St. Ignatius

US History Research Paper

This project description was provided by your teachers. The library staff has added resources to each step to help you build a powerful, research-based argument.

Before you get started, make sure you have your off-campus passwords available. Click HERE to login for passwords if you are working off campus.

Your Research Paper Steps:

1. Ask a question. This question should form the crux of your research. You should choose something in which you are genuinely interested.
For example: “How did the Great Migration shape middle class neighborhoods in American cities today?”

Resources to help you with this step:

This is an excellent web page created by George Mason University's Writing Center on How to Write a Research Question.

Check out some of the topics on Issues and Controversies in History to spark ideas.

To turn your research topic from a general topic into a specific research question, this template will help.

2. Read widely about the question. In this step, you enter into your research with as open mind as possible. Do your best to enter into each resource as opinion-free as possible, so you don't simply look for information that reinforces what you already think, but are more able to examine information thoughtfully. This stage is when you do the bulk of your research. During this stage, you want to read both primary and secondary sources. You also need to keep track of your information. 

Resources to help you with this step:  Click HERE to login for passwords if you are working off campus.

What's a primary source? What's a secondary source?

Issues and Controversies in History is an excellent source to use to look at events in history from multiple angles. We recommend this as a starting point for your research. It also has lots and lots of primary sources.

SIRS is a good source to be able to look at both sides of contemporary debates.

US History in Context will be helpful for contextual information about your topic. is a deep resource of academic research. If you have chosen a more obscure topic, we suggest using this database as a research tool. If you need a refresher on navigating JSTOR, there is a screencast you can watch here.

The National Archives is full of primary sources. You'll need to sift through information, but you will be able to find valuable primary sources here. DocsTeach is a project of the National Archives. It's easier to navigate and may have what you need, but it is limited compared to the depth of the National Archives.

3. Attempt to answer said question. Come up with a “first date thesis”--this is a thesis that you’re working from, but you’re not totally married to. 

For example: “The Great Migration created unique architectural, social and political institutions in American cities, such as an expansion of shotgun-style architecture, the rise of mutual aid societies and clubs, and a diversification of the urban voting base.”

Resources to help you with this step:

How to write a thesis statement for a history paper.

4. Outline, revise thesis, and refine resources. Create a map of your argument and sources. This should be a clear narrative of how you’ll write our paper. You may find in this stage that you'll need to revise your thesis--that's okay. The introduction should be complete with an opener, context, and a thesis. The body of the outline should include complete topic sentences and both evidence and analysis in bullet points. The conclusion also should be in bullet points, and should restate your thesis, summarize your evidence used, and should address outside information, or historical legacy. Include citations, and a Works Cited page with this step.

Resources to help you with this step:

Citation Resources: here you'll find resources and models to help you with citing.

(Purdue Owl is a great site to look-up exactly how to cite something in MLA format.)

We like Zotero Bib, a free Works Cited entry generator (much better and cleaner than EZ Bib or Citation Machine). If the autogenerator doesn't work for you by URL or ISBN, choose manual entry and the document type, then plug in information as needed.

5. Rough draft and revisions. Work to convert your outline into essay format. Make sure to contextualize your evidence and focus on how that evidence answers the question that started this whole process. Make sure to use in-sentence citations for any ideas or information not your own. Although far from perfect, your rough draft will allow you to flesh out ideas and the general flow of your paper. 

Resources to help you with this step:

Sentence templates that you can use to write about research. And, here's a video about how to use them, too!

When to quote and when to paraphrase.

How to create parenthetical citations (first form of in-sentence citations).

How to create PATt sentences (second form of in-sentence citations).

6. Final draft. Typed, double-spaced, 1" margins. Make sure the paper is free from plagiarism and submit it to Canvas as a pdf.

Resources to help you with this step:

How to MLA format a paper

How to MLA format a Works Cited

How to create an MLA formatted Annotated Works Cited

Did I plagiarize? To avoid plagiarism, follow this rule: Cite as you write!


Length: College Prep: 5-7 pages, Honors: 8-10 pages

Sources: College Prep: 5 sources (2 primary), Honors: 7 (3 primary)