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Guidelines for Beginning A Primary Source Research Project

Below is a guide to direct young scholars in beginning a research project using archival resources. It was written by archives intern and teacher-in-training, Colin McCarvile, 2007.

Step 1: Preliminary Research and Developing Your Topic

The first step of any research project is choosing your topic. Your topic should be something of great interest to you, after all you'll be working on this project for several months! Once you've picked a topic, you'll want to do some background reading on the subject to get enough information to develop a research question (step 2).

Your introductory sources should be secondary sources: books, encylcopedia entries, text books, credible websites. Secondary sources provide an interpretation of events originally depicted in primary sources. You will look to investigate primary sources later in your project, so carefully examine how others interpreted earlier events.

After looking more closely at your topic, your should narrow your topic from something broad, like the American Civil War to something more narrow, say the underground railroad or women on the homefront.

Once you've decided upon a good, narrowed topic, you're ready to move on to:

Step 2: Develop a Research Question


1. Preliminary Research and Choose your Topic
2.Develop Research Question
3. Contact the Archivist
4. Decide if Archive Use is Appropriate
5. Plan a Trip to the Archives
6. Researching at the Archives