Researching projects

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Researching projects

Quite often you will be asked to construct your own question for your coursework or individual study.

It is important that you don't overcomplicate matters and make the task more difficult for yourself.

Remember that whatever you write you are going to have to construct an argument out of it, so try to start your question with phrases like, "account for", "to what extent", "why did", "what was the most important", or other phrases that would point towards evaluation and analysis rather than narrative.

Don't pick enormous issues, or if you do try to pick an aspect of the issue (like its historiography or the main personalities). You can always limit the extent of your investigation by putting perimeters on it with dates.

You must have a separate file for coursework notes. Some exam boards require you to keep a log of your research progress, and a file containing evidence of your research. Check with your teacher.

Researching projects

Start by reading basic textbooks. Then move on to the more specialised texts. You may also need to include some contemporary sources. There are plenty of books which have collections of these in them.

You will need to belong to a good library. It is more than likely that your school library will not suffice for this task. Some cities have excellent libraries. You may also be able to go to a local college or university library (ask your teacher to ring up and find out).

Don't forget other historical resources around you:

  • Oral history - if you are doing c20th history you may be able to get hold of some first-hand accounts.
  • Newspapers
  • TV and radio documentaries
  • Physical evidence like viaducts, great houses, castles, architectural sites, etc
  • And plenty more, use your imagination!

You will probably want to organise the body of your work into clear sections using chapter headings (if these are permitted).

You may chose to put additional evidence like maps and letters in appendices at the back of your project. If so, make sure that they are properly referenced.

Your work should be organised thus,

  1. Coverpage
  2. Contents page
  3. Text
  4. Appendices
  5. (endnotes)
  6. References / bibliography

Some exam boards insist that you footnote your references carefully, but if you can get away with it is much easier to reference your sources within the body of your text (the Harvard method) or at the end in footnotes.

The Harvard Method

This is easy peasy. All you have to do is write the name of the author and the date she/he said whatever you are referring to. For example,

Cromwell's first reaction to Wolsey's fall was 'stunned belief and near despair' (Elton, 1991).

Footnotes & Endnotes

Some exam boards want you to set these out in a certain way, but here's the standard way. (Footnotes go at the bottom of the page, and endnotes go at the back of your work.)

They should be set out like this,

Cromwell's first reaction to Wolsey's fall was 'stunned belief and near despair'

At the bottom of the page:

1. Elton, G., Thomas Cromwell (Headstart History Papers; 1991; 1st edition), p.7


These are set out in the same way that you set out your footnotes, less the page numbers. They should be put into alphabetical order by author's surname.