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Samuel Morse and the Telegraph

Research and Writing Guidelines and Requirements (for the Research Paper and Essay) I. Research A. Choosing a Topic: 1. Please choose an important person in U.S. history between the 1500s and 1865. 2. Please apply the following criteria in selecting such a person: a. Your selection must be substantial enough to warrant research and writing—please ask yourself the following question: is this person significant, or historically revealing? b. Will there be a way for you to critically assess his or her life, thinking, and/or decisions or actions (in a particular action, event, movement, etc.)? c. I must approve all selections. B. Some Key Suggestions (after you decide on a person): 1. Books: a. The best source for any secondary research is a more recently published book. Books are subjected to the most rigorous tests for academic authenticity and accuracy. Therefore, I would find a book on your subject. This book should be a scholarly work—i.e., non-fiction. Usually, the quickest way to determine the credibility of a book is to evaluate the author—i.e., is he or she a professional historian or academic. Furthermore, make sure that the book is published by a university press, a reputable publisher (specifically one that specializes in academic works), or an organization that you can trust (or at least are cognizant of its specific biases and can account for them). The telltale signs of an academic work are footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography. If you are in doubt, please check with me. i. To find a book, I would start by searching the library catalog (CougarCat). The reference desk can help you if you do not know how to do this (and, of course, I can help you as well). Please do not hesitate to ask for help. 2. Scholarly Articles: a. More recently published scholarly articles are another excellent source. They provide a lot of specialized information in usually twenty to thirty pages. You can trust that it is academically sound material—as it is approved by a board of editors and reviewed by professional historians before publication. I suggest using J-STOR. This is an excellent source. Our library provides you with free access to J-STOR. 3. Online Sources: a. Scholarly/academic books and articles are the best sources, but there is a lot of good information to find from online sources (those that are not merely digitized scholarly articles or books, but websites dedicated to providing information on a particular person). Some of them can be good sources of information. But please apply the following criteria to your online source: i. Ascertain the publisher of the website. This is a fundamental step in evaluating the accuracy and authenticity of the information. Generally, you should use only websites published by a university or college (indicated by an “.edu” at the end of the web address), or other reputable organizations, such as historical societies. ii. There are, however, many other reputable organizations. A general rule to apply here—a commonsensical evaluation—is to determine the purpose of the organization. The organization’s purpose, naturally, will indicate the type of information they provide and the manner in which they present this information. Therefore, you can assess particular biases. Also, ask yourself if this organization would not suffer mere humiliation if its publishers provided incorrect information, but that such incorrect information would impugn their purpose. iii. If possible, determine the author of the particular information that you are using. Is this author a credible source? Is he or she a professional or reputable historian? iv. Make sure that the organization or author provides a bibliography or cites references. If they provide a bibliography—even though this is still an assumption—you can assume that they have relied on sources for their historical information. To rely on un-cited information can be problematic for obvious reasons. v. Do not use information from websites in which the content and editing can be supplied by anyone (for free), such as Wikipedia—this information is not consistently reliable as it is not necessarily professionally researched and written or professionally reviewed. II. Getting Started A. First Step: 1. Develop a bibliography—that is, compile a list of the sources that you will use. a. To find relevant books, search your library’s online catalog. Locate the most recent and specific source on your topic. Get the book and search the author’s notes and bibliography for other sources. b. Or you might search J-STOR for the most recent and specific article on your subject and read over the author’s footnotes or endnotes for more sources. c. If you are searching for online sources, you might start with a “Google” search on your subject and peruse the various online sources identifying the academically-worthy sites, and of those, the ones that provide the most relevant and beneficial information. You might peruse the bibliographies of these websites for further sources. B. Second Step 1. Identifying Primary and Secondary Sources: a. The second step really should be concurrent with the first step. You are required to have five sources, and of those sources, one should be a primary source and the rest should be secondary sources (and one of the latter must be a scholarly/academic article or book). i. A primary source is a first-hand account, while a secondary source is a secondary account based on an evaluation of those primary sources. Historians usually are not first-hand observers of the actual event or person that they are examining. Rather, historians rely on primary sources to know, understand, and write history. These are sources that provide primary, first-hand, or direct information on a subject. That is, primary sources are sources of information directly from or related to the actual person, event, or period being examined. b. It may be that a primary source is obvious and easy to find. If the primary source for your topic is not very obvious to you, you might search through the same notes and bibliographies of the secondary source books or articles that you are using to develop your bibliography. Usually, these secondary studies will be based on primary sources. Please be sure to choose a primary source that will improve your analysis of the topic and not one for mere convenience. 