Research & Writing Intensive Course Assignments

I am in charge of our undergraduate 200-level research and writing intensive course. Although a student from any discipline can take this course to fulfill their writing intensive credit, the course is designed specifically with public history majors in mind. I designed each assignment to culminate in a final 10-12 page research paper. Below are the writing assignments:

  • Blog Post
  • Museum Panels/Labels
  • Additional written piece (detailed below)
  • Final Paper

I also have the final paper broken down into pieces:

  • Topic Submission
  • Proposal
  • Working Annotated Bibliography
  • Rough Draft
  • Final submission

Blog Post Writing

Blogging is an easy and important way to briefly present one’s research to a very wide-ranging audience. While blog posts can be any length, they are generally relatively short—especially in comparison to a journal article. They tend to be written in a more narrative style. Blog posts can be used to promote or generate interest in one’s work, receive quick and honest feedback, and foster networking or co-authorship opportunities.

Public history venues will often use blogs as a form of “free press” to promote exhibits, events, or fundraising opportunities. Based on each students’ research and writing for the final paper, each student writes a 600-800 word blog post. Content options include:

  • sum up their research to-date
  • discuss research challenges
  • present an interesting piece of research
  • reflect upon their researching experience (pros/cons)
  • discuss some cool primary sources found
Tips & Tricks

Each blog post is required to contain at least 1 image. Blog posts are graded on the student’s ability to:

  • write clearly
  • engage the audience
  • proofread their work before posting
  • make use of folksonomic elements (or the use of tags to drive traffic, to categorize, etc)
  • demonstrate knowledge of their topic.

Even though it is a blog post, I expect students to properly cite in Chicago Style via endnotes. Students should set direct quotes set apart. Quoted material does not necessarily count towards the word count. A bibliography of all works consulted is expected at the end of the blog post (and does not count towards the word count).

Below is a breakdown of the basic requirements for each post. It is the student’s responsibility to log in, craft the post following the guidelines, and make sure it is publicly posted. I suggest saving a copy in Word first so as not to lose it in case of computer error, power outage, etc.

  • 600-800 word post
  • Clever, engaging title
  • At least one multimedia piece (image, video, etc.)
  • Make use of subheadings where necessary/appropriate
  • Contain appropriate tags
  • Be properly categorized
  • Use clear, direct prose
  • Proofread your work
  • Maintain active voice as much as possible
  • Keep paragraphs relatively short (150-200 words)

I created a class page using WordPress and invited each student as a “contributor.” The Spring 2017 class blog can be found at:

public history
Homepage of Spring 2017 Class Blog

Writing Museum Panels/Labels

Although many museums are opting for new methods of conveying information, such as audio tours, docents, and videos, the writing of museum text is a critical skill for anyone entering the field of public history. Professionals use a variety of textual styles in exhibition panels, display labels, and QR reader info. In this assignment, students envision their topic as if it were part of a museum exhibit. They must think about the type of museum the exhibit would be presented in (national, regional, local, university, etc). This enables them to craft panels and labels that will be most effective for the intended audience. The writing assignment is to craft 2 exhibit display panels of approximately 150-250 words each (for a total of 300-500 words) and 4 display labels of approximately 20-50 words each (for a total of 80-200 words).

Panels/Labels Guidelines

The 2 exhibit displays should briefly outline/inform the audience of the topic and should include at least 2-3 images per panel. Students can create panels using PowerPoint, Word, Microsoft Publisher, or any other design software they may have access to.

To create the 4 display labels, choose 4 primary source objects/documents that might be part of the exhibition and write a label for each of your chosen objects/documents. Students can create the display labels in a single Word document. When submitting the assignment, students should include an image of the object/document associated with each label. I grade the assignment based on:

  • Knowing their audience and demonstrating engagement with that audience
  • Effectively considering the questions below
  • Accuracy
  • Spelling/grammar/typographically error free submission

When crafting the panels and display labels, students should consider the following questions:

  • Is the headline effective? Does it grab the viewer’s attention and clearly convey what the content will discuss?
  • Does the text make you want to keep reading? Is the ton appropriate for the content?
  • Is the body copy clear, to the point, descriptive, using active words, engaging, compelling, creative, moving, or even witty?
  • Does the text fit the intended audience? Is the language or word usage off-putting or potentially offensive? Is it repetitive or too long?
  • Are the font and colors used readable? Does it adhere to the American Disability Act standards?

