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History Topics Helps: Researching History

Researching History: What Are the Steps?


Once you have read the Minnesota Historical Society Library's "History Topics" pages, decided on a topic to research and write about, and found some sources to use, this page is for you. This guide will help you move from just having a topic to having a clear focus. The guidelines will help you shape a rough idea into an in-depth research paper and will make a good idea great.

Step One: Defining what you Want to Learn

  • What is the assignment?
  • Define your task.
  • Develop a thesis statement.

Be sure you understand the assignment and your teacher's or professor's grading standards and goals for the assignment. The following guidelines will work for many types of research papers, but your instructor may have specific requirements in order to earn a particular grade. Make sure you have a thesis statement that expresses what your purpose in the paper is. It can be helpful to make a list of questions you need to answer.

Step Two: Identifying Sources Of Information

  • What sources are there?
  • How do you find them?
  • Which ones are the best?

Make a list of possible sources that will help you answer the questions you developed in Step One. Are you required to include primary resources or only secondary sources?

Consider using a wide variety of materials: library books, periodicals, newspapers, photographs, government records, maps, oral histories, manuscripts, etc.

Consider where you will find those sources: your school, college, or university library; a public library; an archives, special collection, or special library like the Minnesota Historical Society; a web page; an interview, etc. Secondary sources can be found in many different libraries; primary resources often can only be found in one specific library or archives.

Then evaluate the possible sources and decide which sources to start with. It is usually best to start with the secondary sources and then move into the primary resources once you have an understanding of the background of the topic.