Guidelines for the Research Essay


Basis for This Assignment: An Introduction

We learn by taking small steps, often then repeating those steps with greater steadiness and confidence. Across your years of schooling, teachers and professors have requested progressively more from you—both qualitatively and quantitatively. As a student in primary school, for instance, you likely were asked to write six or eight-page essays. You had to choose a topic, identify your own thesis, find books in the library, take notes, and show how your thesis corresponded (or more likely replicated) those of your sources. As you moved into secondary school, you acquired new skills. Teachers required more originality in your thinking, and your assignments likely became longer.

Now, having entered college, your faculties of dialogic argument, research, and writing will continue to be tested. You will confront more challenging texts, craft more intricate arguments, and write more sophisticated—and probably longer—essays. But, in essence, you will be relying on those same skills you began years before: choosing a topic that fascinates you, identifying a thesis you find plausible, finding sources, assimilating vast knowledge into your own organizational framework, and crafting an essay that shows relevance to scholarly discourse. The steps will be the same, but a wiser, more mature learner will be executing them.

This assignment will constitute one of the many steps along your learning pathway. You will practice the skills you have developed thus far and match them with new methods and content. 


Major Products and Assessment

Across the term, you will produce a substantial, polished research essay based on primary as well as secondary sources. Your final essay will be a minimum of 3,000 words in length and will include footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. In preparation for your final paper, we will meet to discuss your topic, refine your research and writing techniques, and review the final draft.

Short explanations are included here, with more detailed instructions to follow. 

  • Statement of Interest: Your statement of interest will constitute a short written affirmation of your research topic, including a tentative question you might seek to answer. 
  • Analytical Essay: You will write an analytical essay of two to three pages. The essay will coincide with the content of our readings or with a tentative topic for your research essay and will allow you an opportunity to practice crafting and sustaining an academic argument, to hone your prose style, and to refine your ideas as you work toward the development of a substantive research topic.
  • Research Plan: Your research plan will enumerate the perceived tasks of research and writing involved in your project, establish them logically, and identify anticipated dates of completion for each task. Your research plan should become a fluid document, aiding you in establishing your research and writing priorities and integrating the various strands of your research into a common intellectual framework.
  • Prospectus: Your prospectus will constitute a one-page document that articulates your topic, your central argument, the reasons that support your thesis, and the evidence on which your thesis will be based. It should represent the crux of the argument you will present in your final essay.
  • Annotated Bibliography: The annotated bibliography will identify the existing primary-source material and secondary-source literature available on your research topic. This initial bibliographic canvassing will serve as the beginning of a working document that will compel you to survey the important literature related to your topic.
  • Preliminary Research Report: Your preliminary research report will update both your research plan and prospectus, adding some matters for further consideration as you reach the conclusion of your project. 
  • Five pages of text or detailed outline: As you near the completion of your research essay, you will have the choice to submit either five pages of polished text from your essay or a detailed outline of the content of your final essay.
  • Research Essay: Your final research essay, a minimum of 3,000 words, should include footnotes that conform to the Chicago Manual of Style and a comprehensive bibliography Specific information on the components of the research essay is included below.  

With each assignment you submit, please ensure that your name and a title are featured on the first page. Cover pages are unnecessary. Submitted drafts should be typewritten, double-spaced, paginated, stapled, and free of typographical errors. Electronic copies should only be submitted as PDF files. With each assignment you submit, always retain an electronic copy on your own hard-drive. 

Scores of A recognize creative and integrated engagement of the ideas we study with the overall logic of the course. Scores of B denote comprehensive awareness of the most important components of the course. Scores of C represent accurate but selective comprehension. Scores of D signify relevant misunderstanding. Scores of F represent confused or irrelevant work. Late assignments receive a score of F. 


Timetable for Researchers

Successful completion of this assignment requires above all careful organization and attention to detail. The following timetable should aid you in adhering to a schedule as you complete your work. 

