Research Journey

Choosing a Topic

The key to an effective History Day entry is the combination of a good topic with good sources. Here are some questions to think about when you select a topic to research:

  • Does it fit the theme for the year?
  • Does the topic interest you? (Remember, you will spend a lot of time researching this topic.)
  • Can you find sources to document the topic?
  • Why is this topic important in history? (What will people learn from your presentation?)

Narrowing your Topic

A good way to choose a topic is to start with a general area of history you find interesting. This might be information you read about in your textbook or something related to family history. Once you define your interest, the next step is to narrow your general ideas into a more focused topic.

Here is an example for the theme “Rights and Responsibilities.” Your group is interested in women’s history, but realizes that this topic needs to be narrowed down. Because it is an election year you decide to research “Women’s Voting Rights.” However, this topic is still too broad because you have not defined the time and place for your study.

At this point one of your group members remembered that the silver dollar she saw in her aunt’s coin collection had a picture of Susan B. Anthony. By making Susan B. Anthony part of your topic you can focus on the rise of the women’s suffrage (voting rights) movement in the United States during the 1800s. 

As you work on this topic you may come up with other points for analysis such as comparing the efforts of American women to the suffrage movement in England, or how Susan B. Anthony inspired local women to organize to gain voting rights in their states and communities.

Finally, you will need to write a thesis statement. Thesis statements are the road map for your project and should make a claim that you will seek to explain and prove. Consider using your thesis statement to put together a project Logic Model. It will help you guide your research.

Use this Topic Selection Organizer and Thesis Statement and Logic Model Organizer to help you!

Writing a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement:

  • Tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. How will I interpret the subject matter?
  • Is a road map for your project; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the project. What do I want people to take away from my project? What is the “so what?”
  • Directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of your project might be the Oberlin Rescuers. Your thesis tells me why your topic fits the theme and why it is historically significant. How am I fitting the theme? Why is it historically significant?
  • Makes a claim that others might dispute. What is my claim? Does it go beyond just listing facts?
  • Combine the answers to the above questions into a draft thesis statement. Is it a single sentence? Revise and edit until it is!
  • Use the Thesis Statements and Logic Models Organizer to help you!
Finding Sources and Compiling an Annotated Bibliography

As you start to gather information it is important to have a research strategy. A good research strategy has two parts:

  • Finding sources of information: It is always best to start with secondary sources in order to get an overview of your topic. Then you can begin hunting down primary sources. Check out city and college libraries, historical societies, national or local archives, interviews, and the Internet.
  • Keeping track of notes and sources: Information is only valuable if you can record it and use it later. One of the best ways to organize your research is to use note cards. Also try apps and programs like Refworks, Noodle Tools, Evernote, Trello, and Pocket.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources have a direct relationship to your topic because they:

  • were written or produced in the time period you are studying.
  • are eyewitness accounts of historic events.
  • are documents related to specific historic events.
  • are later recollections by participants in historic events.

Examples of primary sources include: Diaries, Manuscript collections, Autobiographies, Newspapers from the era, Government records, Letters, Photographs, Music of the era, Interviews with participants, Historic Objects

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are usually published books or articles by an author who makes a personal interpretation about a topic based on primary sources. The writer is not an eyewitness to, or a participant in, the historic event. Most library books are secondary sources, as are encyclopedias. Secondary sources are useful because they provide important background information about your topic. The footnotes and bibliographies of secondary sources will also lead you to primary sources. Another thing to remember is that the “facts” of history can be interpreted many ways. Many secondary sources will present different ideas about the same topic. Just because someone has written a book does not mean that his or her interpretation is the only correct view. Use your research to draw your own conclusions.

Examples of secondary sources:Biographies, Books about the topic, Encyclopedias, Articles about the topic, History textbooks, Media documentaries, Interviews with scholars

Finding Sources

The best place to begin your search for sources on your topic is in your school or local library. An encyclopedia is a good place to find basic information about your topic and encyclopedia entries usually list books for further reading. It is important to find other sources of information and not depend on encyclopedias. One of the best resources for finding information on your topic is a Librarian or Media Specialist. Librarians and media specialists are professional information gatherers and are very helpful in suggesting ways to go about your research.

You will also discover that the first few books you find will also help you in your search. Books containing footnotes or a bibliography can provide you with listings of many other sources, both primary and secondary, relating to your topic. Be sure to write these listings down in a notebook so that you can try to find them later.

Annotated Bibliogrpahy 

A bibliography is an alphabetized list of the sources you used. An annotated bibliography not only lists the sources, but also gives a short description of the source and how you used it in your entry. A History Day bibliography should be separated in to primary and secondary sources. For guidelines on bibliographic style you should refer to A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, or the style guide of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).

Use the Evaluating Sources and Creating a Bibliography Organizer to help you!

Writing the Process Paper

History Day entries in the exhibit, documentary, website, and performance categories must also include a process paper. This paper introduces your topic, explains how you developed your entry, and documents your research. It is important to do a good job on this part of your entry because it is the first thing that people look at when they evaluate your work. The process paper contains three parts: the title page, a research description, and the annotated bibliography.

Use the Process Paper Organizer to help you!