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History Department Style Sheet

Style Sheet

The Department of History has adopted this style sheet as a general guide for students in the preparation of course papers and honors theses. It represents standards generally accepted in the history profession for the preparation of manuscripts. Individual professor may have their own specific requirements in addition or in place of these guidelines. Students should consult with their professors for specific style requirements.

Books that historians recommend as guides to research and writing include:

  • Booth, Wayne C., Joseph M. Williams, and Gregory G. Colomb, The Craft of Research. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Marius, Richard and Melvin E. Page, A Short Guide to Writing about History. 5th edition. New York: Pearson Education, 2005.
  • Strunk, William, and E. B. White, The Elements of Style. 4th edition. New York: Longman, 2000.
  • Turabian, Kate L., et al. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 7th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • University of Chicago Press Staff, The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Sources for History Paper

The papers you write for history courses will usually rely on several types of sources: primary sources, secondary sources, synthesis or survey works, and historiographical works. Primary sources are materials (written, oral, visual) produced during the era your topic covers. For example, a primary source analysis regarding contemporary British opinions of the American Civil War would rely on materials created in the 1860s. Secondary sources are the books and articles historians write about the past, using primary sources (and other secondary sources) as evidence. Detailed book studies of a particular topic are often referred to as monographs. Synthesis or survey works tend to bring together the secondary source literature on a topic, without a lot of new primary source analysis. Historiographical works explicitly aim to survey or analyze the state of the field of a particular subject. Historiographical books and articles cover the history of history writing on a topic.

Different assignments will require a different mix of these various sources. You can expect to write research papers (using a combination of all these sources); document analyses (focusing on primary sources); book reviews (reviewing secondary sources); historiographical essays (analyzing secondary sources), as well as response or reaction papers to course readings.

In your research, we expect you to use both books and articles. Above all, you should rely on academic and university-press books and peer-reviewed journal articles. These are materials which have gone through a rigorous process of review by scholars in the field and can generally be trusted to reflect good scholarship.

We do not encourage you to base your papers on encyclopedias (including online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia), dictionaries, and texts aimed at a juvenile audience. Additionally, papers should not rely disproportionately on survey texts (unless that is the assignment).

Physical Form of the Manuscript

  • The text must be typed and double-spaced using a 10 or 12 point print font and standard margins of 1 to 1.5 on all sides. Endmatter (e.g., endnotes and bibliography) and footnotes may be single-spaced. Assigned paper lengths generally assume something similar to Times New Roman 12-point font, which produces about 300 words per double-spaced page.
  • All manuscript pages should be numbered, beginning with the first page of text.
  • Attach a title page with your name, course number and title, semester, department and university names. Title page information should be double-spaced and centered horizontally and vertically.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph (usually five to seven spaces).
  • Do not insert extra line spaces between paragraphs except to denote sections of the manuscript.


  • Improper spelling and poor grammar will influence your grade.
  • For detailed guidance on grammar and literary style see Strunk and White, The Elements of Style; The Chicago Manual of Style, or its abridgment by Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.
  • Use your spell-checker. However, remember that use of your spell-checker is not a substitute for thorough proofreading. Your spell-checker does not know that you meant "there" when you wrote "their"; "her" instead of "here"; "son" instead of "sun," etc.
  • Time permitting, ask a friend or family member to read your paper. A fresh set of eyes will catch any typographical and grammatical errors which you and your spell-checker have missed.
  • Titles of books, periodicals, and other self-contained publications must be underlined or italicized in both the body of your text and in footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies. Titles of articles must be enclosed within quotation marks.
  • Non-English words must be underlined or italicized.
  • Do not use an apostrophe with the plural of a decade to refer to the years in that decade unless you mean to use the possessive form. For example, "The Civil War was fought in the 1860s, as distinct from "Lincoln’s election was 1860's major political event, or "The 1860s' greatest catastrophe was the Civil War."
  • Remember that "its" is already possessive and does not take an apostrophe. "It's" is the contraction for "it is."
  • Avoid using contractions in formal writing. Wrong: "Contractions aren't used in formal writing, so don't use them." Correct: "Contractions are not used in formal writing; therefore, do not use them."
  • You may abbreviate commonly used acronyms after first fully identifying them (e.g., "The United States and its European allies established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949." You may abbreviate commonly used honorifics, such as "Dr."
  • Avoid passive voice. Passive voice usually is "wordy," lacks clarity, and avoids attributing responsibility for action. Passive: "War was declared by the United States." Active: "The United States declared war." Passive: "Mistakes were made." Active: "I made mistakes."
  • Lengthy block quotes too often are a substitute for good writing. It is better to paraphrase the material and quote only key phrases or sentences. When for reasons of clarity or precision you must use a lengthy quote of more than four lines, you should indent the quoted material at least five spaces from the left and right margins. Block quotes do not use quotation marks. Block quotes may be either single- or double-spaced.


Notes—footnotes or endnotes—should guide readers to sources that directly contributed to your research and the formulation of your ideas. Use citations when you quote directly, when you attribute an idea or analysis to someone else ("According to historian Jane Jones, ...."), to acknowledge an intellectual debt, or to refer your reader to a body of information. Finally, when it doubt, cite. You may also use a note to elaborate on information or analysis not appropriate for inclusion in the text, but do so very cautiously. If something is not appropriate for inclusion in the text, it may well not belong in the notes either.

Historians' preferred style of citation for endnotes, footnotes and bibliography is that of The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press. A summary of that style can be found in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. The following rules and examples can guide you through the most basic of entries. For more complex citations, such as for multiple authors, see Chicago or Turabian.

