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Syllabus and Class Handouts

HSTR 300 - Writing for History: Digital Worlds of Early America

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary Sources - Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Examples of primary sources are:  an artifact, a document, diary, letter, photograph, manuscript, autobiography, newspaper articles written at the time, and recordings. Documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President and annual reports from agencies are also primary sources.

Secondary Sources - Secondary sources are documents created by someone who was not a first-hand participant in an event.  They are usually written about an event after it occurred.  Mosts scholarly books, manuscripts, and articles are examples of secondary sources.

Research Workshops

Mansfield Library Workshop Schedule

Our workshops cover topics such as literature reviews, research skills, technology, citation management, and much more! 


Welcome to the Research Guide for HSTR 300. This guide will help you get started in your research. Click on any of the tabs above to get more information on library resources, government documents, primary sources, citation help and more.

Please feel free to contact the library at any time with questions or for more in-depth research help!

Developing a Research Question

1. Select a topic that genuinely interests you. Look at course readings, class notes, Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher or Credo Reference for initial ideas.

2. Consider the scope of your topic.
If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information.
If it too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.

3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. It should be a question that will have a concrete, specific and measurable answer that has not already been definitively answered (you want to contribute something new to the discussion!).

Questions to guide the development of your research question:

  • Is it focused enough to be covered in my paper or project?
  • Is there enough literature available on this topic?
  • What is the question that my research is answering?
  • Am I genuinely interested in this topic?
  • Is my topic going to be new and interesting to my audience?


Brainstorming keywords for your topic will help you refine your topic, find the most information about your topic and save you time by helping you search databases in a more efficient and systematic way.

(Why? Different authors will refer to the same concept in different ways. Having a comprehensive list of keywords to search will help you find more information about your topic in an efficient and systematic way!)

1. Pick out the main ideas in your research question. For example, the main ideas in this research question are in bold: “How does legalization of marijuana affect mental health rates in the United States?”

2. Take each of your main ideas and brainstorm as many synonyms, related words, acronyms, initialisms, and spelling variants as you can. For example, for "United States":

  • United States of America
  • America
  • USA
  • U.S.A.
  • U.S.

3. Do this for each of your main ideas. Searching all the variants you can come up with will give you a broader selection of relevant information. It might help to make a chart to keep track of which combinations you have searched for.

Subject Terms

Another search strategy is to use subject terms or phrases. Subject terms are standardized word(s) that describe the main idea of an article or other source. In many databases, but not all, you can use subject terms or phrases to capture the different ways authors refer to the same concept. For example, in the database CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) you will find the following subject terms representing “legalization of marijuana”:

  • cannabis legislation and jurisprudence
  • medical marijuana legislation and jurisprudence

You can identify subject terms by looking at a source citation or abstract in a database, or under the Details tab in OneSearch. Subject terms vary by database, they are not always intuitive, and it is common to use both keywords and subject terms in constructing a search.

Like searching with keywords, it is a good idea to keep track of which combinations of subject terms you have searched.

Ask Us! We're Here to Help

Visit the Information Center for research assistance from 9am-6pm Monday-Thursday, 9am-5pm Friday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday. Staff are also available during library hours to assist with your check out, interlibrary loan, or tech support needs. View the Mansfield Library hours.

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The library is fully wireless and provides access to over 100 computer workstations, including multimedia computers with video and image editing software.

We have 20 laptops that can be borrowed for 3-day time periods, as well as tablets, calculators, flash drives, headphones, laptop chargers and GoPro cameras.

You can practice presentations or create videos in our One Button Studio

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