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How to Write a History School Paper in Chicago Style


writing a history school paperYou may feel overwhelmed looking at your history paper assignment. Wondering where to start? It’s easy if you plan your school project before you get started on it. First of all, review the assignment so you understand it before you start.

Although your instructor will give you specific guidelines, you can adapt these steps to complete your assignment.

Select Your Topic

If your instructor gives you a theme or a general idea of what you should write about, then you can do some general web searching, or look in your textbook to narrow your topic.

For example, in your U.S. History class you will cover many themes such as founding of the United States, Voting Rights and the Civil War.

You decide to write about the Civil War. During your search, you find an article that mentions women disguising themselves as men to engage in combat. Fascinating!

What next?

Chose Your Essay Style

What type of essay are you writing? Has your instructor assigned a ‘compare and contrast’ essay? If so, follow those guidelines.

However, if you decide what type of essay you will write, consider these possibilities:

  • Analytical
  • Argumentative
  • Cause and effect
  • Compare and contrast
  • Interpretive
  • Persuasive

Think about what interests you about women fighting in combat, disguised as women. Do you want to compare the lives of women who kept the home fires burning to those who chose a life of war? Or perhaps, a discussion of how the challenges they faced. This will guide your decision as to the type of paper you will write.

Identify Your Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is your argument. Your paper should convince your readers that your argument is sound based on researching solid sources.

Perhaps you’ve narrowed your topic down to women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the war. What do you want to say about this topic? Will you explore the women’s lives and decisions that led them to that choice? Is there a particular class of women who chose to do this? Or do you want to compare and contrast the lives of women who fought in the war to the ones who stayed to take care of their homes.

Find Bibliography Sources

When you write your paper, include mostly primary sources. You may include secondary sources but not as many.

Primary: Original Material

Secondary: Material that discusses original sources.

Secondary sources are a useful way to begin your search. For example, if your paper is about women serving combat roles during the Civil War, you may start with these two web sites:

  1. Encyclopedia Virginia

This online encyclopedia is a valid source as it is published by the Library of Virginia. A website with a domain name ending in .org, .edu, or .gov are usually good web sources. The website and articles are secondary sources, but they have primary source links to images and audio. If you visit the website’s About page, you’ll notice they employ fact checkers, as well.

    2. National Park Service

Another good place to start your search is the National Park Service website. Government websites contain a wealth of solid research material and links to primary sources.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a good source for primary and secondary sources. Follow your research threads, start with one or two sources, then look for links and bibliographies to other sources. Try to find the most current research articles.

Additional links are included at the end of this article.

Preliminary Bibliography/Note Cards

As you are researching and gathering sources, remember to make a note of each source you access. History papers are often written in Chicago/Turabian style, which means you will include a bibliography of all the sources you consulted.

Your teacher may request you use index cards and write out your sources. Or you may simply create a Word document to list your sources in a preliminary bibliography.

Make sure you find all your source elements so when you prepare your bibliography, you do not have to go back and search for relevant information.

Elements to include:
  • Author, Editor, Translator
  • Date of Publication
  • Edition
  • Volume
  • Series
  • Publisher’s name
  • Place of Publisher (location)

Organize Your Paper

Prepare an Outline

Prepare a rough draft outline to keep you on track. You can type in ideas, copy and paste information or quotes in your rough draft. This keeps you on track with your thesis. Remember to include source information and indicate quotes so you do not plagiarize by accident.

Although the introduction is the first paragraph, some suggest you write it last. That way, by the time you have your paper written, it guides you to your introduction.

Write Your Paper

Write your paper following your teacher’s guidelines for length and format. Remember to back up your thesis with your research and to follow a consistent argument. Do not copy and paste from other sources. If you include quotes, make sure to credit the source and include it in your bibliography.

Finalize Your Bibliography

Alphabetize your bibliographic sources in letter by letter style, and format your entries in the correct Chicago/Turabian author-date style.

Review and Submit

  1. Review your assignment rubrics to make sure you’ve included everything.
  2. Submit your assignment.
  3. Enjoy your A grade.

Additional Civil War Resources

If you’d like to find some primary sources on the civil war, you may try the Library of Congress website or ask your school or public reference librarian for sources.

Association of College and Research Libraries
The American Civil War

Government Archives
Women Soldiers of the Civil War

Use websites like these to guide your research but you should base your thesis on primary sources.

Women in the Civil War

Library of Social Science (PDF)
Altars of Sacrifice: Confederate Women and the Narratives of War

Finding primary sources for your civil war paper can be fun and you’ll definitely learn interesting facts about historical events and people. Citing your sources properly will help you avoid plagiarizing others.

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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