research essay guidelines

HUM 103-104 research essay project               23 March – 4 May 7 May  2018

(printable pdf version of the HUM-103-04-research-essay-guidelines-2018; print this out and hang it over your desk or study spot)

Your topics for your research papers come from within the course. Ground your question, research, claim, evidence, and argument around any aspect of a text, artifact, image, performance, film, idea, problem, conversation from our course. Your paper should make a contribution—even a modest one—to an ongoing scholarly conversation.

  • 1. Topics/Questions/Problems

– Due in a post Friday 3/23 by 11:59pm. (Make a new post and tag the two categories “research paper topics” and your teacher.)

– No formal draft or peer-critique for this step of the research project.

– Required meeting with your teacher this week before Friday

  • 2. Engaging Sources

– Drafts due by Wednesday, April 4, 5:00pm.

– Peer-critique meetings and uploads due Friday, April 6 5:00pm.

Some details on this process:

I’ve made peer groups, best I could. (See below.) Each has a triple, in which case A reads B, B reads C, C reads A. The little arrows signify that rotation. Some of you are sick and need another day to get your draft up; let your partner know if you’re causing a delay.

The research paper guidelines (once again) are here:

You have put (or will put) your drafts here

Many of you are late on this. Please get your drafts up as soon as possible.

Your peer critiques consist of addressing your partner’s draft of engaging sources with respect to three basic aspects, but with the main focus on the success of number 2:

  1. What is the topic or argument or thesis (topic/question/problem)? Is this clear?
  2. What is the scholarly conversation (they say)? Can you understand the conversation and could you summarize it in a sentence or two?
  3. What does (or might or could) the author have to add to that conversation; what’s the claim (I say)? Can you see where the paper is going based on the scholarly conversation?

Meet with your partner in the next couple days and discuss these three main points with each other. Make your notes for your partner addressing points 1, 2, and 3 above.

Put your peer critique notes addressing these three main points here

(Normal filename protocol. If Burkhard is my peer partner, our peer critique notes are: DenhamScottPCHenkeBurkhard.docx and HenkeBurkhardPCDenhamScott.) Yes, there will be 104 separate files in this folder.

Then make your own revisions and post those here in the research paper 2. revised sources folder  by Monday 5pm.

You will present your topic, sources, and claim briefly in sections on Tuesday morning 4/10.


Team Ewington
Addie –> Charlie –>
Vittoria ^
Davis Harry
Lorraine Rebecca
Albert Courtney
Genesis Julia
Mary Caroline Sam
Team Henke
Alex H Becca
Finley Kern
Lilliane Max
Phillip Alex M
Bryan Jack
Leslie –> Lucy –>
Nate ^
Team Denham
Adelle Charlee Rae
Daniel Kate
Sarah Thomas
Zoe Cathy
Chris Garrett
Patrick –> Taylor –>
Woody ^
Team Zamir
Andrés Eddie
Laura McLean
Morgan Sam
WIlson Dahlia
Koyo Maggie
Michael –> Raul –>
Stephen ^




– Revised version due Monday, April 9, 5:00pm.

  • 3. Presentations

– In-class presentations (3 minutes each + 2 minute Q&A) on Tuesday, April  10

– post your notes by Monday, April 9 at 5:00pm

Note the different posts due at the same time: revised version of your engaging sources pages is one item; brief notes and an outline for your presentation is another item.

  • 4. Research paper
  • Full drafts due for peer-critique. on Friday 4/27, 5:00pm
  • peer critiques due before your faculty conference (Monday through Thursday)
  • required Individual conferences with faculty Monday 4/30 – Thursday 5/3
  • finished research paper due Friday 5/4 11:59 pm.
    finished research paper due  Monday 5/7 5:00 pm

Your demonstrated efforts during the intermediary steps count toward your final grade for the research paper. Of course effort always matters, but here it actually counts toward your grade. Depending on the work ethic you display leading up to the final paper, you could raise your grade anywhere from a partial letter-grade (say from B to B+) all the way to a full letter-grade (B to A). The down side, of course, is that sloppy work along the way could negatively affect your final grade in the same fashion (from B+ down to B or — unlikely to be sure — from an A to a B). The drafting process and intermediary steps are key to success!


