Gender relations in family and domesticityGender relations in family and domesticity

Guidelines for designing a research paper
1.      What are you interested in?
If you don’t have a specific topic in mind yet, ask yourself what you’re interested in. Are you interested in politics? In gender? In military history? In environmental history?  Once you’ve decided that, your next step should be to choose a time period.
2.      Get acquainted with the basic chronology and the main players.
For your proposal, you’ll need to specify who your historical agents and actors are. For example, a paper on the Second Boer War might focus on politicians and military officers, or on the press and public opinion.
Do some preliminary research. See what comes up on Google Scholar – has your topic been written about by scholars? For the nineteenth century, sites like http://www.victorianweb.org/can be helpful. If you want details about a particular person or group of people, check out the http://www.oxforddnb.com/. Wikipedia might be a good way to help you figure out major events and dates but that is its only role in the research process. Wikipedia is not a scholarly source and it should never appear in a bibliography.
3.      What’s your central question? What’s your answer? Why should anybody care?
Every thesis statement answers a question (or a series of closely related questions). Coming up with a strong argument depends on coming up with a strong question. The best research questions are “why” questions; the second-best research questions are “how” questions. “Why” and “how” questions force you to address causality and change over time –the goals of a historian. 
The first step is to take a factual or yes/no question and turn it into a more interesting problem:
 “What did the British government do during the Irish famine?”
becomes
How did the British government react to Irish famine?”
Once you’ve become more familiar with the topic, you can change it again:
Why did the British government fail to provide more material assistance to Ireland during the famine?”
The original question produces a statement of fact, not an argument:
“The British government set up ‘make work’ projects and soup kitchens during the famine, but both attempts at relief were eventually abandoned”
The revised questions yield an argument:
“The British government’s commitment to Malthusian ‘moral restraint’ led them to believe that withholding material aid would ultimately lay the foundations for recovery.”
This last example also lets your reader know why your topic matters and why your argument is relevant: in this case, it is related to the influence of liberalism.
4.       What kind of sources will you use?
In your paper, you’ll want to use at least four different secondary sources. These must be scholarly sources – ie, books or articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Your paper should also use at least three primary sources.
5.      On 31 March, turn in a proposal.
Your proposal should include the following: a working title; a brief description of your topic (the time period, events, and historical actors); your central question(s); and a working bibliography comprising primary and secondary sources. If you have a hypothesis or preliminary thesis, you should include it – but don’t invent one for the sake of it.