Research and Writing Resources
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I have my sources, my problem of study and my hypothesis.  
Where do I go from here?

How am I going to handle my primary and secondary sources?  What is your “plan of attack”?
How can I find a research strategy?
How can I find a model of a good piece of writing/research that is related to my topic?
What is a research proposal? How do I prepare one?
Why should I write a research proposal?
How should my research proposal be organized?
How should I collect the information that I get from the research?
I've done my research and analyzed my sources.  What's next?
What is a thesis statement?

“Put less emphasis on developing an original argument and more emphasis on learning the actual steps of the research process.” Advice from former J300 student Alex Irwin

How am I going to handle my primary and secondary sources?  What is my “plan of attack?” You need to develop a research strategy or methodology.

•  Do you plan to read your sources and find common themes?  What questions do you want to “ask” your sources?  How do those questions relate to your “problem of study?”

•  Do you plan to quantify certain things in a period of time?  For example, are you planning to quantify how many times a female politician made the headlines in a particular newspaper and compare it to the number of headline references to male politicians over the course of five years?  Are you planning to account for the times the word “democracy” appears in a speech by one or more presidents and analyze how it was used and the meanings of it? What questions do you seek to answer from this quantitative analysis?

•  Do you want to compare a number of sources that have common themes but were produced at different times, and find similarities and contrasts?  What questions do you want to answer from this comparative approach ?

How can I find a research strategy?

•  It is not possible to construct a research strategy that is applicable to all historical research.   Yet, finding and reading other articles about similar topics about other parts of the world or times can:

•  give you ideas about questions you did not consider

•  suggest possible sources or different hypotheses

•  help you as an analytical tool; give you suggestions of possible ways to analyze your sources and findings

•  provide you with good models about how you might organize your own piece of writing

Example: A student in one of the Spring 2005 J400 courses researched caricatures produced during the U.S. Civil War and the War of 1898 and analyzed how African-Americans were represented in these. In her paper, she asked the question, how similar and how different were these depictions of blacks in the U.S. media?  This student found ideas about research strategy in an article about how African-Americans were represented in newspapers during the Civil Rights movement. Although the article did not give her information to use in her paper, the way it analyzed the sources gave her ideas about how to use her sources and helped her to think of questions that she had not considered before.

If you consider other ways in which scholars have “attacked” the issue, you can structure and analyze your attack in a more secure fashion.  Of course, you should acknowledge in your bibliography the essay(s) or books that gave you ideas and inspiration.

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How can I find a model of a good piece of writing/research that is related to my topic?

•  List all of the possible subject headings and use the online sources listed in your course-specific website or other IU Wells Library sources.  In the example above, the student used subject headings such as; blacks and cartoons; caricatures and cartoons; African-Americans—history—caricatures and cartoons.

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What is a research proposal? How do I prepare one?

A research proposal is an essay (often only a few pages long) that describes the following:

  1. What problem you want to study.  Be sure to contextualize the problem; explain not only what, but also when and where.  See “How can I find a question/controversy/problem of study?”
  2. Why this problem is important.  Taking into account what has been written on this subject (your annotated bibliography, if you’ve prepared one, should help you identify what has been written about the problem you’re studying), explain how your problem of study relates to what has been written on the subject and why someone should examine the problem you've chosen.
  3. How you will study the problem.  Explain your research strategy or methodology and describe your sources.
  4. What you expect the result to be.  What conclusion do you think you will come to? See “What is a hypothesis?”
  5. What sources you've already found that you intend to use and how you plan to use them. (See “Research Strategy or methodology”) A bibliography or annotated bibliography is often included in a proposal.

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Why should I write a research proposal?

If you don't address the issues above before starting to write, you're likely to have a long, painful, and unsuccessful writing exercise.  On the other hand, a clear, well thought-out proposal can make the writing process easier.  In fact, your proposal can form the basis of your paper, because the structure of the two is very similar.

Proposals are often used to compete for grants as well.  For this reason, the tone of the essay should be very persuasive; you want to convince the reader that your project is important and that you have the best possible way to execute it.  It should also be clearly written so that people from different disciplines can understand it.

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How should my research proposal be organized?

There aren't any hard and fast rules here, but the following brief outline is appropriate for most proposals in history:

1. An introductory paragraph:  Here you identify the general topic and the research question or problem (that is, the question that the thesis statement of your paper will answer).  You should also establish the significance of your research.

2. A section that describes the larger historical context and perspective on your topic:  Try to identify the major trends in the literature on your topic, and very briefly review that literature.  Who has written on the topic, and what have they found?   (See “How do I find sources for my paper?” and “Why create an annotated bibliography?”)   What questions remain to be answered?  Restate your question in the context of this literature review, showing how it fits into this larger picture.

