Doing Historical Research

Lincoln Assassination

Three key pointers:

1) Begin with a topic and a question 

a) A thesis is a question about the topic you have chosen. 

Example Topic:
Lincoln Assassination

How was the assassination planned?
What was John Wilkes Booth’s state of mind on the
fateful night?
Why did John Wilkes Booth assassinate Lincoln?

b) Think about the length of your paper or size of your project. 

Short paper/project: a more specific question is needed in order to answer the question in a shortened amount of space. 

Longer paper/project: a more general question may be asked since you will have more space in which to answer the question.

2) Research on a broad scale and then narrow it down

a. Just as you narrow down to a specific question you want to narrow down your search on the web.

b. You may want to begin with an online encyclopedia such as:


c. Once you have acquired a background on your topic you can go to sources that will have more specifics on your topic.  This will include secondary sources such as:

websites specifically addressing your question
online books
online journal articles

d. Look for primary resources.  The best way to present new data is going to the original documents from that time period, such as:

newspaper articles
oral histories

These can all be found on sites such:

National Archives
Library of Congress

We've also created a list of Civil War primary resources to help you get started:

Primary Civil War Resources Available on the Internet

e. Use advanced searches. Sometimes putting a keyword into Google will get you too much information.  You don’t want to look through 3,000 pages on Lincoln.  Using the advanced search will help you to narrow your search down and give you more specific search results.

3. Be aware of where you are getting information

a. You need to make sure that you are gathering information from credible sources.  Look on:

University websites
library sites
museum sites
government websites
suggested sites by your teacher or professor

Personal web pages may not have accurate information.

b. Keep track of your resources.

Use Zotero, a web tool built by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, to keep track of your online search.  CHNM has established relationships with credible websites and through this tool a bibliography will be saved on your computer as you do your research.


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