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Education and Outreach|American Heritage Center

Wyoming History Day: Pointers for Successful Papers


Select a Topic

  • Begin by selecting a general topic area.
  • Be sure your topic relates the annual theme.
  • Look at encyclopedias and other general reference materials to establish a foundation of understanding about the topic.

Start compiling information for your Annotated Bibliography

  • Always do this and start early to save yourself trouble along the line.
  • Note the title, author and publication information for each source you look at.
  • Most importantly, record what type of source it is and what you found useful.
  • You can jot down information in a notebook or on note cards.

Narrow your topic

  • You must be able to present a detailed analysis in less than 2,500 words.Make sure your topic is narrow enough to be fully covered.
  • Based on your initial research and defined topic, formulate a thesis. This idea will be the basis of your paper.

Consult Secondary Sources

  • Now you are ready to expand your research by looking at secondary sources.
  • Secondary sources are books, articles, interviews, media productions or any other historical source that seeks to explain or interpret an event after the fact.
  • Keep your thesis in mind as you conduct your research; it will help you interpret secondary sources.
  • Read your sources critically to see what evidence they may contain for and against your thesis.

Take Notes

  • From the beginning, keep a research diary or notebook.
  • Using either note cards or your computer create your own "database" by recording the information you find in each source.
  • Be sure your database is flexible enough so that you can organize your source materials.
  • Also be sure to always include bibliographical references in your notes so you know where you found your information. You must be able to refer accurately to your resources when you write your paper. You’ll save yourself aggravation if you keep track of sources along the way.
  • Take systematic notes as you read to help you remember later, as you are drafting your paper, just which words and phrases belong to your sources and which are your own. This is important. If any language from your sources finds its way into your final draft without quotation marks and proper documentation, you will be guilty of plagiarism, a serious offense.

    The Note Card System:
    • The best way to take notes is the note card system.
    • With either 3X5 or 4X6 cards, write one note on each card so you can shuffle and reshuffle the cards in different orders later as you experiment with the organization of you paper.
    • Put the last name of the author of your source in either the upper right hand or upper left hand corner of the card.

    Types of notes:

    • Notes that summarize:
      • All have their uses but summarizing is the best kind of preliminary note taking because it is the fastest and also has the advantage of exercising your mental processes.
      • A summary condenses information, and should be written in your own words.
    • Notes that paraphrase:
      • Like a summary, a paraphrase is written in your own words.
      • A paraphrase retells the information in roughly the same number of words
    • Direct quotations:
      • Quotations consist of the exact words from your source.
      • In your notes, put all quoted material in quotation marks.
        Quotations should be reserved for special purposes: to use a writer’s especially vivid or expressive wording, to allow an expert to explain a complex matter clearly or to allow a primary source to "speak for itself."
      • However, if you find yourself quoting a great deal in your notes, you are probably wasting time, because your final paper should not include excessive quotation.

Use the information you have acquired from secondary sources to analyze your topic and refine your thesis.

Consult available primary sources to support and justify your conclusions.

  • What are Primary Sources?
    • Archival Documents
    • Manuscript Collections
    • Diaries
    • Personal Collections
    • Photographs
    • Newspapers, Magazines, Journal Articles of the Era
  • Follow the same guidelines for taking notes that you used when accessing secondary sources.
  • Remember, your research cannot be considered complete until you have consulted all available primary resources.

The Writing Process: Synthesis, Interpretation, and Evaluation of Research

  • The best place to begin is with a thesis.
    • A thesis is a sentence asserting the main point of your essay and it is essential to a good paper.
    • You should avoid writing a paper that reports information for no apparent purpose and instead work toward constructing a reasoned "argument."
  • Construct a preliminary outline.
    • This is the part of the process students usually skip—and waste time and effort trying to hammer out ideas at the keyboard.
    • Outlines allow you to organize your thoughts and test your ideas in a schematic form.
    • The best method is to write down your thesis, and then arrange your note cards in such ways as your information comes together in logical ways to demonstrate, and illustrate your thesis.
    • There are lots of ways to organize an outline and computer programs sometimes provide useful methods.
  • Time to write.
    • The nice thing about an outline is that it sometimes functions almost like a first draft.
    • This is a key point to remember—lots of drafts! It is rare that any paper of quality is produced quickly, and with few revisions.
    • So, allow yourself plenty of time to produce several drafts and take advantage of your teacher for assistance and feedback.
    • Don’t forget to include your citations. You must cite your sources—whenever you are using someone else’s materials or ideas.
    • Be sure to use the correct form for citations. Consult a Chicago Manual of Style, and be consistent!

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