Social Studies Research Paper

Writing a research paper is an important skill you need to learn. In order to do a paper properly you need to keep a few things in mind which will be outlined below. The most important thing is to be complete, be consistent and be thorough. Remember, the process is the important part. Before we begin, keep the following terms in mind:

Plagiarism: This is what you want to avoid. Plagiarism means using someone else's work and claiming it as your own. In reality it is a crime. Plagiarism can occur on purpose as well as by accident, either way it is wrong and must be avoided. If you plagiarize by accident the same penalties apply. The way we avoid plagiarism is by citing sources. After the paper is written and the sources have been cited then we must create a works citedpage. If the proper format for citing sources and the works cited page is followed then plagiarism can be avoided.

Citing Sources: Most high schools use the MLA (Modern Language Association) format. Check with your teacher to see if this format is acceptable in your school. Sources in these formats use the in line citation format. What this means is that anytime you cite a source, whether it be a direct quote or a paraphrase you must then insert an in line citation into the text of the paper. Typically the in line citation would consist of the authors last name followed by the page number with the entire citation in brackets. Here is an example: (Winthrop 24) The sentence period comes after the citation. More is to follow on proper in line citation format after this introduction.

Paraphrase: A paraphrase is an important part of writing a paper. Simply put the paraphrase is when you read another authors work and put it into your own words. It is also considered paraphrasing when you use statistics and research from another source. This is the most common citation in a paper. Proper paraphrasing is an art. This does not mean changing a few words around. It means taking the authors ideas, summarizing them into your own words and then using them. Of course you must cite every paraphrase with an in line citation. Paraphrases are mostly used to summarize paragraphs and main themes. Paraphrases are also used to cite statistics and other information. YOU DO NOT USE QUOTATION MARKS WHEN PARAPHRASING. More is to follow on citing the paraphrase.

Direct Quote: A direct quote is when you use another persons words directly in your paper. Knowing when to use a direct quote is important. Do not quote everything you want to say. Most things should be paraphrased. Use a direct quote when you want the reader to read an important historical line or it is something someone said that is important. Use direct quotes sparingly, there should only be a few in the paper and they better be good ones. The key difference in citing a direct quote is that you must put quotation marks around the sentence and then cite at the end. IF YOU FAIL TO USE QUOTATION MARKS AROUND A DIRECT QUOTE YOU ARE SAYING YOU WROTE THE SENTENCE. THIS IS PLAGIARISM!!! More information on direct quotes and direct quotes over four lines to follow.

Works Cited Page: This is the last page of your paper where you list, using the format shown below, all the books, articles, web sites, SIRS articles, magazines articles, etc. you have used. This must be done in the proper format. Proper format will be outlined in the following pages.

 I highly recommend the following sites:

Citing A Paraphrase A PARAPHRASE IS:

  • your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.
  • one legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
  • a more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea.

Here is a sample paraphrase:

Original Text: (From Ron Bachman, "Reaching for the Sky." Dial (May 1990): 15.)

While the Sears Tower is arguably the greatest achievement in skyscraper engineering so far, it's unlikely that architects and engineers have abandoned the quest for the world's tallest building. The question is: Just how high can a building go? Structural engineer William LeMessurier has designed a skyscraper nearly one-half mile high, twice as tall as the Sears Tower. And architect Robert Sobel claims that existing technology could produce a 500-story building.


How much higher skyscrapers of the future will rise than worlds tallest building, the Sears Tower, is unknown. The design of one twice as tall is already on the boards, and an architect, Robert Sobel, thinks we currently have sufficient know-how to build a skyscraper with over 500 stories (Bachman 15).

Note the following. The writer never uses the exact words of the author therefore there is no need to use quotation marks. The writer summarizes, uses his or her own words and then cites the source at the end. Sometimes a paraphrase will be large and must be broken up. A good rule of thumb is to break up a paragraph that is completely paraphrased into two or three citations. The writer has given credit to the author and thus has avoided plagiarism. Now the author would just continue writing after double spacing.

