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After a topic has been selected, a research paper involves three basic steps:

  • Collect information.

  • Organize the information.

  • Present it to the reader in a clear and interesting fashion.


The paper should consist of an introduction stating the thesis of the work, a main section addressing the theme, and a conclusion flowing logically from the thesis statement and body. Click here for the complete paper category rules. There are many books available that deal with the writing and documenting of research papers; one that is highly recommended is Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (The University of Chicago Press; sixth edition, 1996).


Students should read the student contest rule book carefully and follow its guidelines. Particular attention should be paid to the length of a paper: it must be between 1500 and 2500 words, or approximately six to ten pages.


Note: Typically, there are twenty-five lines on a page and ten words per line, so if the paper runs over ten pages, it should be shortened.


Writing Essays That Make Historical Arguments is an article that will help students prepare their paper.


Every paper must have an annotated bibliography that is divided into primary and secondary sources. The entries should be in alphabetical order and correct bibliographic form (see Turabian’s Manual). Students should cite only those sources which they actually used in researching the paper. They should not add a lot of extraneous materials unless these are truly relevant to the text and should be careful about using a large number of pictures or maps. If there are too many, the judges may think that the student should have chosen a different category.


Papers should include footnotes. Footnotes are explanations provided by writers stating that ideas or quotations presented in the paper are not their own. Footnotes not only give credit to the originators of ideas, but also serve as evidence in support of a student’s ideas. Use footnotes in the following instances:


  • Quoting a primary source. Students should footnote any original material used, such as a selection from a speech or an interview. Example from Turabian:4. Merle A. Roemer, interview by author, tape recording, Millington, MD, 26 July 1973.

  • Quoting a secondary source. Direct quotations from someone’s book must be footnoted. Example from Turabian:Henry Seidel Canby, Walt Whitman: An American (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), 110.

  • Paraphrasing a secondary source. Even if a student describes an author’s ideas in his or her own words, the source of the information must still be footnoted. Example from Turabian:6. Basil de Selincourt, “The Form,” in Walt Whitman: A Critical Study (London: M. Secker, 1914), 94-115.


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