1. Topics, Questions, & Problems


  • Develop a sense of appropriate scope for an 8-10-page research paper;
  • Learn to express topics in the form of specific questions and problems;
  • Become accustomed to gathering materials and developing ideas well before the paper is due;
  • Practice researching a narrow topic to the bitter end!


Using The Craft of Research three-step method for getting from topics to questions to problems, post this initial step to the folder. Provide a title that indicates the selected text and author, while also suggesting your question or claim. Present your paper plans in Craft of Research Terms (“I am interested in . . . because I want to find out whether/how/why . . . in order to help my reader better understand . . .). You’re free to research any aspect of a text, artifact, image, performance, film, idea, problem, conversation from our course in such a way that your paper makes a contribution—even a modest one—to our understanding of revolution.

Keep in mind that although your 3-point statement you post will be brief, it should reflect careful thought. Every word counts.


  • Read The Craft of Research, Ch. 6 (“Engaging Sources”).
  • Open a Zotero account and take notes directly into your Zotero database, labeling entries with searchable key words.
  • Review the course schedule and readings folders; look back at Lapham’s Revolution compendium.
  • Read through your class notes, highlight thoughts, questions, and observations that continue to nag at you as particularly complex, interesting, intriguing, even frustrating. In other words, embrace difficulty!
  • As you narrow down your topic, be sure you can identify which text or artifact you plan to address and justify that decision. Be able to explain how your research question emerges from the text or artifact and how you think your work might expand our understanding of revolution.
  • Read Writing for College pt. 1, “What’s your point” and “What’s a Good Point?” and review The Craft of Research ch. 3-6.
  • Peruse the footnotes and bibliographies of materials you have already found and note down potentially useful sources.
  • If you begin with a basic reference work (encyclopedia, etc.), scan the end of the entry for guidance on further reading.
  • Conduct searches in the Davidson library catalogue and indexes (WorldCat, MLA, etc.)
  • Consider making a research appointment with a librarian.
  • Get started early. If we don’t have something here at Davidson you can order it via ILL, but that takes time.

2. Engaging Sources


  • Practice quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing, and analyzing for positions in a debate.
  • Move beyond “book report mode” and “laundry lists” and toward an analysis of the scholarly conversation.
  • Practice proper CMS formatting long before the final paper is due. Do this by including footnotes as your write. Always do this.


Create an annotated bibliography as in project 4, formatted in CMS style. Annotated for us now means that each entry includes not only a description of the work, but also one or two lines about that source’s relevance (or potential relevance) to your project. You need not have read all these sources yet, but you should have reviewed them enough to explain their potential connection to your work. The bibliography should list peer-reviewed sources. It should reflect a sense of appropriate scope and an effort to move beyond most easily available to most relevant and most credible.

Using sources gathered in your annotated bibliography, write a one-page (no more) introduction, explaining the scholarly conversation. What preoccupies these sources? For example, do they all ask the same questions, but provide different answers? If so, how might you describe and analyze those various perspectives. What are the “camps” and how can they be arranged — by nationality? chronology? thematically? Who agrees or disagrees with whom? Who openly builds on another’s work and who rejects his or her predecessors? In other words, this essay could serve as the scholarship review (sometimes called a “literature review”) section for the final research paper.

In the final paragraph you should transition into your own claim, but without trying to develop it at any length. This assignment focuses only on the state of the field. In the full research paper itself (assignment 4) you will use this scholarly conversation (“they say”) as context for your own argument (“I say”).


  • Review Graff’s They Say/I Say, Ch. 12 (“What’s Motivating this Writer? Reading for the Conversation,” 145-155). You might also review xvi-xxvi and 1-51.
  • Review The Craft of Research, Ch. 6 (“Engaging Sources”).
  • Take notes directly into your Zotero database, labeling your entries with searchable key words.
  • Get out your Little Seagull Handbook for CMS formatting have the Chicago Manual of Style bookmarked in your browser.

