Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
What is the purpose of an historical research paper? It is not what you might think. It is much more in depth than just reciting history. A research paper in history is an exercise in exploration and supporting theories.
Too often, a student thinks that their ten page research paper is just a biography on George Washington. It could not be farther from the truth. Yes, information on Washington’s life could easily appear in a research paper, but just stating facts about his life is not research. It is only regurgitation.
A research paper is taking a theory and proving it. Using the example of George Washington, a research paper on him could have a thesis statement of : Washington’s military career under the British crown was crucial in helping him defeat the British during the American Revolution. This thesis is proposing a theory of Washington’s military career and its impact on the entire American Revolution. To many, this statement might be considered ludicrous. To others, it might sound interesting. They want to know more. They want to know why such a statement is made and what can support it. Thus comes the research paper.
The research paper takes that thesis and digs deeper. It lays out all the evidence like a lawyer would at a trial to support their side. It is the paper that shows how the thesis statement is possible and opens the door to new historical possibilities.
A reader comes across the thesis in the first or second paragraph of a research paper and sits contemplating what the writer is about to show them. As they read the evidence and weigh it, they could begin poking holes in the argument or find themselves intrigued to learn even more. They might even turn to the bibliography for more material to read on the subject.
Research papers are not biographies. Biographies could be research papers. Historical biographies are commonly explorations into an historical person’s personality and life. For example: Richard III’s life created a man who would kill his nephews for the crown. This thesis statement opens the door for the biography of Richard III to become a research paper as the writer has to explore his life but from a new angle that gives the reader something to think about.
A research paper does not have to be one hundred percent provable or accurate though it cannot be full of lies and incorrect facts. It is based on a theory that has good strong supportive evidence. It is an opinion with much fact behind it to support it.
Never approach a research paper thinking that it is just a statement of facts that have been stated over and over in books, articles, and online. It is a chance to look at history from a new perspective and possibly show the readers how history can be looked at anew.