Government documents are valuable sources of information; take care to cite them fully and correctly. This entails providing all available facts of publication, such as dates, serial and print numbers, as well as information service identifying and accession numbers whenever relevant. Because of the many different possibilities for documents out of federal, state and local government levels, including legislative and executive office publications, hearings, bills, and commission reports, be sure to consult Chicago or Turabian for the particular formats appropriate to your body of research.

Sources obtained electronically require special care in notations, including noting the date on which you accessed a source, as they change often. The universal resource locator (URL) is not an adequate citation by itself, as many Internet sources move from site to site with some frequency, and others simply disappear off the Internet. Therefore include the URL, but do not rely on it. If an article you obtain electronically is in its original format (such as those accessed through JStor), you can cite it as you would cite the original journal article. For all other formats, you must use the URL, date accessed, etc., as outlined in the examples below. In addition, see the section below on using the Internet for research purposes. As always, refer to a recent edition of Chicago or Turabian.

I. Footnote and Endnotes:

A. Notations in text should be made only with a superscripted number. This number should follow all punctuation—except for a dash. You may use either footnotes or endnotes. Do not cite sources using embedded notes, that is, do not use parentheses within the text to refer to your sources. Single space notes; double space between them. Your word processor should create and edit footnote and endnote numbers automatically, usually opening a new window or section in which you can enter the information about your sources.

1. Joe Author, This is a Book (City: Publisher, 1988), pp. 123-124.
2. Mary Scholar, "This is an Article," This is a Periodical 53 (3 January 1995): 123-164.
3. John Writer, "This is a Chapter in Sam's Book," Edited Volume, Sam Editor, ed. (City: Publisher, 1997), pp. 243-263.
4. Frederick Ideas, "An Article on the Internet," Journal of the History of Ideas 42 (January 1998): 234-54; available from < /journal_of_the_history_of_ideas/>; Internet; accessed August 31, 1998.
5. An Exhibition on the Web, located at <>, July 1998-present; sponsored by Major Museum in collaboration with Websites Unlimited; Linda Curator, curator and author; Jeremy Designer, designer; accessed August 30, 1998.

II. Bibliography Entries:

A. List in alphabetical order by author's last name, single-spaced, first lines flush left, second and succeeding lines indented. If there is more than one author, alphabetize by the first author's last name. Double space between entries.

B. Examples:
Author, Joe. This is a Book. City: Publisher, 1968.

Scholar, Mary. "This is an Article." This is a Periodical 53 (January, 1968): 123-164.

Writer, John, "This is a Chapter in Sam's Book." In Edited Volume, Sam Editor, ed., pp. 243-263. City: Publisher, 1987.

Ideas, Frederick. "An Article on the Internet." Journal of the History of Ideas 42 (January 1998): 234-54; available from <http://muse.jhu.du /journal_of_the_history_of_ideas/>; accessed August 31, 1998.

An Exhibition on the Web, located at <>, July 1998-present; sponsored by Major Museum in collaboration with Websites Unlimited; Linda Curator, curator and author; Jeremy Designer, designer; accessed August 30, 1998.

III. Helpful abbreviations to be used in footnotes and endnotes only:

A. Ibid. can be used only when the immediately preceding citation is identical; if page numbers are different from the previous citation, that adjustment is acceptable. Do not use "ibid." if the preceding citation has more than one reference.

5. Ibid., pp. 56-57. [Note that this term is no longer italicized.]

B. Op cit is no longer acceptable. Use a shortened citation with author's last name and a short title after the first fully footnoted or endnoted reference to a source. For example:

5. Author, Book, p. 275.

Using the Internet

The World Wide Web contains a wealth of information, as well as a wealth of misinformation. It can be a powerful research tool, and it can lead the incautious researcher astray. The key to using the Web well is to realize that no one filters what goes onto Web pages, which results in both its strength and its weaknesses as a research tool. Anyone can put any kind of material on the Web, and the search engines will pick it up just as readily as they will find information from reliable sources.

For the highest caliber resources, use those that are sponsored by the same kinds of institutions that publish material that would be acceptable in print. So you can safely use primary materials from a government agency that is the official source of such information. Likewise, you can use secondary source materials from scholarly journals and accredited online services, such as Muse or ERIC, just as you would use any accredited secondary source. University- and library-sponsored Web sites also contain very useful materials, such as full text access to documents and books (sometimes in translation), and image archives. Use online exhibitions with the same care that you would use exhibited materials sponsored by those same museums.

You may find materials from a non institutionally-sponsored Web site that you know is reliable based on your previous research, your professors' opinions, or reviews in scholarly publications. In those cases, you can use it only as evidence of what that particular Web site's authors believe, in other words, as a primary source about that person or group. For instance, John Doe's Web page about World War II can be used only as a reflection of what John Doe wants to tell the world. Do not even trust dates and names from such an unaccredited site. When in doubt about the advisability of a particular Web site, check with a university librarian or your professors. And always cite your electronic sources just as scrupulously as you do other sources.

The History Highway: A 21st-Century Guide to Internet Resources, 4th edition, by Dennis A. Trinkle and Scott A. Merriman (M. E. Sharpe, 2006) lists and describes hundreds of Internet resources that can be useful in researching historical projects, and offers assistance in finding more. It also explains Internet systems, search engines, software and etiquette. In addition to information on specific Web sites, it includes addresses and procedures for discussion lists, particularly the many H-Net lists in which people interested in a variety of historical topics can exchange questions and ideas. It contains a glossary and bibliography as well. Because search engines do not always lead you to the information you seek, you could find this book very useful.

A few basic Web sites follow. Most of these have links to other helpful sites.

American Historical Association

Organization of American Historians

H-Net (History Discussion Lists)

National Council on Public History

American Association for State and Local History

National Park Service Links to the Past

The Library of Congress

The Smithsonian Institution

Web Links for Historians

August 2006