History 1361 • American History to 1877 Reading Response and Short Paper Guidelines Over the course of the semester, you will be asked to write four (one-page) reading response questions and two short papers (2-3 pages). The short papers are essentially extensions of the response papers, so many of the guidelines for these assignments are similar. These guidelines are as follows. The Basics: Every paper should have…. • a thesis statement. Your thesis statement (1-2 sentences) should appear toward the end of your introduction. It must make some sort of historical argument, which you will then support with evidence in the rest of your paper. Some examples: Weak thesis: "This paper will discuss how African Americans' legal status changed in the decades after World War II." [Describes the topic but makes no argument.] Somewhat better: "African Americans' legal status improved dramatically in the decades after World War II." [Suggests an argument but not the reasoning behind it.] Much better: "African Americans' legal status improved dramatically in the decades after World War II, partly due to improved economic opportunities and growing sympathy among whites, but even more due to mounting activism by blacks themselves." [States a clear argument, and summarizes the reasoning behind it.] • good organization and structure. Develop your argument with clearly stated points, each of which builds logically on the points that preceded it and contributes a crucial piece to the overall argument. Neither the reading responses nor the papers are long enough to get sidetracked, so keep your thinking tightly focused to develop your overarching point. • clear style. Get to the point, use clear wording, and avoid awkward phrases and sentences. Steer clear of overly formal or informal prose (for example, unnecessarily complicated or elaborate language, colloquialisms or slang, contractions, etc.) Use correct grammar and spelling. • evidence, evidence, evidence. Every point you make needs to be backed up with historical evidence from the readings or lectures. For more on evidence (and correct citation), see below. Short Papers: Short papers should accomplish many of the same objectives as response papers, but they should be more thorough and better developed (they should be 2-3 pages long, as opposed to the one-page response papers). Accordingly, they should also feature… • a title. It need not be a masterpiece of wit or metaphor, but it should consist of something other than “History Paper #1.” • clear paragraph structure. Your paragraphs should be clear both unto themselves and relative to one another. Each paragraph should begin with a recognizable topic sentence that takes up one particular point, which in turn supports your thesis statement (for these short papers, 3-4 body paragraphs, plus an introduction and a conclusion, should do it). When you are finished making your point, transition to the next paragraph, which should focus on another component of your overall argument. Use transitions to show how your argument builds logically from one paragraph to the next, and how all these points relate to your central argument. • a combination of primary and secondary evidence. These papers should focus not just on the documents (the primary evidence), but also on how the details fit into a broader historical context. So, for example, if you are writing about African Americans’ struggles after World War II, you might show how one person’s recollection of difficulties finding work reflected the broader context of employment discrimination at the time. This secondary evidence can come from your textbook or from lectures (cite accordingly). Using Evidence: You must include primary and secondary evidence in order to craft and present a historical argument. Otherwise, it’s not a historical argument – it’s just an opinion piece. Evidence can include quotes (brief quotes from primary sources only, please), facts, statistics, anecdotes – anything that helps support your argument AND that you can document. Here are a few practical tips on using evidence. • Quoting: When you quote from a source, you must use quotation marks to indicate those portions that you are quoting. You should reproduce the words exactly and use citations to indicate from where they came. Quote ONLY primary sources (that is, sources from the time you are writing about that serve as evidence in your paper). You may quote from a secondary book or article, but only if the portion you are quoting comes from a primary source (so you might, for instance, use a quote from George Washington that appears in a book, but you should not quote the author of that book, who is writing about George Washington.). The reason: when you quote the author of a secondary source, you are letting that person do the historical thinking and analysis for you. In these assignments, you must do that work yourself. • Paraphrasing: When you paraphrase, you use someone else's idea but explain it in your own words. You must indicate whose idea it is, just as you would for a direct quotation. You should not, though, use the original author's words; you must rephrase it in your own words. If you are paraphrasing, you may use ideas or arguments that historians present in their secondary works, as long as you give credit and synthesize these points in your own argument. • Citing your sources: You should cite all evidence that is not common knowledge. This includes quotes, little-known facts and anecdotes, and statistics, along with any paraphrasing or reference to someone else’s ideas. You will not be penalized for excessive citation, so if you are in doubt, cite it. Either footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations (author and page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence) will do. You need not include a bibliography unless you use a source outside of class material (which is not expected). Citing sources properly is an important matter of academic integrity. If you paraphrase or quote another person's ideas without acknowledgment, you are plagiarizing. This is illegal, unethical, and grounds for a failing grade. Don't do it. Some Other Things to Do, Questions to Ask, Ideas to Try: • Please do not begin your first paragraph with some variation of “Throughout time ….” If it’s been true throughout time (and almost nothing of historical consequence has been true forever), then it probably isn’t relevant to the specific topic at hand. It’s not a bad idea to start with some general perspective, but you should limit your scope to the immediate context of the paper topic (for example, a general statement on slavery during the antebellum era if you’re writing about slavery during the antebellum era). • Does your paper say what you want it to say? Does it say what you think it says? I can't read your mind. The most brilliant thought in the world is of no use if it's only in your head and not on the paper. • What is your argument? Can you summarize it in a single sentence without looking at your introduction? If not, you need to clarify it some more. • Have you answered the question? If you've decided to focus on only one part of a question, have you justified that decision in the paper? • Read the paper aloud. You'd be amazed at how many little mistakes you'll catch and how much this will improve your writing. I should never be the first person to read your paper, nor should I ever be grading the first draft of a paper. Get a friend to read it. Go to the writing center and have an instructor there review it. Put the paper away for a while and then come back to it; time and distance will give you a fresh perspective on it.