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To all my history classes:
During this class, you will have the opportunity to write a short 5 – 7-page research
paper on a subject of your choice. The list of possible subjects is available on our
course web page. The paper should be well thought out and consist of an introduction
body with your research and a conclusion. Most successful students will have as part of
their conclusion comment on why this person or event is important in explaining our
view of history. The paper should be footnoted, and in the first section of the course, I
have given you a sample of a Chicago-style footnote. If you are comfortable with MLA
or APA, you may also use that format. The finished paper should be printed (emailed for
an online course), 11-point type, and using a font such as Times New Roman. Spelling
and glaring grammar errors will be noted and will cost you points. Plagiarism will be
dealt with in a strong term, and students who copy and paste from the internet or written
source will receive a 0 on the paper.
. One of the questions I get regularly is can I use the internet (in particularly Wikipedia)
for my paper. The answer is, in general, no, as these sources have not been reviewed
and may or may not contain valid information. This, however, does not mean that you
can not use any websites. Any site that ends in .edu, in general, is a site you can use;
most of them, however, will not have the depth you will need to write a good paper. IF
you are not sure about a site, send the link to me, and I will approve it or tell you, no, you
can not use it. What I do when I am researching a topic I am unfamiliar with is:
Step one: Go online, quickly search the term, and find some general information.
Wikipedia is fine for a summary to get you started, and in many cases, their bibliography
of sources at the end of their entry can give you three or four books and perhaps some
journal articles that can help you. While online, go to and type in
some keywords. This will give you a number of books as well, and you can see
summaries of the books and a ranking of how useful others found the book. Now that I
have a list of some books, I am ready to go to work.
Step Two: Go to a library and see what books they have on the subject. Wander a little.
When you find a book that is close to the information, sit down and browse. In addition
to the book, you want to look at the books to the right and left on the shelf, the books on
the shelf above, and the books on the shelf below. Surprising, how well this works. The
three libraries that my students have found most helpful are the CPCC library at Central,
the UNCC library, and the main Charlotte library downtown. The UNCC library can be
used by CPCC students and is probably the best research library around. If you live
near Rock Hill, I have found the library at Winthrop University excellent as well, and the
staff very helpful. For those of you in US history, do not forget that on the third floor of
the main library downtown is the Spangler Room ( a special collection open to the
public) with many volumes, of newspapers in various mediums all of which will
significantly help your paper. For everyone, do not be afraid to ask a research librarian;
they are there to help you. I am much more skilled than many of you in research, but I
use the librarians who, because of their skills, can sometimes save you many hours.
Step Three, “Very Important,” do not just take out the first two books you see. Sit down
in the library for at least 30 minutes and look at the books you have chosen. Be critical,
are these books going to give you the information you need? If not, go back to steps
one and two. Never start your research at a library with the dreaded 5 minutes “I’ll just
find something fast,” in most cases that will mean your paper will be less than it could
be. I am a big believer in taking notes in a library on my subject (remember the first note
you take is the name of the book, author, publisher, city published, and publishing date).
Taking notes is the way I critically look at my sources. Notes can be on note cards
(doesn’t work for me as I get them mixed up and lose them) or spiral notebooks, or on a
laptop. I often put mine on my laptop, as it saves me from transferring stuff and keeps it
organized. Files on a computer or separate sections in a spiral notebook are especially
helpful as often; I have five or six projects I am working on simultaneously.
Step four: Do not start writing your paper until you complete your research. If I were
doing a five-page essay on a subject like the ones you are doing, I would spend about
four hours (in three sessions) at a library. I would start at CPCC and probably also go to
UNCC. I would spend an additional three or four hours taking notes from books I have
(remember when taking notes always write in the margin title and the page number of
where you found the information). When I finished the research, I would do my rough
draft (mine are really rough). I always let a draft sit for a couple of days; then, when I
know I have a couple of hours, I go over it again. I find it best if, even in my rough draft,
I add my footnotes. It is too time-consuming to have to find my sources later and add
footnotes at the end. By the way, on Brightspace, you have the information on the
Chicago style format you need to use for footnotes. Once I have the paper through two
drafts, I read it out loud to myself (having a friend read it is also good) surprising how
often when I read it out loud, I find that I could not possibly have written such garbage.
At this stage, you can also let me see it, and I will comment on it. To do a good five-
page paper is at least 8 – 10 hours of real effort. If you are going to spend the time, let’s
all try and do a great job.
If you follow this somewhat simple format, you will write a good paper. I had never read
or written a really good essay that was started and completed the night before it was
due. Have fun with the process, and become an expert in your subject.