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HIS 496 - History Seminar

Recommended Strategy to Begin Your Research

  1. Begin your research by reading some background information about your topic:
    • Check out the facets of your topic using an encyclopedia from the library's Reference section, or an online encyclopedia in Gale Virtual Reference Library.
    • Make a list of key people, dates, and terms relating to your topic, or make a mind map of the various facets related to your topic. 
  2. Once you have studied the background of your topic, locate primary and secondary sources with which to write your paper.
    • Tip: Starting your research with secondary sources can lead you to the primary sources which were used by the authors of these secondary sources. Then try to track the primary sources down.
  3. Determine other types of primary sources to use:
    • Find digitized primary source collections on the web (see list on Primary Sources tab)
    • Find published primary sources using the online catalog


Follow Rampolla's* advice:

  • Remember to ask those detective questions: Who? What? Where? When? and Why?
  • Try to discover the context in which an event occurred.
  • Examine the causes of an event.
  • Ask questions about the relationship between the continuity of ideas, institutions, and conditions and changes that have occurred.

* Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (Boston: Bedford/St Martin's, 2012) 3-4.

Research Checklist

You can use this checklist based on The Information-Literate Historian to plan your research time and create your final product.

Research Question

  1. Establish a timeline for your research. Start from the due date and work back to today. Build in extra time if one part of your research process takes more time than you anticipated. (Jayne suggests adding 25% more time to your research step.) Save some time in the writing/creation process to return and do further research (or tracking down a citation!).
  2. Think as narrowly as you can to find an interesting topic.
  3. Consult subject encyclopedias and histories to help you define your topic. (Gale in Context databases–U.S. History and World History–are useful for this.)
  4. Create a concept map or outline, connecting major ideas and supporting ideas. Decide if this whole topic is too big and think about exploring one of the pathways on your concept map or one of the sections on your outline.
    • Check your topic:
      • Ask an open-ended question about your topic. For example, "How did [a significant event] impact [name]'s life?"
      • Can you connect your topic to the broader issues of the time? 
      • Can you connect the past to the present?
      • Do you have enough data and information to answer your question?
  5. Think about using some of these methods to organize your research and create your argument:
    • Historical significance
    • Continuity and change
    • Progress and decline
    • Historical empathy
  6. Brainstorm terms.
  7. Do a quick search to get a sense of the amount of information you may find on your topic.

Beginning Research

  1. Use your search terms. Consider using Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT), phrase searching (quotation marks), and truncation (asterisk):
    • Plan your search for a catalog.
    • Plan your search for an index or database.
    • Use a database log to track your searches.
  2. Reflect on and revise your topic—do you need to narrow? Do you need to borrow sources from other libraries?
  3. Primary sources—think about what kinds of sources (documents, photographs, diaries, video, newspapers, etc.) and who might have produced these sources or might have been interested in your topic (organizations, individuals, etc.)
  4. Evaluate sources. First, are they reliable and scholarly? Second, do your sources align with or relate to one another, and are there relationships with secondary and primary sources, i.e. bibliographies?
  5. Chart the main ideas and their evidence of your sources. Create a working bibliography and footnotes. (You may wish to use a bibliographic citation manager such as Zotero.)
  6. Begin to write your paper/project.
    1. Define your audience.
    2. Select or follow the presentation type assigned (paper, slides presentation, website, etc.)
    3. Create an introduction with clear discussion points.
    4. Make sure your body or basic content lines up with the points in your introduction.
    5. Check that your conclusion or findings reflect your introduction and identify further questions, if applicable.


  1. Create a first draft (a visit to the Writing Center may be useful).
  2. Find a peer reader (or re-visit the Writing Center).
  3. Create at least one more draft.