Research Assignment Initial Question and Annotated Bibliography

Due Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Submission Instructions: Bring printed copy to class and submit digitally (on Box)

Assignment Description:

ItemPercentage of Semester GradeDue DateLink
Research Assignment Initial Question and Annotated Bibliography5Monday, October 08, 2018See below
Research Assignment Introduction and Outline10Wednesday, October 31, 2018Click for More Details
Research Assignment First Draft15Monday, November 19, 2018Click for More Details
Research Assignment Final Draft20Tuesday, December 11, 2018Click for More Details

About this Cluster of Assignments

For this longterm project, you will engage with the scholarly research process from a variety of angles. 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.

Research Question Component

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 what you want to investigate. It should be 1-2 paragraphs in length with a clear focus, a primary question that's complex enough to support a research paper, and 4-5 related questions that are easier to answer.


In addition to a detailing your research question, you will provide an overview of 6-8 high quality, academic sources. The ratio of primary sources to secondary sources is up to you, as it will depend greatly on your topic. However, peer reviewed articles and scholarly books (or book chapters) are encouraged over web-based resources. Looking for sources listed on the "Guide to Further Reading" in The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book would be an excellent idea.

An overview of sources or annotated bibliography provides a brief account of the most important research on your topic. It is a list of research sources that includes concise descriptions and evaluations of each source. Each annotation begins with a "Works Cited" style entry for the source, and is a followed by an annotation. The annotation must have a brief summary of the source's content, as well as an assessment of why the source is relevant to your research question. Where applicable, note in your annotation if a source directly responds to or engages with another source in your list of annotations. In total, each annotation should be 5-7 sentences long.

The purpose of this assignment is partly to demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done. It is also a moment to sit down and really consider the availability of sources related to your research question. Do you have enough material to do the assignment justice? If not, you might need to refine your research question.

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 and annotations. 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


I will use the course's primary descriptive, non-numerical rubric for this assignment. For the items pertaining to a clear argument and thesis statement, I will score your work according to the degree to which your work relates to an emerging argument and thesis statement for your research project as a whole. Purely exploratory research with no clear sense of focus will lose points in this category.

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.