Preparing Your History Paper
The Short Version

You need to know a lot of things when preparing your paper for a history course. I have prepared extensive online guides for you, and there are a great many published books and websites that offer help (a list appears at the end of this sheet). But it is easy to feel overwhelmed by so much information. This short guide is the best introduction to paper writing I can furnish you. It is not comprehensive, but will help you avoid the costliest paper-writing mistakes, and point the way toward further resources.

Formatting basics:

Footnote citations: Each time you quote a work by another author, or use the ideas of another author, you should indicate the source with a footnote. A footnote is indicated in the text of your paper by a small arabic numeral written in superscript, directly following the borrowed material. Each new footnote gets a new number (increment by one); do not repeat a footnote number you've already used, even if the earlier reference is to the same work. The number refers to a note number at the bottom of the page (or following the text of the paper, if you are using endnotes). This note contains the citation information for the materials you are referencing. Do not use parenthetical or other citation formats. The citation format you should use for history papers is called Chicago style. The writing guides listed later in this guide will show you how to cite sources using Chicago style.

Citation formats: While there are standard principles for citing different kinds of sources, each requires its own unique citation format. Thus, a book will be cited differently than will a journal article. Your style manuals (Rampolla and Turabian) explain the differences in these formats. Also, Chicago style requires one way of citing sources in footnotes, and another way for citing sources in your bibliography. (A bibliography is a list of sources you consulted in your research, which appears at the end of your paper.) Consult your style manuals (Rampolla and Turabian) for the differences in citation formats, and pay close attention to the way you format footnotes and bibliographies in your paper.

Quoting sources in your paper: Most often, you should paraphrase materials from other authors, making sure to cite your sources with a footnote. Sometimes, when the original words of another seem particularly poignant or important, you will want to present those words directly to your reader. There are many rules of quoting material, which can be found in the resources listed at the end of this sheet. Here are some basic rules to get you started:

Avoiding plagiarism: The best way to avoid unintentional plagiarism is to take complete and accurate notes, and to cite your sources properly. When taking notes, clearly indicate whether you are paraphrasing a source or quoting it directly. Be sure to include a complete bibliographic citation of the source, so you can create an accurate footnote later. When writing, include a footnote citation for every idea or quotation you use from another author.

Common writing errors to study and avoid (consult Diana Hacker, Rules for Writers):

Research basics:

Three books you should own:

Online guides for citing sources:

For more information: The principles mentioned here are discussed in greater detail in my online writing guides: "Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students" <>.