STEP 1: Focusing your topic: In writing a research essay for history, you should first formulate an idea (a working thesis) about the focus of your research. This gives you a starting point to find source information. The thesis statement must address your assignment. Use keywords from your assignment to help formulate a working thesis statement.
STEP 2: Research: Librarians are trained to assist you with finding appropriate sources, but keep in mind there are some types of sources that are NOT appropriate to use for a college level essay.
These include sources like encyclopedias (including Wikipedia), textbooks, Answers.com, etc. (These are places to start if you have no information about the topic, but they are not reliable sources of research info).
Evaluate any source (especially Internet sources) you plan to use in your essay in terms of the following:
Accuracy–(Is the information in the source correct? Does it generally match up with information you’ve found in other sources on the same topic?) Authority–(Who claims responsibility for the information in the source? You would not use a paper written by a 6th grader as a source for a college level class) Objectivity—(Is the author objective or biased? Is there an agenda?) Currency–(Is the information up to date? For example, you wouldn’t want to use a book published in 1959 if you were writing an essay about how students use computers to do research) Coverage—(Is balanced information provided, or is the coverage one-sided or incomplete?)
Use sources that contain information that will support the thesis statement of your essay.
Don’t use sources that you do not understand.
STEP 3: Writing the essay: An academic research essay contains the following elements:
Introduction—This introduces the reader to the topic and makes a specific claim (the thesis statement) about the topic. This claim is what the body, or main part, of your essay will support and explain.
Argument and Documentation: Often called the body of the essay. This should be several paragraphs/pages long and contains the topic sentences that provide supporting points for your thesis statement, examples from sources that illustrate your supporting points, and explanations of HOW the examples illustrate your supporting points.
Conclusion: Wraps up your essay and is the appropriate place to include your opinions about the topic. ← A word about transitions: Use them. You should create smooth transitions between paragraphs. This is often done by repeating keywords from the thesis and/or by introducing the topic of the following paragraph in the last sentence of the preceding paragraph. Transitional terms such as “In addition,” Similarly,” and “However” also help create smooth transitions. Repetition of keywords and ideas creates transitions.
The parts of a history research essay:
Introduction: This section of the essay introduces the reader to the topic and to your particular historical take on the topic. Some historians like to “set the scene” with an anecdote that illustrates something important or interesting, or which catches the interest of the reader and focuses it on the essay’s topic. Others prefer to state vital data and background to the topic (one example of this would be a biographical essay which starts with information about when and where a person was born, etc.) Many find it easier to write the introduction after they have written the body of the essay.
Statement of Thesis: This commonly appears within the introduction, usually as the last sentence of the first paragraph. Your thesis should be clear and straightforward. If you cannot state your thesis statement succinctly, you may need to think more carefully about what you are trying to argue in your essay and focus your topic more clearly.
Argument and Documentation: The bulk of your research essay will be your support of the thesis statement from your introductory paragraph.
A “format” to use for supporting your thesis might be as follows:
MAKE A POINT, in your own words, that supports your thesis idea. This is the topic sentence of a paragraph.
PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE from a source. This might be done in the form of a quote (using the exact words the source uses and quotation marks– ex. “quote”) or a paraphrase (restating the idea in your own words—no quotation marks).
Whether you quote or paraphrase, you need to CITE any information you obtain from a source, and you do this by inserting a parenthetical note that includes the author of the source’s last name and the page number(s) where the information appeared in the source. For MLA format, the information that goes into the parenthetical note—ex. (Smith 64)—is the first bit of information about that source that your reader will see on your Works Cited page, so it is usually the author’s last name.
If you do not have an author’s name, use keywords from the title—ex. The title of the article is “Joan of Arc: Heroine or Heretic.” Your citation might be (“Joan” 86). If there are no page numbers, as is often the case with Internet sources, the same citation would be (“Joan”). [pic]An important part of developing your research writing is to EXPLAIN how the EXAMPLE you have used makes your POINT. This explanation is written in your own words and should clearly indicate how you see the example conveying the point/conclusion you’ve reached about the topic.
Conclusion: The conclusion wraps up your essay and serves as an appropriate place to offer your own opinion, apply the research to present-day issues, or state the historic significance of the topic.
Visit The Learning Center website at http://www.tridenttech.edu/664_2970.htm for links to handouts on using MLA format, using thesis statements and topic sentences, and avoiding plagiarism.