J. Kelly Robison


Topic Statement and Preliminary Bibliography


This is a short assignment, only one page long, but involves some thought. You need to come up with a topic for your research paper, explain what that topic is, why you want to do it, and provide a preliminary list of sources that you will use to research the topic.

There are really two parts to the assignment. The first is the topic statement and the second is the bibliography.

Topic statement

Choosing a topic

Choosing a topic is perhaps the single most important part of writing a good paper. If the subject is of no interest to you, you will have trouble writing an interesting paper about it. Think of choosing a topic as a process. As you work on the paper, the topic will become more and more narrow, more and more focused.

Start with an area of interest.

Begin choosing a topic by looking into some general area of interest. For example, you might be especially interested in political movements or women's history. Look through a general work on the subject to get some sense of the possibilities in that area. You may even wish to read a survey history of the field, just to get a sense of the possibilities.

Start to focus.

Once you are sure that sources exist, start narrowing the subject. Focus on a particular individual, period, genre event or document. You should not choose too broad a topic. You only have a semester and five pages to write this paper, so a paper on "The Civil War" would not be a good idea. At the same time, avoid a topic which is too narrow. A paper on "What Hitler had for breakfast March 7, 1937" would also not be a good idea.

Ask a historical question

While you are narrowing the topic of the paper, one tip that might help do so is to ask a question about your topic. If the answer looks to be too long, then ask a question that would lead to answer that does not take as long to formulate. Asking the question will also help when you begin to write your paper. The answer to the question will be your thesis.

The Preliminary Bibliography

The Next Step

Now that your have completed your research agenda and have a fairly good idea of what problem you are going to address, the next step is to find those sources you will need in order to answer the question you have posed. This means developing a preliminary bibliography. This will not be your final bibliography. It is intended simply to get you started on the project.

Finding the Sources

While you are certainly encouraged to look at unpublished sources, you will need at least a few books and articles to write this paper. There are a number of strategies you might employ to find the sources you need:

Note:  While it is tempting, please limit the number of sources you get from the internet.  Remember, not more than one-third of your sources may come from the internet. 

Another Note:  Proquest, and other article databases of this sort, are not internet sources. Those articles were generally published in print, initially, and the formatting of the documents generally remains the same as they were as printed articles.