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Writing A Research Paper

Index to this page: Selecting a Topic and Forming a Thesis | Locating Sources and Compiling a Bibliography | Creating an Outline | Doing the Research and Taking Notes | Writing the Paper | Documenting the Paper | Useful Links

I. Selecting a Topic and Forming a Thesis

A. Begin with a subject area of interest to you.
B. Read several basic sources - such as history textbooks, encyclopedia articles - on the subject to gain a broad perspective.
C. Focus your interest in the subject on a topic that is neither so broad that entire books have been written on it, nor so narrow that few sources of any use are available.
D. After you have chosen a topic, read more widely in order to formulate a question about the topic; let that question guide your further research.
E. Your answer to the question, based on your research, will be the thesis of your paper.

II. Locating Sources and Compiling a Bibliography

A. Consult the footnotes and bibliographies of the sources you are reading.
B. Consult the on-line library catalog and the library databases in order to choose appropriate journal articles and books for your topic.
C. Not everything you need will be in the library. Loyola students may also use the Tulane Library. You will need to get a TULU card from the circulation desk at Monroe Library in order to check out books from Tulane. Inter-Library Loan is also an essential resource for requesting books and articles that the Loyola Library does not hold. This service is free to Loyola University students.
D. It is important to base as much of your paper as possible on primary source material - the raw material of historical research: letters, diaries, contemporary periodicals, government documents, chronicles, and other materials produced at the time of the subject being researched. For a list of Internet sites that feature primary sources, see History Resources on the World Wide Web.
E. Do not rely only on books. Most of the cutting-edge, recent research is published in scholarly journals; you should aim for a balance in your secondary sources of about 50% books (and the most recent books), and 50% journal articles.
F. Using the Internet for historical research: The Internet is vast and even intimidating place, and many sites must be used with extreme caution. That said, there is a great amount of useful material, both primary and secondary, for historical research on the Internet. See our page of History Resources on the World Wide Web for a list of reliable web sites for beginning your research.
1. The Internet is NOT a substitute for library research. Most websites are, at best, convenient , searchable replacements for encyclopedias. The bulk of your sources should still come from printed sources.
2. All Internet sites are not created equal. For help on evaluating the quality of Internet sites, see Cornell's "Evaluating Web Sites."

III. Creating an Outline

A. To organize your ideas and information, and to help you see or develop connections among the data you collect, make a working outline that is as detailed as possible.
B. Modify the outline as you uncover new material in your research.

IV. Doing the Research and Taking Notes

A. Read the works in your bibliography using your question to orient your research.
B. Take notes on separate sheets of paper, placing only one idea or subject on each sheet.
C. Include the page number and book or article title or Internet URL of the source of information for each point / piece of information in your notes.
D. When you take notes, put the information from your sources into your own words whenever possible. If you copy straight from the source, be sure to use quotations marks to avoid the danger of inadvertent plagiarism in your paper.
E. Organize your notes. Look for new ideas, strengths, or weaknesses.

V. Writing the Paper

A. Integrate your notes around your thesis and into a coherent, readable form.
B. Do not simply string together undigested notes or quotes.
C. Revise and polish your writing.
D. Carefully proofread the final paper.
E. If your instructor permits, turn in a rough draft for the instructor to comment on.

VI. Documenting the Paper

A. A word on plagiarism (cf. "Integrity of Scholarship and Grades" in the Undergraduate Student Bulletin and the Student Handbook under the section "Behavior Inappropriate for a Loyola Student."):
1. Plagiarism: to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one's own; to use a created production without crediting the source; to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
2. When quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing, or otherwise using the words and/or ideas of another person, you must acknowledge that use with a citation. Generally known facts (e.g., George Washington was the first U. S. president elected under the Constitution of 1789) need not be footnoted.
B. Use the Chicago Style for citations (using either footnotes or endnotes); DO NOT use the MLA style of internal, parenthetical reference.
1. Indicate the note with a superscripted number at the end of the paragraph, sentence, or phrase you are documenting.
2. For both footnotes and endnotes, number citations consecutively throughout your paper. Word processing programs will keep track of your notes for you and renumber them automatically as you move or delete them.
C. Basic note form:
1. Books, first reference: Author, Title (City: Publisher, Year), pp. XX-XX.

e.g. Crane Brinton, A Decade of Revolution 1789-1799 (New York: Harper, 1934), pp. 18-22.

2. Books, second reference and following: use a shortened form.

e.g. Brinton, p. 37. OR
e.g. Brinton, Decade, p. 37. (if you are citing more than one work by Brinton)

3. Articles, first reference: Author, "Title," Journal Title vol. # (Year) page #.

e.g. Dana F. Fleming, "The Role of the Senate in Treaty Making," American Political Science Review 28 (1934) 583.

4. Articles, second reference and following: use a shortened form

e.g. Fleming, 583. OR
e.g. Fleming, "The Role," 583. (if you are citing more than one work by Fleming)

5. Internet sources: Author of page (if known), Title of page, URL, date on which you accessed the page.

e.g. Ely Janis, "Bubonic Plague," http://ponderosa-pine.uoregon.edu/students/Janis/menu.html, accessed 12 January 1999.

C. Bibliography: Submit a complete bibliography of the sources you cite in your paper (your instructor may want a complete bibliography of all sources you consulted - check with your instructor if in doubt). Arrange the entries alphabetically by author's last name.
1. If a work has more than one author, alphabetize by the first author listed on the title page.
2. Divide a long bibliography (20 sources or more) into 2 categories: 1) Primary Sources and 2) Secondary sources.
3. Basic bibliographic entry format - NOTE the differences from note format:
a. Book: Brinton, Crane. A Decade of Revolution 1789-1799. New York: Harper, 1934.
b. Article: Feming, Dana F. "The Role of the Senate in Treaty Making." American Political Science Review 28 (1934) 581-599. [N.B. - the page numbers are the range of pages the article takes up in the journal]
c. Internet site: Janis, Ely. "Bubonic Plague." http://ponderosa-pine.uoregon.edu/students/Janis/menu.html. Accessed 12 January 1999.
d. Much more information on what to document and how may be found in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writer's of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996) an on-line at Chicago Style for Notes (University of Wisconsin - Madison).

VII. Useful Links