History research paper writing tips

High school history research paper guidelines

History research paper writing tips: Writing about history might be absolutely tiring at first glance. This is because the subject of history is vast. From the beginning until this guide, all the human records are history’s subject.

No historical work can claim absolute universality. This is because no one can explore the historical records since the beginning. Another point is that history is not repeatable. There is no historical researcher who can experience history first hand. Also, history cannot be remade in a lab environment unless the time machine is invented.

Historians can only study sporadic pieces of evidence from a given historical era. Such pieces of evidence can only partially reveal the historical truths. For this very reason, every historical text should be based on Selection and Interpretation.

  • Logical Selection of exciting subjects
  • Logical Interpretation of sources for reasonable arguments

A personal selection of what to include and exclude makes historical writing possible. Also, the method of understanding the selected evidence is essential. It must be noted that personal decisions make a historical paper controversial. This is because researchers will inevitably oppose other researchers’ opinions. So you can regard historical writing as a constant dialogue on this process of selection and interpretation. Your first challenge as a historical essayist would be finding your way into this dialogue.

History research paper writing tips
History research paper writing tips

Common types of historical research papers

Historical research papers have different types and lengths.

  • Narrative-based historical essays (such essays are structured like stories and chronological order for events) and Analytical historical essays (such essays have an academic structure based on an inherent logic)
  • Some research papers are concerned with history. However, their point of focus is the reasons behind an event, not the event itself. There are also historical papers that focus on historical writing. Such essays discuss other historians’ prose styles, standard features, and various schools of thought.
  • Political/Military history research papers. Such papers focus on political and/or military aspects of a region’s history in a given period.
  • Economic history research papers that report and analyze economic facts.

During a bachelor course, you might have gotten familiar with review papers and research papers. Review papers are usually based on your answers to the class syllabus. Research papers typically need further explorations in libraries or archives on a selected subject. Different kinds of historical essays need various research, analysis, and interpretation levels.

Despite this variety, Historical arguments presuppose common forms. Suppose you are struggling to make an argument for your historical essay. In that case, you might want to practice argumentative techniques (discussed in the next section).

You can consider such approaches as premade suits that you can try and alter according to your purposes. Once you have chosen your practical method of argument, explain it in your paper’s problem statement section. The initial problem statement usually comes in the opening paragraphs of shorter essays. You can put the problem statement in the introduction in more extended essays.

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Frequently used arguments in historical Review Papers.

  • The first scenario is that researchers disagree on a subject. Your review paper can take sides and argue why one side is more convincing. This might be done by a logical analysis of the fundamental arguments of each side. 
  • The second scenario is that researchers disagree on a historical subject. Your review paper brings arguments to prove why the matter needs a more meaningful, deeper reevaluation.
  • The third scenario is that the majority of researchers agree on a historical subject. Your review paper brings arguments to establish an alternative interpretation of the given subject with more detail.

Familiar arguments in historical Research Papers

  • The first scenario is that no researcher has previously worked on a subject. In spite of such academic negligence, you may bring arguments for the subject’s significance. Thus you can offer a temporary interpretation that might become constant.
  • The second scenario is that some researchers have previously discussed a subject. But still, there are holes and inaccuracies in the previous work. Your historical research paper can address those inaccuracies. Then you can bring arguments to offer new and alternative evidence to be analyzed.
  • The third scenario is that many researchers have previously worked on a subject. You may bring arguments in your historical research paper to propose a reevaluation of the issue. This reevaluation might be based on newly found evidence, novel methodologies, or original questions.

The first step to writing a historical research paper

First of all, you should have the courage to defend your selection and interpretations. If you fear defending your position, you cannot enter the dialogue. There are tested methods for doing so that historians frequently use.

  • Decode your assignment. You have to fully understand what you are trying to accomplish. Has your professor chosen a specific seminal text? Is your spectrum of choice limited or not? You have to build an initial foundation for your main argument(s).
  • Ask the right questions. The lower classes in society usually consider history a descriptive record of past events (e.g., the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945). Such people are not really familiar with the intricacies of academic courses. Nevertheless, interpretive questions are usually better subjects for research. Interpretive questions regard the reasons behind historical events and the manner of their occurrence. In such an essay, a researcher might choose to analyze the reasons behind President Truman’s atomic bombing of Japan. The researcher may also choose to investigate the effects of this significant historical event.
  •  Begin with the minor points. Read several documents while focusing on patterns and familiar motifs. Can you find a way to associate these initial perspectives? As you continue reading more documents, do your main ideas stand valid? Or are they mere doubts and speculations?
  • Begin with the major points. You can begin your historical research paper with an important question. Then you can find sources that help you answer that question. You should evaluate potential answers against the pieces of evidence you’ve gathered.
  • Contemplate change (or continuity) with the passage of time. Try to limit your research by focusing on any time from point A to point B. What has changed during this period? What has remained the same and resisted change? Can you draw any conclusions from it?
  • Think differently. Try to question the commonsensical knowledge regarding your subject. You can even doubt common presuppositions about your topic. For example, ask something like: “Were the Medieval Ages really the age of intellectual descent of Europe?”.