3. Class Presentation


  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of your own project and an ability to explain it succinctly to a lay audience;
  • Benefit from your peers’ feedback on your topic;
  • Use the Q&A to practice the kind of adept thinking on your feet required of so many careers inside and outside academia.


In class you will present your project in three minutes. No visual aids or notecards allowed. You will be timed! You will then have an additional two minutes to field questions and entertain suggestions and comments.

Your topic should

  • include an informative title.
  • frame your argument against a general background of an existing scholarly conversation;
  • clearly establish your claim, including your basic methodological approach or perspective;
  • justify your choice of authors, works, or time period;
  • clearly adhere to a sense of appropriate scope (less is more);
  • explain why your topic matters (the dreaded “so what?”).


  • Meet with fellows.
  • Visit the Speaking Center.
  • Watch some 3 minute TED Talks. These are not research papers, they are entertainment; but they are three minutes. Get the feel of presenting in three minutes and how to engage, be calm, not rush, be focused, meet your audience.
  • Practice, practice, practice in front of friends and ask them to pose tough questions.
  • Time yourself several times to make sure you are within the 5-minute limit.
  • Review Graff’s They Say/I Say, Ch. 12 (“What’s Motivating this Writer? Reading for the Conversation,” 145-155). You might also review xvi-xxvi and 1-51.

A well-prepared presenter . . .

  • stays within the 3-minute time limit;
  • anticipates questions and comments and has ready responses;
  • speaks clearly and articulately, avoiding “like” and other dumbed down filler words;
  • Uses eye contact and body language to display confidence and poise.

4. Research Paper


  • Try your hand at the kind of independent research and argumentation that you will be asked to practice throughout your Davidson career, but with the safety net of the drafting and peer-critique process;
  • Synthesize the skills you have practiced this semester (summary, analysis, “I say,” textual evidence, “they say,” framing quotations, signaling, “roadmap,” etc.);
  • Develop a sense of appropriate scope for an 8-10 page research paper;
  • Practice proper citation and bibliographic formatting.


This 8-10 page research paper marks the final step in the process you began with the topic statement, engaging sources draft, and in-class presentation. Your paper should contextualize your argument within a scholarly conversation that you in some way disrupt. You should provide a road map to readers and build your claim (rather than merely repeating it), step-by step, with specific textual evidence and analysis. Throughout, you should properly signal to mark your own ideas vs. the ideas of other scholars. All citations should be properly introduced and unpacked. By the conclusion, you should make clear that you have contributed something new and worth knowing, however small, to a broader conversation.

To avoid plagiarism, your MUST include proper citation on your draft and final submission. Never add notes and bibliography later. Always keeps your footnotes and sources in your drafts. Remember to two fundamental rules of taking part in a scholarly conversation: 1. you need to acknowledge the work of others (“Thank you!”) and 2. you need to provide any reader a pathway to find how to get back to the work of others. Acknowledgment and citation.

You have several required conversations with peers and fellows and teachers about your work.

4/16 – 4/20 meet with faculty about your sources

4/23 – 4/26 one-on-one meetings with fellows

4/28 – 5/2 peer critique meetings (only before your last meeting with faculty)

4/30 – 5/3 meet with faculty to review your draft (only after the peer critique meetin)


  • Meet deadlines. Our syllabus says “late work will reduce your grade.”
  • Apply the peer-critique sheet to your own work.
  • Start writing as early as you can. Allow yourself the time to write messy prose and then revise, revise, revise.
  • Avoid “book-report summaries.” List or diagram possible categories and patterns in your background reading. Do not simply rely on chronology or other ready-made patterns (see CR)
  • Return to your question and work on narrowing the scope. Be specific.
  • To revise your initial rough draft, proceed through the steps outlined in CR.
  • Before your individual conference, make sure that you can state your argument clearly and succinctly in CR terms.
  • Be in conversations with all of us in the Humes community. Talk with your peers, fellows, and teachers about your project. The more you discuss your work, the better your draft will be. And the more polished your rough draft, the more helpful feedback you will receive from your teachers, fellows, and your peer-critique partners.
  • Apply paramedic method before submitting the final draft;
  • Read your paper aloud to yourself before submitting the final draft.