How to conduct historical research?

Mar 2017
Do you want a topic?

Cleopatra's death: 2 sentences in Strabo, 3 paragraphs in Plutarch (with 2 sources), 3 paragraphs in Suetonius, PAGES in Cassius Dio, a paragraph in Galen ... it's a study in "expansion" of history from earliest account to latest (with Galen pulling back the reins a bit). You can actually track story elements between authors ... you can tell who's plagiarizing who and what their personal bias is.

What happens after Caesar's death: Suetonius & Cassius Dio don't just differ ... they conflict. One of them is flatout fiction. Look at the dates of the authors.
Jan 2018
I'm a second year Honours in History student, so I find myself writing essays very frequently. So frequently, in fact, that I've come to truly enjoy writing them as much as I enjoy researching for them. I'm writing this advice to you from in-between piles of various monographs on the Restoration court. I'll keep it short and sweet, as I have the proclivity to ramble.

  • 1. Break down your topic. This is best done by hand, I find. I'd write down my topic in one colour, and then write down my various thoughts on it in a different colour. Seeing this will help you to compartmentalise your task, and will eventually create a map for you to follow.
  • 2. Form a research question. Now that you've thought a bit about your topic, you can create your research question. Think of it as a guide as to where you want to go. For my current paper on the Restoration, after I had fleshed out all of my ideas by hand, I eventually came to the question how did the nature of Charles II's court in the first decade of his rule sway public and political opinion on the restored monarchy? You shouldn't have the answer until you've completed all your research. No point in answering a question you already fully know about.
  • 3. Consider the parts. Consider the parts of the topic that you previously broke down. For example, the sub-topics that I had for my project were hedonism, finances, Catholicism, and French influences. Now that I have those four main ideas, I now have a good idea of where to look for resources.
  • 4. Find sources. I try to find two books and two articles per idea. This way, you can fill up on information. It will definitely show in your writing. Having a dearth of resources is glaringly obvious.
  • 5. Mark up your resources! This works only if you know what you want to get out of the book. Scan the table of contents, and then the index, so that you can find the pertinent information. Most likely, you won't need to read the entire book cover-to-cover.
  • 6. Note-taking. I take my notes after I've read the text. I go back through it and copy the quotes that I underlined into a Word document (with proper citations, of course) and record my notes underneath those quotes. That way, I can access what the historian said and what I thought about it with ease. It also makes things much easier when you're actually writing your essay later on.
This may be rather unique to me, as this is how my brain functions. When I apply this system, I can finish a 20 paged essay in less than a week and still receive an A+ on it. I'll attach screenshots of what my current research document looks like. Hopefully you can look at it and see if it helps you at all.

View attachment 15422

This is part of my agenda. I assign myself so many sources a day to read through and record, so that I stay on top of things. By skeleton outline, I mean just the bare-bones. I write down the most important stuff, and then I assign quotes later on. I have the same method for essay writing. I'll write the bulk of the essay - the introduction, different parts of the body paragraphs, other such things - but leave out the quotes, which by now, I have printed out and colour coded. When I return to the essay, all I have to do is to put the quotes in, contextualise them, and cite them, and I'm good to go. An essay isn't a 100-metre dash, but a marathon. Here's how my "Quotes & Notes" appear:

View attachment 15423

Again, I know this is quite a quirky way to arrange my notes and to position myself, but it is very effective. If you want help, don't hesitate to reach out to me.

I am amazed guys, thank u so much....I love u all!
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Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
Start with Wikipedia , check the quoted reference , follow the trails of reference of the references
make near random google search gravitating around the subject
check some history forum for your subject and read the threads

once you satisfies yourself that the Wiki entry is wrong , misleading or with some flaws you are cooking !
Sep 2019
Utah, USA
There's a list of topics that always gonna be open for exploring, such as interaction of a human and environment, social structures, economical systems, general cultural topics. Also check History Research Paper Topics maybe you'll find some good topics for yourself that you gonna be interested in. I would not recommend you to start with Wikipedia since it's not counting as a science literature and can't be used as a source for citations or references.