Choosing a TopicFor your U.S. History PaperCreated by Mary Alice Osborne, Librarian
Keep in mind… Choosing a topic that you can work with is extremely important for the U.S. History Paper. You should have both interest and knowledge in the subject You should be comfortable and understand the language and terminology used in your subject area
Key Words Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the keys for searching online catalogs and databases, the Internet, and print resources for information about your topic. Keep track of the Key Words for your topic
Background Information Begin your research by reading articles (or book chapters) that will give you a broad overview of a topic. Look in the Contents and Index of your textbooks and other books for ideas. You can find background articles in books, encyclopedias, journals and magazines. Also, these resources often provide bibliographies—lists of books and articles that will allow you to discover what else is available on a subject.
Narrowing a Subject to a Manageable Topic: A topic that covers too much material is a common problem for students. Depending on your interests, a general topic can be focused in many ways. What do you already know about this subject? Is there a specific time period that you want to cover? Is there a geographic region or area of the country on which you would like to focus? Is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? For example, public policy implications, historical influence, sociological aspects, psychological angles, specific groups or individuals involved in the
Topics that are too narrow Think of parallel and broader associations for your subject if you need a broader topic that will be easier to research. Sometimes a topic may be too new and sources to your research questions may not yet exist. For example, if you want to do a paper on the effect of wind power on Vermonts long-term ability to produce energy for its citizens, consider the following questions: Could you examine other states or regions in addition to Vermont? Could you think more broadly about this topic? Give thought to wider topics like agriculture and sustainable development. Who are the key players in this topic? The government? Citizens? Other organizations? What other issues are involved in this topic? For example, what other options are available to produce green energy?
Great Website: Zero in on TopicsThis website presents a very thorough and interestingoverview of American History with many interestingtopics:http://www.shmoop.com/history/For instance, if you click on Colonial New England in thewebsite, a page pops up with two features: 1. In a nutshell 2. Why should I care. This website is written in teen- friendly language. At the top of each page there are tabs with links to other aspects of each topic. I especially like the timeline feature with clickable links. There also is a section of recommended websites and books.
Mind Map Write your prospective topic in the center of a blank page. Surround it with related topics, connecting sub-topics to the main topic. Do this by drawing a line from the sub- topic to the main topic as if you were connecting spokes to the hub of a wheel. Branch other topics off of the sub-topics (making smaller wheels).
MindMap Website Easy to use Website for brainstorming: https://bubbl.us/
Explore Go to the areas of the Library Media Center that have books about your subject. Explore the area, pull out books and scan the contents and index Look at Magazines and Reference Books American History is located in the Dewey Decimal #: 973 in the Media Center
Refine your ideas Go back to your Mind Map and Free Write Add more information Keep these documents to look back at later and refine more in the next few days and weeks. Try using the following questions to help you:
Journalistic Questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? about your topic. Answer each question as completely as possible. Question Brainstormer: http://sdst.libguides.com/content.php?pid=1847 60&sid=1552990
Discovery QuestionsExplore your topic by answering the followingquestions:a) Can you discuss an incident about it?b) What caused it?c) What can you describe about the topic?d) What resulted from it?
Continued…e) How does it compare to something else?f) What are its parts, sections, or aspects?g) What do you remember about it?h) Why is it valuable or important?i) Are you for or against it? Why?
Things to do…Before starting work on your paper, you should: Read the assessment criteria Read previous papers to identify strengths and possible pitfalls Spend time working out the research question (imagine the finished essay, work with your teacher or librarian on this) Work out a structure for the paper.
Sources Research requires the use of sources. Ideally, primary sources will be included. Many different approaches to the research question can be appropriate, for instance: Using primary and secondary sources in order to establish and appraise varying interpretations Analyzing sources in order to explain changing views over time of particular happenings or developments
Sources, continued Using source material for a case study or local history project, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments Collecting and analyzing oral and written data from family and other contacts to help explain past Happenings, perhaps leading to a comparison of local and national developments Using all available sources to answer the question posed are also accessed.
Sample topics – History Title: Varying interpretations of the Salem Witch Trials Research question: Which theory best explains the Salem Witch Trials? Approach: Background reading is undertaken to enable identification and explanation of two dominant theories as to why the trials took place. The merits of the two theories are appraised using data obtained about the accused and the accusers.
Sample topics – History Title: Changing views of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis Research Question: How and why have explanations of the Cuban missile crisis changed since 1962? Approach: General reading is undertaken for a historical introduction and note taking. The views of a number of historians are summarized in order to understand, categorize and evaluate selected explanations of the 1962 missile crisis in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
A Thesis Statement: Tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject of your paper. Is a road map for the paper Directly answers your research question. Makes a claim that others might dispute. Is usually a single sentence somewhere in your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader.
What makes a good Thesis Statement?Weak Thesis Statement: Abraham Lincoln was an influentialpresident.Reason: This sentence makes a claim, but it stops short of telling us“because why.”Stronger Thesis Statement: Abraham Lincoln’s EmancipationProclamation was the most influential part of his presidency.Reason: This statement is better because it focuses on what wasmost influential during Lincoln’s term of service; however, it doesn’texplain WHY or provide any evidence to support the claim.Even Stronger Thesis Statement: The most influential part ofAbraham Lincoln’s presidency was the Emancipation Proclamation.By establishing the abolition of slavery as a Union objective in theCivil War, the Proclamation did three important things: it committedthe Union to a common goal, it helped the Union gain foreignsupport, and it provided the legal framework for the eventual freeingof 4 million African American slaves in the United States. http://www.michelepolak.com/Michele_Polak/Student_Center_files/WritingThesisStatement.pdf
Writing a Thesis1. Does the thesis inspire a reasonable reader to ask, "How?" or Why?"2. Would a reasonable reader NOT respond with "Duh!" or "So what?" or "Gee, no kidding!" or "Who cares?"3. Does the thesis avoid general phrasing and/or sweeping words such as "all" or "none" or "every"?4. Does the thesis lead the reader toward the topic sentences (the subtopics needed to prove the thesis)?5. Can the thesis be adequately developed in the required length of the paper or project?Writing a Thesis:http://sdst.libguides.com/content.php?pid=184760&sid=1552957
Helpful Websites Basic Steps for writing a Research Paperhttp://sdst.libguides.com/researchtools 10 Steps to Writing an Essay http://www1.aucegypt.edu/academic/writers/ Research Organization form: http://extendedessayhelp.wikispaces.com/Big6+Re search+Form