3. A section describing your methodology:  In this section, you describe your “plan of attack”—that is, how you will approach your problem, and what sources you will use.

4. In the final paragraph(s), discuss what you expect will result from your research (your hypothesis ) and reiterate how it fits into the larger historical perspective on the topic.

5. You must also include a bibliography that lists the articles and books you plan to use in your paper.

After identifying what your research strategy will be, and preparing a research proposal that will guide your inquiry, you're ready to do the actual research.

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How should I collect the information that I get from the research?

•  This depends on the type of research or “research strategy” you are conducting and your personal preference.  You can:  

•  Suggestion #1 : Take notes on index cards.  

•  Have one set of index cards with the bibliographic information that you will need for building your bibliography later on.

•  Use another set of index cards to take notes.  Some people like to have an index card for each theme, i.e. African-Americans and caricatures about work; gender and caricatures; clothing and caricatures, etc.  You can write the theme on the top of the card and take note of what you find about that topic in different sources. Write the last name of the author and page (you have the rest of the bibliographic information in the bibliographic index cards described above).  You can easily organize these cards later on by topic and use them as you write your paper.

•  Example:

Clothes and caricatures

Steven, p.19-finds that most of the caricatures during the Civil War depicted slaves dressed in rags.

Rosen, p.123-illustrates some male slaves dressed in rags and in working clothes and argues that….

 

Yet the problem is how to select what you need to write from your mountain of evidence.  Of course, you do not want to copy everything you read or you will never finish!  It is for this reason, that is critical that you have a question of study or hypothesis that will help you discriminate what you should write and what not.  Ask yourself how everything that you read relates to your hypothesis.  Of course, your hypothesis may change slightly or completely as your research advances. Do not get disappointed because you should have taken different kind of notes from the first books/articles you read.  This happens! See it as part of the natural process of doing research.

See “How do I know what to pay attention to when I'm reading a source”?

•  Suggestion #2: Take notes in a notebook and write the different topics in the margins

•  Suggestion #3: Use bibliographic database programs.  For example, the program Endnote is excellent because you can obtain the full bibliographic citation online (you do not need to type the information again) and then the software formats both endnotes/footnotes and bibliography using the citation style that you need (MLA, Chicago, etc.).  You can also use the software to take notes on each source.  You can get this program free of charge, and the Library holds training sessions often in the semester. Click here for more information .

•  Suggestion #4: If you are doing a quantitative analysis, you may want to consider using spreadsheet or database programs such as Excel, Paradox, SPSS, or SAS among others. See the Stat Math Center.

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I've done my research and analyzed my sources.  What's next?

By this time, you may find that you are a long way from your original question and hypothesis and may need to refine them in the light of the research you have now done. You'll need to evaluate your original problem of study and hypothesis.  Do you need to rework (refine/qualify) them?  Do your sources and analysis answer your question of study and support your hypothesis? How?  Can you answer your question of study in one or two sentences? Answering these questions may help you identify your thesis statement.  

For example, see the table below.  It shows how some students in one section of J400 in Spring 2005 went from a problem of study to a hypothesis to an actual answer/thesis statement [1].

Possible Question/Problem of Study

Possible Hypothesis (before doing the whole research)

Actual answer/thesis statement (after doing the research)

Is Harriet Jacobs' account much different from other male slaves accounts?  Why?

There are major differences in the ways in which Jacobs writes her account when compared to males basically because of the double oppression that she lived as being both a woman and a slave.

There are common themes such as that of liberty and family in the accounts of Harriet Jacobs when compared with that of Mary Prince, Thomas Cole, William Adams. That is because ideas about liberty and family were central in the lives of all slaves regardless of their sex.

In which specific ways did women resist oppressive political, social, and economic situations during the Holocaust and slavery in Latin America?

Women in both the Holocaust and during slavery in Latin America resisted oppressive measures in covert ways.

Women in both the Holocaust and during slavery in Latin America resisted oppressive measures in their writings, dance, and song and by controlling their reproductive capacities.

Did slaves in Bahia (Brazil) have a sense of rights? Why?

Yes, slaves had an unfounded sense of rights.  They wanted to achieve freedom.

The treaty produced by slaves in late 18th century Bahia demonstrates that slaves were motivated to assert their “rights” because of their owners' lack of compliance with slave laws. Rather than demanding freedom, these slaves claimed more humane and better working conditions.

How did voodoo contribute to the spark of the Haitian Revolution?

Religion was pivotal in the planning and outcome of the Haitian Revolution.

Religion did little more than provide a public forum for slaves to express ideas, and it ended up helping the slaves secure their own freedom.