Additional Writing Assignment

This additional writing assignment form is open and is subject to a first-come, first-served basis. Students have the opportunity to turn their topic into one additional form of public history writing. This can come in many forms. Suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • a series of Tweets
  • a museum brochure
  • a Wikipedia entry
  • magazine article
  • letter to the editor
  • oral history transcript/review
  • a guided walking/driving tour map with accompanying information (such as, a Prezi, etc)
  • historical fiction
  • a film/game script

The amount of writing required for this assignment depends on the format chosen (i.e. number of Tweets vs. word count on a brochure). The use of images is important in this assignment, too.

Final Paper

Each student selects a historical or public history related topic of their choice. Students craft a thesis regarding that topic and research it, producing a 10-12 page (excluding bibliography & cover page) research paper. The topic of this paper is their choice, but the instructor must approve it. To make this daunting task less cumbersome, I have broken the paper up into multiple components. Taken together, these pieces come to 600 points and have their own due dates throughout the semester. The paper must use Chicago Style footnotes and include a bibliography. There should also be a cover page (containing at a minimum your name, the class, and the title of the paper).

The ultimate goal of this research paper, beyond introducing students to the methods of doing history, is to produce a work of original research. Students should produce a paper of sufficient quality that they can present it to the general public or fellow academics at locations such as the annual meeting of the National Council of Public History.

Topic Submission: 50 Points

Students submit a statement of the broad question/topic/theme they wish to investigate. This statement is typed and should not exceed one page in length. It must be at least three sentences. Students should do some research before they submit this component; i.e. they should have a general idea of the topic you wish to explore, the questions you wish to ask, and the thesis the want to prove.  This component should be a substantive paragraph that delves into the topic. Once approved, students cannot change topics.  However, students may refine the specific focus of the topic statement with the professor’s approval.

Proposal (2-5 pages): 100 Points
  • Topic: A successful proposal will set out the topic or problem the student wants to investigate via a standard introduction. Students should clearly refine/expand their original topic submission.
  • Thesis: The proposal should contain a suggested thesis statement as the last sentence of the introduction. Students will refine their thesis statements in consultation with the instructor.
  • Brief Literature Review: A successful proposal will briefly introduce the relevant secondary literature on the subject and how the thesis fits into this literature. It will also discuss some of the primary sources the student intends to use for the paper, and will establish the significance of the proposed research. It will be foundational for the Working Annotated Bibliography.
Working Annotated Bibliography: 75 points

The Working Annotated Bibliography is the basic list and brief description of the sources students will use in the research paper. The Annotated Bibliography should consist of both primary and secondary sources related to the research question. Students should categorize sources according to type of source (i.e. primary or secondary). They should also separate sources with subheadings (i.e. journal articles, newspaper articles, books, website, etc).  The Bibliography should include the title of the research project, and a list of the search tools (such as WorldCat or FirstSearch, card catalog, etc.), electronic or otherwise, used to compile the Bibliography.  These search tools should be provided at the beginning of the bibliography.

Bibliography Guidelines

The Working Bibliography must contain at least twenty sources, including at least 8 primary sources and at least 10 secondary sources (it may contain more). At least five of the secondary sources must be scholarly works (books and peer-reviewed journal articles) published after 1985.  Secondary sources may not include reference works, textbooks, book reviews, juvenile literature, popular/non-academic web sites, or articles from popular media (like TV Guide, People, or Newsweek). I consider these tertiary sources and students should use them sparingly.

Students should format entries according to Chicago/Turabian style. Proper formatting is essential. As this is a “working bibliography,” students are expected to continue to conduct additional research. Students do not need to identify ALL the sources they intend to use, but they should identify as many as possible.

Rough Draft: 125 Points

This component is a full and complete first draft of the research paper. Students should proofread the draft before submitting. It should be a minimum of 10 pages in length, not including bibliography and cover page.  The draft should follow the formatting guidelines for the final paper. I evaluate the draft according to the standards set for the final research paper.

Final Submission: 250 Points

The final research paper should be a completed 10-12 page academic paper. It should thoroughly incorporate the comments on the draft received during peer review and from the instructor. It should represent a substantially revised version of the draft component.