Research Assignment Initial Question

Due Date: Thursday, October 12, 2017

Submission Instructions: Bring printed copy to class and submit digitally

Assignment Description:

Item Percentage Due Date Link
Research Assignment Initial Question 10% Thursday, October 12, 2017 See Below
Research Assignment Overview of Sources 15% Thursday, October 19, 2017 Click for More Details
Research Assignment Introduction and Outline 15% Thursday, October 26, 2017 Click for More Details
Research Assignment First Draft 20% Thursday, November 09, 2017 Click for More Details
Research Assignment Final Draft 40% Tuesday, December 12, 2017 Click for More Details

About the Assignment Overall

Beginning next week, you will be undertaking a term-long research project with many steps along the way. The topic for this assignment will be bibliography and the history of the book, which typically includes the histories of authorship, readers and reading, publishing, and print. We have already discussed many aspects of the history of the book in this class, but you may focus on any period in history, including those topics we have yet to cover. That said, I strongly encourage you to follow one of these three paths:

  1. Biography of a Book: analysis of the history of a particular book over time and its various physical forms (especially editions, issues, impressions, and states)
  2. Reconsideration of an Important Institution, or Group of People, or Collective Action: for example, focus on the importance of the establishment of international copyright, the development of a market genre like the spy thriller, or discuss the influence of International Typographical Union
  3. Deep Examination of Communications Technology: technology here is loosely defined, so it could be an obvious technology like electrotyping or something more subtle like the pencil

Other options are possible, especially if you have taken the time to consider your choice. However, these paths are designed to give you the necessary focus to develop an effective research question.

What is a Research Question?

Coming up with a rich research question is a crucial first step to writing an effective research paper. In The Craft of Research , Wayne C. Booth describes the importance of using such a question to guide your work:

If a writer asks no specific question worth asking, he can offer no specific answer worth supporting. And without an answer to support, he cannot select from all the data he could find on a topic just those relevant to his answer. To be sure, those fascinated by Elvis Presley movie posters or early Danish anthropological films will read anything new about them, no matter how trivial. Serious researchers, however, do not report data for their own sake, but to support the answer to a question that they (and they hope their readers) think is worth asking. 1

Research questions must be complex enough to avoid easy and predictable answers, yet concrete enough that research is still possible. It is perhaps helpful to think about a research question as a series of interrelated questions that one can address using historical evidence, with one deep and crucial and difficult-to-answer question at its core. The research assignment initial question will be a first draft of this research question, with some extra information about how you plan to proceed.

Assignment Requirements

Your work must be:
  1. typed in 12 point Times New Roman font
  2. double-spaced with no extra line between paragraphs
  3. stapled if longer than one page
  4. handed in on time
Your research assignment initial question must have:
  1. numbered pages if longer than one page
  2. a clearly articulated topic
  3. a central question about that topic to guide your research
  4. two or three related questions that might be easier to answer than the central question
  5. some consideration of the significance of your question
  6. proper footnotes and works cited for your citations. Use Chicago style citations (consult a handbook or see me if you have questions about how to do this).

Advice on Selecting a Topic

About now, you might be saying, "Wait a minute. How do I do a question when I don't know what my topic is?" If so, you're right to wonder how to get started. I've provided general guidance on topic areas above, but a big part of this assignment is developing your own focus. Mary Lynn Rampolla describes the unique challenges and opportunities of finding our own research subjects:

Students often find such assignments intimidating and may secretly yearn for an assigned subject; it often seems easier to write about a topic that holds no interest for you then to face the task of defining your own area of investigation. However, when you choose your own research topic, you are engaged in the practice of history at a much more sophisticated level. You are, in fact, doing the same work that a professional historian does: answering the questions you yourself have posed about a subject that you find compelling or problematic. 2

In other words, the difficulty of finding a rich topic is part of the point of the assignment. It is supposed to be difficult and rewarding. Booth adds that advanced research topics "must eventually show why [your topic] should also interest others." 3 He suggests that researchers employ three early strategies to ensure that this will be the case:

  1. Look online for recurring issues and debates in your field of choice. For us, the SHARP-L listserv archives would be a good place to look
  2. Skim the latest issues of journals in your field to get a sense of which topics are of interest to others.
  3. Investigate the resources your library is particularly rich in

End Notes

  1. Booth et. al. 41.
  2. Rampolla 22
  3. Booth et. al. 38.

Works Cited

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research . 3rd ed. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History . Second edition. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 1998.