Guidelines for Research Papers

This paper is an opportunity for you to explore an area of interest in greater depth than can be achieved in class. The paper should be about 10 pages long. An important aspect of this type of exploration is that, after careful research and exploration of divergent sources, you should have a clear viewpoint (often called a thesis) that provides a framework for the reader to understand complex data. Sometimes you may adopt the viewpoint of a particular author whose argument convinces you. That's fine, but if you do, you need to take incorporate and explain divergent opinions or data that may conflict. In other words, your essay should not merely restate the work of one author.


1. Your essay should contain: an introductory paragraph with thesis statement and summary of the three or four points you intend to make; the body of the paper which develops these major points; and a concluding paragraph summarizing your points. Here's an example of an introductory paragraph following this format:

"Sacred spaces in Europe during the Middle Ages were sharply divided along two similar but not identical axes: clerical/secular and male/female. Yet in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a small group of women called Beguines, themselves neither monastic nor secular, managed to construct a different kind of sacred space, one in which they had particular ease of access. They were so successful at this endeavor that others, both lay and secular, accepted their abilities in this "alternate" sacred realm. In this paper I examine three of the interconnected ways in which beguine holy women constructed new sacred spaces: through the concepts of (1) access to heavenly space via ecstatic visions in the earthly sacred realm (that is, churches); (2) the construction of heavenly spaces in which women were agents of transformation; and (3) "holiness" as a particular type of sanctity."

It may seem "unartistic" but it has the value of letting your reader know exactly what your paper is about.

2. Social science/humanities papers do not use extensive quotes. Yet you must substantiate your work by clearly footnoting your sources. For essential tips refer to The Ten Commandments of Essay Writing.

3. You must provide a cover sheet with your name and title. Do not print your name at the top of each page. This allows me to fold back the cover sheet and read the essays "blind" without prejudging them.

4. You must provide an annotated bibliography at the end of your paper. An annotated bibliography lists your sources and also provides a short (one paragraph) evaluation of them. "This seems like reliable information" is not satisfactory. You must evaluate your sources by:

a) comparing information in them with the Encyclopedia of Religion, Encyclopedia Judaica, Catholic Encyclopedia Online, or Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Web sources are ok as a supplement or preliminary search tool but should not be your main sources. If you use them, make sure you include the URL in your bibliography.

b) find out about the author(s) - do they have an academic or a religious background? Check the date published. Be suspicious of materials published before the 1980s. Can you find a more recent source?

c) check information by comparing your sources. Do they agree with each other?

d) find out if the book has been reviewed (reference librarians can help with this)