History Day Hints: Your Bibliography and Process Paper
You have just completed your project. Now you can set it aside and forget about it until the day of your first competition. Not quite yet. There is still that process paper to write and the annotated bibliography to tackle, but “where did I find that piece of information and what stage of the process did I do thus and so?” No need to panic if you remember to keep a record from the moment you begin the project– document every step of the way, from the research phase to the project wrap up.
One way to do this is to start a card file the very day that you start the project. If this method sounds as outdated as the dinosaur, wait a minute, before you reject it out of hand. Not everyone carries the latest, lightest laptop with an unlimited supply of power or works in a wireless environment. But 3 x 5 lined index cards are light and portable and can be used wherever the project takes you.
For bibliographic purposes, the cards can be filed alphabetically by name of author or title of book or article, subject or web source. For the process paper, chronologically as you work through the project itself. For the bibIiography each card should include a full citation for the source you used . Consult your project advisor regarding the style sheet to follow for both primary and secondary source citations. Additionally note your comments about each source immediately to jog your memory when you are writing the final project bibliography. If you do have a laptop, the Excel spread sheet is really more useful for the bibliography. For the process paper, an electronic journal will do the trick. Then index cards would be unnecessary. If you have a desktop computer only, then the information on the cards can be entered into Excel or in an electronic journal of your creation when you get home.
Now about the writing.
The Process Paper
With your carefully taken and filed notes and/or your journal to refer to, write a brief, clear account of no more than 500 words about the process. Begin at the beginning - how and why you chose your topic, how you selected your project category (paper, exhibit, performance, website, or documentary), your research path (creative process, problems along the way, if any), how your project relates to the NHD theme, and concluding in summary form with insights, acquired knowledge, other comments on the process.
The Annotated Bibliography
This is the proverbial “piece of cake” if and only if you kept good records. The greatest difficulty is to distinguish the primary research sources from the secondary sources. Each should be listed separately under their respective headings in the bibliography. This has become even more difficult when using web sources. If you collect resources from websites, care must then be taken to note source citations properly and whether the source is primary or secondary. If the websites are higher quality, this may be much easier to do. Your advisor can be of great help if you have difficulties finding citations. When visiting a library or archive, it is generally easier to determine citations and whether a primary or secondary resource. Annotations, or short explanations, should be made for each bibliographic entry. The annotations must explain how you used the source and how it helped you understand your topic. Annotations of web sites should include a description of who sponsors the site. Also be sure to be ready to explain any questions that may arise (why a source is listed as secondary or primary or how the bibliography complies with the rules).
I have been a National History Day Judge for many years and have great admiration for the excellent quality of the projects and the great care and effort that goes into producing them, including the process papers and annotated bibliographies. I wish you great success in your endeavors.
Nancy Perlman is Archivist/Head Special Collections at Loyola/Notre Dame Library in Baltimore.
Tags: Maryland History Day