  • Statement of Interest, Sept. 12th 
  • Colloquium: Craft of Argument, Sept. 13th 
  • Analytical Essay, Sept. 16th 
  • Research Plan, Sept. 28th 
  • Colloquium: Writing, Oct. 4th 
  • Prospectus, Oct. 12th 
  • Colloquium: Research, Oct. 25th
  • Research Session (optional)
  • Annotated Bibliography, Oct. 26th 
  • Preliminary Research Report, Nov. 9th 
  • Five pages of text or detailed outline, Nov. 16th 
  • Research Session (optional), 
  • Research Essay, Dec. 5th 

Research and writing in the humanities seldom constitute a purely linear process. While calendars and timelines are necessary for completion, you should remember that you likely will need to carry on multiple facets of your work simultaneously. 


Colloquia and Workshops

As students plan their research, engage their sources, and craft their arguments, they also will take part in three colloquia to aid them in their work. The first, a craft of argument colloquium, will address the components of building a successful dialogic argument. The content is based on the text, The Craft of Argument, a popular textbook for new academic writers. The second, a research colloquium, will address the nuts and bolts of researching, including successful strategies of planning, asking research-based questions, avoiding plagiarism, methods of organization, and will introduce technologies to assist in achieving those ends. The third workshop, a writing colloquium, will address the elements of prose style that will assist students in crafting theses with clear and graceful writing.

At key points throughout the semester, students also may take part in peer-review workshops in which they exchange research and writing and evaluate one another’s work. These workshops will focus on specific dimensions of the common tasks of the students.  


Components of the Research Essay 


1. Your essay should offer a thoughtful and engaging title, some portion of which must be presented as a query (e.g., Georges-Henri Soutou, “Was There a European Order in the Twentieth Century? From the Concert of Europe to the End of the Cold War”; or Paul W. Schroeder, “Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power?”). 

2. Do not include a title page. Include your name and essay title at the top of the first page of text.


3. The minimum acceptable length for the research essay is 3,000 words (about 12 pages). The maximum acceptable length is 4,500 words (about 18 pages).

4. The minimum and maximum lengths pertain only to the text of the essay. Notes, bibliography, and appendices are not included in that count.

5. The essay should be paginated and should include the final word count on the last page of text.

Physical Layout

6. Students should submit one printed copy on letter-sized paper (8½ × 11”).

7. Print on both sides of the page.

8. Printed essays should be stapled in the upper left corner. 


9. All margins should be one inch.

10. Text must be double-spaced, except for block quotations and notes.

11. The text should be in Times New Roman, twelve-point font. 


12. All sources listed in the notes and bibliography should be cited according to the conventions of The Chicago Manual of Style, latest edition.

13. Notes should be provided at the bottom of each page of text (i.e., as footnotes), numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals. Parenthetical or in-text citations are unacceptable.

14. The bibliography should offer a thorough overview of the relevant literature on the topic and show consultation of the most important studies. The bibliography should be sorted alphabetically, dividing between primary and secondary sources.

15. Consult Jules R. Benjamin, A Student’s Guide to History, 12th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), ch. 10, regarding appropriate use of sources. 


16. Students must submit final research essays both in print and electronically by December 5th, by 8:30 p.m.

a. Printed essays will be submitted to the instructor.

b. Electronic essays will be uploaded as PDF files. Retain an electronic copy on your own hard-drive.

17. Late submissions will receive a grade of F. 

Consider the following suggestions:

  • Your study should be rendered artfully, prescribing to the conventions of modern American or British English. You should demonstrate a command of the English language, a sophisticated vocabulary, and good prose style.
  • You should abstain from unnecessary quotations from secondary sources, using direct quotations judiciously and only when the author’s phrasing needs to be preserved.
  • You should remain mindful of writing for a scholarly audience in your essay. Rather than reading like a “book report” or a summary of others’ work, you should assume the audience is comprised of the scholars whose own work you have engaged in your writing.
  • Your essay should demonstrate command of the craft of argument. 


Recommended Texts and Resources

You are under no obligation to purchase these texts; however, you may find them useful for improving research techniques, organizational methods, grammar, and prose style respectively.

  • Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
  • Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 8th ed., rev. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
  • Blanche Ellsworth and John A. Higgins, English Simplified, 12th ed. (New York: Pearson Education, 2010).
  • Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide, rev. Erik Wensberg (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998).

Additionally, you may find some of the following texts worthwhile.

  • Gordon Harvey, Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 2008).
  • William Kelleher Storey, Writing History: A Guide for Students, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  • William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 50th anniversary ed. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2009).
  • Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb, The Craft of Argument, 3rd ed. (New York: Pearson Education, 2007).