History 1014 (12)

Instructions for writing a short research paper and research paper prospectus in history

For the short research project and essay that you will pursue and write during the rest of the semester, you will use the skills in historical analysis that we have discussed and the understanding of utopian and intentional communities that we have developed in class.  Our discussions of the assigned articles written by scholars and the chapters written by Charles Nordhoff, a nineteenth-century informed contemporary, have prepared you to use secondary sources to inform and help you frame the subject, topic, and focus of your study.  While each of those scholars presents a history of a utopian community, they also examine that community from a particular perspective and offer a particular argument or a set of arguments about the community (e.g., the leader's vision, the members who responded to the leader's vision and/or charisma, the attempts by the community to implement the vision, and/or the evolution of the community).  As you study a particular community, you may find evidence that leads you to question and reconsider the arguments that other scholars have made and/or the debates among scholars.  In your short essays, you have grappled with primary accounts that address various aspects of these utopian communities, and you have discovered that the historical authors often describe and assess these communities from different perspectives.  As you have read the primary sources and written your essays, you have developed skills in reading and analyzing primary sources, and you have learned how to determine what you can (and cannot) conclude about a community from a single source.

Choosing a subject, topic, focus, and thesis question for a short research project:

  • For a short research paper, begin by choosing a subject and topic.  For this class, the subject most likely will be a single utopian or intentional community in colonial North America or the United States.  You may decide to explore in more depth a community that we have or will discuss in the class, or you may examine a community that we will not be discussing this semester.
  • For the topic of your research, choose one aspect of the community which interests you, intrigues you, or perhaps even confuses you.  If you cannot examine that topic in depth in a short essay (this will be the case with many if not most topics), you should narrow your focus on that topic still further.  As you begin to search for primary and secondary sources on your subject and topic, you may discover that the available primary sources address certain topics and focuses rather than others.  You may use this discovery process to help your sharpen your focus.
  • Once you have determined your focus, begin to articulate a question about that focus.  This question will become the thesis question for your essay. Your preliminary answer to that question will serve as the working hypothesis for your research.  More than likely you will reconsider and revise that hypothesis as you pursue your research and as you begin to write your essay (using primary and secondary sources to support your argument).  Once you have completed your research and your analysis, your revised hypothesis becomes the thesis for your essay.

Writing a research paper prospectus:

  • A paragraph describing your hypothesis:
    • the subject, topic, and focus of your examination
    • the question you are going to ask about the particular aspect of the community that you plan to study (the thesis question)
    • the argument you plan to make (while this undoubtedly will shift as you research and write, you need to begin to formulate a hypothesis to help direct your inquiry)
  • Annotated bibliography of the a) primary and b) secondary sources for your project:
    Note: Using footnote citation format (Chicago Manual of Style, not MLA), please give full bibliographic information for each source. 
    • primary sources:  explain what each source offers in terms of evidence for your study 
    • secondary sources:  explain how the scholar's perspective, discussion, analysis, and/or argument will inform your examination
    • NOTE: try to find at least 2 primary sources and 2 secondary sources (articles or monographs) for your study.
    • restrict your use of internet sources to scholarly articles that have been uploaded from journals, primary sources that originally appeared in print (or manuscripts that have been uploaded from historical archives), and official web sites for a current or historical communal society.
      If you choose to use an internet source that does not meet these criteria, you must persuade me that it is a legitimate and worthwhile source for your study.
  • Methodology:
    • how well do the sources (especially primary sources) address the questions you plan to ask?  From what or whose perspectives do these sources address your topic; to what extent can you (or should you) generalize from these sources?  (As you work with these methodological questions, you might decide to make appropriate adjustments to your focus and thesis question.)
  • Projected outline of the essay.
    Note: for your outline, think in terms of sections rather than paragraphs or body paragraphs.  Designate the sections with roman numerals:  I., II., III, etc.  Break down the sections using capital letters (A., B., C.); you can break those sub-sections down further using arabic numbers (1., 2., 3.) and then little letters (a., b., c.). 
  • Note: although you may not be able to answer all of the questions at this stage, you should have some solid preliminary answers for some of these questions.