I. Before you begin your research
After choosing the general topic, the next issue is determining what you are going to say. This requires both research and imagination.
In the research part of this project, you will gather the information you need to write intelligently on your topic. You will accumulate both facts and expert opinion. You will use your imagination as you use the information you have accumulated to reconstruct, as you decide on your thesis and as you decide how to present your conclusions. But you should also use your imagination even before you begin the actual process of research. Give your imagination a chance to operate so that you will know what to research and, perhaps more importantly, why.
II. Look at your topic with fresh eyes
You may already know a great deal about your chosen topic. If you are going to produce a worth while paper, it is wise to pretend you have never seen or read or heard anything about this topic before. Pretend you are encountering it for the first time. Assume you know nothing about the subject. What would you like to know? What would you need to know in order to understand it? What might you find puzzling, intriguing, curious? Are there aspects of the subject you are not as familiar with? Some of the most important innovations have been made by historians asking new questions about the past. Write down some of the most important questions you might ask about the topic.
III. Choose a focus
One of these questions might strike you as more important, interesting, intriguing or striking than the others. This question should become the preliminary focus of your research.
IV. Develop a plan of attack
Now that you have identified the question your paper will answer, the next step is to figure out how you will answer it. Remember: You will not find the answer to your question in any source. Your research will only provide you the information you need to construct your argument. Your final paper will be a mixture of the information you have gathered and your own historical imagination.
Begin the research phase of your project by making a list of the kinds of sources you might like to consult. Do not be concerned at this point with specific titles or where they might be found. Also, remember that a source need not be a book. You may find the answer in a map, a piece of music, a journal article, the floor plan of building. Let your imagination wander. The question at this point is simply, "How can you get a hold of the information you need help you answer the question you've asked?"
V. The Assignment
Your research agenda will consist of four parts. It will be graded acceptable/not acceptable and be worth 5 points.
- A. In one or two sentences, state the general area of history you would like to investigate.
- B. List 5 or 6 questions about your topic.
- C. Identify one of these questions as the focus of your research.
- D. In 3 or 4 sentences, describe the kinds of sources you might use to help you answer your question.