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National History Day Research Portal : Topic Tips

Topic Tips

Some practical tips on choosing a topic:

  • Choose an event or topic that occurred in the 19th or 20th centuries.
    Why? Mass media expanded during the 19th and 20th centuries so there are more primary sources available such as newspapers, magazines, photographs, etc. 
  • Choose an event that took place more than 20 years ago.
    Why? It is difficult to assess what sort of impact a very recent event will have plus it is more difficult to distinguish between primary and secondary sources for current events.
  • Choose an event or topic that takes place in the United States.
    Why? As an American library we have more primary sources dealing with the United States than with other countries.
  • Choose an event or topic that takes place in a country that once was an English colony.
    Why? These countries will more likely have English-language primary sources. 
  • Choose an event or topic where there are many good secondary sources.
    Why? When there are many secondary sources it usually means that there are plenty of primary sources and those secondary sources will list them in their bibliographies

Topic Reminders

The hardest part of research is coming up with a research topic or question. Three important things to keep in mind: 

  1. Your research topic should first of all be interesting to you -- you'll be spending a lot of time and work on your History Day project so be sure to choose a topic that you are eager to learn more about.
  2. Choose a topic where there is enough evidence (primary and secondary sources) that you can use (in languages that you read, that are accessible) for your research. This is especially important this year where you will need to rely more on online resources that are available through your school and public library or that are freely available on the web.
  3. Choose a topic of the "right" size. Topics that are too narrow may not be historically important or significant and you may not find much evidence. Topics that are very broad may be too complex for a History Day project.

Where to Find Topic Ideas

Once you come up with a topic that you think will work check with your teacher and school librarian. Your teachers and librarians will be able to help refine your idea and give you leads on where to begin your research.