2. Why? a. It is important to make the distinction between primary and secondary sources, because understanding the nature of the source is the key to understanding that information. That is, it is the key to critically assessing the nature of the information—and, of course, in reconstructing historical events. Also, history is a developmental field—that is, historical knowledge is often developmental. Generally, historians believe that historical interpretations can be improved over time through the inclusion of more primary sources and more secondary analyses. Historians also believe that with the knowledge of the nature of the source, we can actually more clearly retell, define, and assess an event in the past than could the actual actors in that event—that is, history provides us with a retrospective view that more often than not, can be more comprehensive than first-hand conceptions. C. Third Step 1. Reading Your Sources and Taking Notes: a. When you read through your sources, be sure to take notes on the information relevant to your subject. The best way to organize such information is to title your note page (electronic or otherwise) the name of the source and be sure to include specific page numbers when you take notes—be sure to clarify in your notes if you are taking information directly from the source (with quotations), or not, to prevent any potential plagiarism. III. Citing Sources: A. You must cite the sources that you use for your research project with both footnote citations and a bibliography—in the bibliography you must include all of the sources that you used, but might not have cited. The bibliography is designed to include information that may have shaped your thinking on the matter and is much more comprehensive than the direct citation used in the footnote citations. B. When Should I Cite a Source? 1. Cite a source when you do any of the following: a. Use a direct quote b. Take specific information from a source i. The word “specific” should be understood as information that is otherwise not general information. For example, dates are usually classified as general knowledge and do not need to be cited. c. Use another author’s ideas or arguments C. To reiterate, you must use at least five sources—of these one must be a scholarly/academic article or book source and one must be a primary source. And please remember that you have to list in your bibliography all of the sources that you used. D. Some general guidelines on using sources: 1. You cannot copy anyone else’s work. This, as you know, is plagiarism. If you decide, however, that you want to include an exact statement from a source, you must put this sentence (or sentences) in quotations. I would avoid, however, using a lot quotations—at the very least, severely limit your use of them. 2. Merely rearranging the words of another author or paraphrasing his or her work are both defined as plagiarism. You must formulate the information in your own thoughts and words. 3. Using anyone else’s ideas, concepts, or arguments, etc., without proper citation, is also plagiarism. 4. Not including a source—in your footnotes or your bibliography—that you used to write your paper is plagiarism. 5. Please note that if you do plagiarize anyone else’s work, I will deduct points from your paper—the amount depends on the degree and nature of the offense. In severe cases, I will fail you, and—following Collin College’s academic integrity policy—I will submit the case to the Dean of Students. Thus, there might be further academic repercussions. 6. When in doubt on this issue, please see me—I want to help you in any way that I can. 7. Cheating and Collusion: a. On a side note, please note that there will also be severe penalties for submitting another student’s paper. This is cheating. As with plagiarism, I will deduct points from your paper—the amount depends on the degree and nature of the offense. And, in severe cases, I will fail you, and—following Collin College’s academic integrity policy—I will submit the case to the Dean of Students. b. Also, please note that lending another student your paper from a previous semester is defined as “collusion,” and I will submit your name, along with the evidence of such collusion, to the Dean of Students. E. How Do I Cite Sources? 1. Historians use the Chicago Manual of Style as their method of documentation. 2. For footnotes, please follow these examples: a. Book: 1. Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 45. b. Article: 2. James L. Huston, “Property Rights in Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War” The Journal of Southern History 65 no. 2 (May, 1999), 255. c. Website: 3. “The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century,” PBS, accessed December 15, 2010, 3. For your bibliography, please follow these examples: a. Book: Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992. b. Article: Huston, James L. “Property Rights in Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War.” The Journal of Southern History 65 no. 2 (May, 1999): 249-286. i. Please note that you must include all of the pages of the article in the bibliographical citation. c. Website: PBS. “The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century.” Accessed December 15, 2010. 4. Please see the following website for more examples when developing your bibliography: 5. If this page does not include a type of source that you are using, please let me know and I will be happy to help you. IV. Writing A. I expect considerable effort. Please note that this is a formal writing assignment. I expect “the correct use of vocabulary and grammar and the use of formal language.” 1. Technical Requirements: a. You should not include any pictures and your paper must be at least 5 FULL pages in length (not including the bibliography) and must not exceed 7 pages (please number your pages on the top right-hand corner)—type must be double-spaced, 12-point Calibri, Times New Roman or Arial font. Top and bottom margins must not exceed 1.0 inch, while the left and right margins must not exceed 1.0 inches. Of course, you must use the standard 8½ by 11 inch-sized paper. The heading should be single-spaced and include only your first and last name. No cover pages—you may include a title with one return after your name. 2. Style: a. It is of fundamental importance that you write clearly and logically—i.e., be sure that your writing is comprehensible. The use of correct grammar and spelling is a necessary component of clear and logical writing. b. Some important suggestions: i. Most importantly, write clearly and logically. ii. For an excellent and concise work on writing style, please see William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. iii. In addition, Collin College has a Writing Center——which provides writing assistance. iv. Edit your writing—this is a necessary process in developing clear and logical writing. v. In formal writing, please remember to avoid using contractions, clichés, and colloquialisms or slang. 3. Assessing Your Subject: a. Please note that this assignment is not merely descriptive—that is, I expect you to do much more than provide a report on a certain person. Most crucially, this biographical approach principally should be a critical assessment of this person and not primarily a report merely detailing the various events in his or her life. What this particular assessment is—is your decision. Usually a focused assessment leads to a specific argument or thesis. You must develop a reasonable and logical argument in regard to your subject that demonstrates a critical assessment of the material. Please note that historians are much more than chroniclers, but critical evaluators. Also, in this age of mass information, it is the personal assessment that remains distinct. b. Organizing Your Research Paper: i. When writing, then, organize your paper in a manner that conveys your perspective. Your organizational approach should be clear and logical. Yet, in developing a clear and logical assessment/argument, there is no rigid format that one must follow (outside of the natural construct of an introduction, body, and conclusion).


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