Say you want to write a paper on the causes of Communisms demise in eastern Europe. Or say you want to write about how conceptions of national identity have changed in Britain since the 1980s.
You would begin by reading some general secondary sources on the collapse of Communism, from which you might surmise that two factors were predominant: economic problems of Communist central planning and Mikhail Gorbachevs reforms in the Soviet Union. In this case, you might examine the speeches of British political leaders, editorials in major British newspapers, and voting support for the Scottish National Party or other regional parties.
Next are the same sources translated into other languages.
Then come sources that are studies of or otherwise refer to direct experience.
Think of it as a puzzle: Why did a particular political or social event turn out as it did and not some other way?
Why does a particular pattern exist in social life?Primary sources in this case might include economic statistics, memoirs of politicians from the period or reportage in east European newspapers (available in English or other languages). You might also arrange an interview with an expert in the field: a noted scholar, a British government representative, a prominent journalist.The point about primary sources is that they take you as close as possible to where the action isthe real, on-the-ground, rubber-meets-the-road facts from which you will construct your interpretive argument.Research questions that do not require an argument are just bad questions.For example, a paper on What happened during the Mexican revolution?Those are skills that you will use in any profession you might eventually pursue.To write first-rate research papers, follow the following simple ruleswell, simple to repeat, but too often ignored by most undergraduates. From the outset, keep in mind one important point: Writing a research paper is in part about learning how to teach yourself.The process forces you to ask good questions, find the sources to answer them, present your answers to an audience, and defend your answers against detractors.If nothing else, begin with the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a wonderful but sadly neglected resource.Read a few books or articles on topics you find of interest.