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Historical Research Paper Guidelines For Middle School

Simple Guideline On How To Write A Research Paper For Middle School

As a middle school student writing a research paper there are a few key things you need to know. You need to pick a topic that suits your paper requirements. If you are writing a paper for an English class, you may not be able to get away with writing on the topic of economics, unless otherwise approves by your teacher. The topic you pick must be precise. You won't get very far if you pick a large topic for a small paper.

For example, writing a history research paper on the effects of slavery on the southern states is far too broad a topic, especially for a research paper that is between two and five pages. Instead, narrow down your topic to something a bit more manageable.

After you have your topic, you should follow these rules for writing the research paper:

  • The first is writing a thesis statement. The thesis explains what your paper is about and what problem you are trying to answer. You want the thesis statement to be the last sentence of your introduction.
  • The introduction is the first paragraph which gives the reader background. So if your topic relates to slavery then your introduction might include a sentence about what slavery was in America and how long it lasted.
  • After the introduction you want the body of the research paper. The body should be three to five paragraphs based on your requirements. Each paragraph should have a specific point made followed by evidence to back up the point. That means you need to find three points to support your thesis statement. If, for example, your thesis is that cell phones should not be permitted in classrooms, each paragraph in your body should explain one point why not with evidence to back it up.
  • And speaking of evidence, what is it really? Evidence is data or facts or quotes from professionals that you include to support your statement. If you claim that teenagers cheat with their cell phones in class, you should find a quote or statistic related to the number of students who cheat.

Once you are done you need to conclude your paper with the concluding paragraph. This paragraph is where you mention your thesis statement again in a different way and mention your main reasons again. By using these tips you will be well on your way to completing a great research paper for whichever class you are in.

What Is It?

A way to teach students how to develop historical questions. This is the beginning of a multi-step research paper process that encourages sophisticated historical thinking.


It’s no secret that high schools across the country are turning away from the decidedly “old-school” research paper in favor of shorter writing assignments or a variety of “new-school” technology based projects like blogs or webpages. While these types of assignments are great for building historical thinking skills, we firmly believe that the research paper has been around for a long time for a reason: it’s the best way to engage students in sophisticated historical reasoning and prepare them for the academic world beyond high school. We have developed a comprehensive process with clear steps that walk the students through the creation of a research paper. The first step is for students to create a context-based historical question, giving their research a solid foundation and focus.


Our research paper process guides students using a system with a seven-part structure (more detail on the entire process can be found here). In the first part, rather than simply asking students to choose a topic, we ask them to start with a topic of interest, narrow it down to possible subtopics, choose a subtopic, and develop an open-ended historical question to guide their research.

Teacher Preparation

Identify and model the qualities of good historical questions, as described in Handout 1, throughout the course (e.g. as lecture openings, test essays, class discussions, and at the beginning or end of structured debates). As they gain understanding, have students develop good questions as part of classroom activities. When the students seem to have grasped the fundamentals of historical writing, (i.e. thesis, claim, logic, evidence) begin the research paper effort.

Sequence in the Classroom

  1. Each student develops a list of subjects about which she is interested (e.g.     music, politics, arts, family life). The student then browses reference     sources such as textbooks and encyclopedias to identify broad topics of     interest.
  2. The student reads reference sources to establish the basic facts about the     broad topics (who did what, where, and when).
  3. The student narrows the broad topics into manageable subtopics for     which evidence (documents, images, etc.) is likely available.
  4. The student chooses the subtopic that interests her the most but keeps     other subtopics on a list in case the chosen subtopic does not have     sufficient evidence.
  5. The teacher models creating good historical research questions. Students     practice improving weaker historical questions using Handout 2.
  6. Students develop historical questions about their chosen subtopics. They     work in small groups to improve their questions.
  7. Students write a passage that identifies the historical context and the     historical question. These are turned in to the faculty member for     feedback before moving on to locating primary and secondary sources.     Remember: questions can and will change as the student does more     research.


As part of preparing students for Step 7 of the process above, show kids Handout 3 so that they can see a completed template.

Common Pitfalls

  1. Some students will skip the preliminary research step. You can usually tell     that this happened when their topic description is lacking in detail and     specificity. This often results in overly broad questions that will confuse     students later. Don’t hesitate to send students back to Step 2 above and     reinforce the importance of following all the instructions.
  2. Some students will develop cultural history questions that may capture     their interest, but which are difficult to answer with clear evidence. An     example is: “What effects did popular music of the 1960s have on U.S.     foreign policy?” Many students choose this because they like the music of     the '60s, find the anti-war movement interesting, and assume there is a     connection between the music of the era and the choices the U.S. made in     Vietnam. However, if held to a strict standard of evidence and logic, only     the strongest students are going to be able to convincingly argue any     connection between the two. Although it can be a time-consuming     process, requiring students to edit and resubmit Step 7 until it works is     worth it over the long haul. Even slight changes in the wording of a     question will help students avoid dead-ends in their research and     ultimately write a better paper.
  3. Students can be drawn toward modern topics that veer into other social     science disciplines and lack a historical perspective. For example, a     student might come up with the question: “What is the status of women     in U.S. politics?” You might recommend an alteration of this question that     connects to the original topic: “What are the origins of the feminist     movement in the U.S.?” or “What were the effects of the women’s suffrage     movement?”

For more information 

Fischer, David. Historians' Fallacies: Toward A Logic of Historical Thought. London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1971.

Furay, Conal, and Michael J. Salevouris. The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2000.

Schmidt, John, and Jeffrey Treppa. Historical Thinker.

The Concord Review, an organization that publishes students’ history research papers.

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