapes and the picture that fell down, but it is back to being useful, functional, and gorgeous. Always a good thing in an office.

Spending time with my dad and not working at home is cutting into my class preparation and grading time. I will need to be far more careful about getting the work done, even if it means coming back to the office after dinner. I am glad Dad is here and I am glad I have a chance to spend time with him again; I missed those lunch dates these last three and a half years. HCC had me spoiled for that.

I really am enjoying my students and the classes, though just like me some of the students are having trouble getting back into the swing of school. I never like to dock points at the beginning of a course, so I am letting some things still get full credit right now. By next week that will not be happening.

HOF: Not Plagiarizing Metaphors

On quoting folks in conversation:

Here’s how I explain it to my students: if you dress in sweats every day, but suddenly you show up to class in a ball gown, I’m going to notice. Generally speaking, it’s the same with writing.

Love that analogy, Dr_A. May I steal it from you in a non-plagiarising sort of way?

Of course. I prefer to be cited in MLA format, which means you must gently cup your hands to form parentheses as you say my name aloud to your students. I am not paginated.

Just as well you don’t prefer footnotes, or poor Llanfair would have to leap in the air after presenting your analogy, and only reveal your identity once she reached the bottom of the page several paragraphs later.

And I have two left feet, so that leap would be ungainly and possibly result in personal injury. Not to mention that my students would flee the room in terror of this weird woman at the front of their classroom.

From dr_alcott and llanfair