In a world where the wealthy white planters of Haiti were surrounded by the ideals of the French Revolution (fraternity, liberty and equality), what motivated them to hold steadfast to the institution of slavery and even give their lives for that control?

The answer is money.  Wealthy white planters in Haiti were more interested in financial well being than in the ideals of the French Revolution.

The answer is money.  The wealthy white planters were proud of their success in Haiti, proud of their economic status, and proud of their impact on the world trade market.  The loss of their slaves meant not only the loss of material goods but also the loss of status in France and abroad.

What are the most important causes that explain the abolition of slavery in Brazil, according to authors who published about this from the 1920s to the present?

The work done by the Brazilian and British abolitionists and the end of the slave trade are the most important reasons for most authors.

No one factor can be responsible for the abolition of slavery. The struggle which ended in Brazilian emancipation was initiated by the British abolition of international slave trade, and aided by the economic boost of the coffee boom, which created increased labor shortages and therefore initiated the need for free labor.  This base allowed the abolitionist movement to seal slavery's fate in the last two decades of its existence, with the passage of the Rio Branco (1871) and Golden laws (1888).

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What is a thesis statement?

After you have done much of your research, the answer to your problem of study and evaluation of your initial hypothesis will give you the argument/thesis statement around which your paper will be built.  The argument/thesis statement is an explanation of the reasons that you have to agree or disagree with others on a particular subject, to decide something, or persuade someone about something. Please note that “argument” and “thesis statement” basically refer to the same thing: a reasoned exposition that explains the main point of view that the author wants to prove in a piece of writing. For more, see “Writing Tutorial Services: How to write a thesis statement.”

 

Good Thesis Statements (from students’ papers, above)
Bad thesis statements and what they’re missing

There are common themes such as that of liberty and family in the accounts of Harriet Jacobs when compared with that of Mary Prince, Thomas Cole, William Adams. That is because ideas about liberty, and family were central in the lives of all slaves regardless of their sex.

Ideas of liberty and family are important.

To whom are they important? How can you tell? Why are they important?

Women in both the Holocaust and during slavery in Latin America resisted oppressive measures in their writings, dance, and song and by controlling their reproductive capacities

Women in the Holocaust and during slavery in Latin America liked to write, dance, and sing.

Why did they do this?

The treaty produced by slaves in late 18th century Bahia demonstrates that slaves were motivated to assert their “rights” because of their owners’ lack of compliance with slave laws. Rather than demanding freedom, these slaves claimed more humane and better working conditions.

The treaty shows that slaves wanted to have better working conditions.

So what ? What is remarkable about wanting better working conditions? Why is this interesting/important?

Religion did little more than provide a public forum for slaves to express ideas, and it ended up helping the slaves secure their own freedom.

Religion wasn’t that important in the Haitian revolution.

To whom? Why wasn’t it important?

The answer is money. The wealthy white planters were proud of their success in Haiti, proud of their economic status, and proud of their impact on the world trade market. The loss of their slaves meant not only the loss of material goods but also the loss of status in France and abroad.

People didn’t want to give up their slaves because they needed them to be rich.

This thesis explains better than the others – “because they needed…” – but it still could be clearer and more specific. Which people? What did “being rich” mean to them?

No one factor can be responsible for the abolition of slavery. The struggle which ended in Brazilian emancipation was initiated by the British abolition of international slave trade, and aided by the economic boost of the coffee boom, which created increased labor shortages and therefore initiated the need for free labor. This base allowed the abolitionist movement to seal slavery’s fate in the last two decades of its existence, with the passage of the Rio Branco (1871) and Golden laws (1888).

Slavery was abolished because of British abolition the slave trade, the Brazilian coffee boom, and the passage of new laws.

How did those factors lead to abolition? Which were most important? How do they relate to one another? Your thesis should explain, not just state.

Once you have identified the answer to the problem of study that guided your research and you've written it as thesis statement, you are ready to organize your essay.  See “How do I get started on the writing process?”

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[1] These examples are drawn from the following papers produced for the Spring J400, Slavery in Latin America: Abbey Torres, “Harriet Jacobs and Mary Prince: Their Narratives and Gender Issues”;  Alissa Cohen,  “Women Slaves and Resistance: Latin America and Nazi Germany”;  David White, “Brazilian Slave Rights:  Turn of the Late 18th Century Bahia”;  Phillip R. Moeller, “Religion and Revolution: Understanding the Relationship of Voodoo and The Haitian Revolution of 1971-1804”; Amanda M Trost, “Fighting a Revolution: White Resistance to Slave Uprising and Emancipation in Sainte Domingue, 1791-1804”; Margot Gendreau, “Where the Historiography Falls Short:  A Look at the Brazilian Abolitionist Movement and its Effect on Emancipation.”