Sources for historical analysis

Every professional historian knows that all historical text is dependent on sources. Researchers find a good topic and pertinent historical questions before going to the sources. Sources are usually categorized into two types:

  • Primary Sources. This kind of source is made during the study’s era. They can represent the issues and perspectives of the participants in the historical drama. Typical examples are diaries, letters, reports, journals, newspapers, economic data, literature, art, and films.
  • Secondary Sources. These sources are made after the era that the study focuses on. They regard historical subjects in a retrospective manner. Such sources select evidence from primary sources, then combine and analyze them. Consequently, they use the results to bring arguments. Analytical works are the most common forms of secondary sources.

You should note that many sources can function as primary or secondary sources. This depends on your particular frame of reference and subject matter. For example, The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon can be a primary or secondary source. In the 18th century, Gibbon’s book was a primary source if your topic was the British Empire. Still, if your topic is the Roman Empire in the first millennia, Gibbon’s text is a secondary source.

Regardless of such categorizations, you should keep a critical perspective on each source. The sources cannot answer historical questions all by themselves. You should utilize the sources for research and analysis to get to the pieces of evidence.

How do historians use evidence to create historical narratives

It is a standard error between amateur students to confuse sources with evidence. Sources at their best can provide the raw material for researchers. Researchers turn these raw materials into bricks of evidence. Then use those bricks to create the structure of a historical argument. Historians analyze sources to gather such evidence. To do so, they read texts with care and ask critical questions such as:

  • Who has prepared this source? Is the author’s biography necessary to better understand this source? Were the writer’s judgments biased and/or partial? Did the writer follow a work plan?
  • When & Where was this source created? Is there another contemporary source available? How is this source a product of a specific time, place, or context?
  • Why did the author make the source? Who was his audience? What were his purposes? Does the author directly address his goals or not? Was the function of his creation personal or for public use? Is it a work of research or fiction or art, or even advertisement?
  • How does this source compare with other sources you’ve used for analysis? Is it partial to some specific ideology? Does it exclude certain evidence and include others? Does it offer alternative perspectives on events?

Recommended article: Sample of historical research paper PDF

Your history professors expect you to come up with a convincing thesis statement. Still, your professors evaluate the success of your arguments based on your method of gathering, organizing, and presenting your evidence. Selection is crucial here as well. Because of the limitations in time and space, you cannot find all the historical evidence. But, you don’t have to worry. Because even if you spend a lifetime on a subject, you can never conduct all-including research.

Despite such endeavors, you should think about your critical framework. Reflect on the shreds of evidence you want to include and exclude. Contemplate your method of analysis. Try to mention the logical arguments that oppose your own. This is because what causes most historical disagreements is the issues concerning selection and interpretation. Efficient research papers anticipate the potential questions of their readers. Such essays focus on different aspects of opposing pieces of evidence instead of excluding them. 

The conventions of writing a historical research paper

Many historians disagree on their interpretations of past events. Moreover, they also disagree on the proper method of writing on historical subjects. Every historian writes his research according to a set of values that he selects himself. They evaluate their approach according to what they consider to be readers’ purposes.

Before beginning your project, use some consultation. Make sure that you fully understand every aspect of it. If you have doubts about what is expected of you, you can consult your professor. Carefully follow what your professor tells you to do even if it defies what this guide suggests.

Regardless of all the disagreements, professional historians agree on the distinguishing features of academic historical writing. When writing or revising your historical essay, try to have these instructions in mind.

  • Write in the past tense. Some students have learned to adorn their prose via a “literary present” tense. The problem is that such prose is only fit for other fields. In historical studies using such tenses indicate a weak historical intellect. Try to write of historical events using the past tense. They have all happened in the past.
  • Avoid vague generalizations. Historians value details. Ambiguous expressions such as “once upon a time” and “people used to say” are usually frowned upon in academic circles.
  • Avoid presentism and anachronisms. Try to resist the temptation of discussing every historical argument up to the present. Try to analyze the past on its own account. Be careful not to change the chronological order of events.
  • Have some respect for your historical subject. Be passionate about understanding the past, not passing judgments. Always remember that historical players weren’t aware of present norms and values. Remember that no historical generation is perfect.
  • Rewrite if possible, Quote if necessary. Many students consider quotations as walking canes for writing a historical essay. This way, they will lose the chance of developing technical analysis skills. Instead, try to rarely use quotations. And when you do use quotes, discuss its source and context for amateur readers.
  • Discuss the necessary context. Good historical writing requires active interpretation and severe participation. As a historian, you have a responsibility. You have to validate your source(s), interpret pieces of evidence, and report your findings. You have to regard the mutual association of the text and context.
  • Use a responsible and constant style of reference. Historians usually use endnotes and footnotes (In line with the Chicago style) for referencing or discussing further details. Also, some historians favor parenthesis references as well. You should remember that the validity and coherency of your work are at stake here.
  • Write with a formal academic tone. Avoid using the first person or second person (I and you). Avoid passive sentences. Expressions like “I think” or “in my humble opinion” are considered redundant in analytical writing.

Revise your text until you are sick of it, and then revise some more. Do this, and your readers will thank you for it.

In this article, you found out History research paper writing tips. Still need help with your History research paper?

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