Your paper will more or less be paraphrase after paraphrase linked together by your own words and analysis. You need to introduce, analyze and put into context the paraphrases you use. This is the nature of the research paper, after all, you are not the expert, they are. If you cite from the same author in the very next citation you do not have to put the authors last name in the in line citation, just the page number.


How much higher skyscrapers of the future will rise than worlds tallest building, the Sears Tower, is unknown. The design of one twice as tall is already on the boards, and an architect, Robert Sobel, thinks we currently have sufficient know-how to build a skyscraper with over 500 stories (Bachman 15). As a matter of fact the architect William LeMessurier claims he designed a skyscraper that is over a half a mile tall (15).


Citing a Direct Quote

Citing a direct quote uses the same form as citing a paraphrase. The differences is that you are using someone else's words directly. In order to avoid plagiarism you MUST USE QUOTATION MARKS unless the direct quote is over four lines.

Here is a sample direct quote:

Original Text: (From "Captain Cousteau," Audubon (May 1990):17.

"The Antarctic is the vast source of cold on our planet, just as the sun is the source of our heat, and it exerts tremendous control on our climate," [Jacques] Cousteau told the camera. "The cold ocean water around Antarctica flows north to mix with warmer water from the tropics, and its upwellings help to cool both the surface water and our atmosphere. Yet the fragility of this regulating system is now threatened by human activity."

Direct Quote:

The importance of the sea to the environment of the earth cannot be underestimated. "The Antarctic is the vast source of cold on our planet, just as the sun is the source of our heat, and it exerts tremendous control on our climate (Cousteau 17)."

Note the following. The first sentence is neither a paraphrase or a quote. It is the writers own words. The writer is introducing and placing the Cousteau quote into context.

Direct Quote Over Four Lines:

Use these VERY RARELY. A great speech or famous quote might justify using a direct quote over four lines. To do this skip a line, indent five spaces on both sides of the quote, single space and use italics. Place the citation on the next line to the lower right of the quote. Go to the next line and then continue with your paper. DO NOT USE QUOTATION MARKS.


Abraham Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(Winthrop 67)

What Lincoln was saying was that those that died had died for a cause. They had died to preserve the Union and to keep the United States together (67 - 68).

Note the following. The long quote follows the format prescribed above. The quote is also followed by a paraphrase from the same author.The citation is the name of the book you found the quote in, not the name of the writer of the quote, if they are different. You must however say who made the quote in prefacing or concluding use of the quote.

When the book has no author use a keyword from the title. Usually the first word in the citation. When there are two book by the same author designate one as book one and the other as book two. For example: (Winthrop1 282) and (Winthrop2 58-71).

Writing The Works Cited Page

Your works cited page is an essential part of the process. The works cited page is the last page of your paper and it tells the reader where he or she may find the sources cited within your paper. It is essential you use the correct form. Remember a few thing when organizing the works cited page:

  • The works cited page must be labeled Works Cited Page. The label should be at the top center of the page.
  • The sources on the page must be listed IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY THE AUTHORS LAST NAME.
  • The first line of each entry is flush to the margin, all consequent lines within the entry must be indented five spaces.
  • Entries in the works cited page should be single spaced. Double space in between entries.

Books and Reference Books

One Author

Frye, Northrup. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. New York: Harper Collins, 1957.

Two or Three Authors

Gesell, Arnold, and Frances L. Wilson. Child Development: An Introduction to the Study of

Human Growth. New York: Macmillan, 1960.

Four or More Authors

Spiller, Robert, et al. Literary History of the United States. New York:

Macmillan, 1960.

No Author Named

Encyclopedia of Photography. New York: Crown, 1984.

A Work With More Than One Volume

Smith, Page. A New Age Now Begins. 2 vols. New York: McGraw, 1976.

A Work With An Editor

Swisher, Cleary, ed. The Spread of Islam. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999.

Two Or More Books By The Same Person

Boroff, Marie. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Norton, 1967.

---. Wallace Stevens: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 1963.


Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, and Other Sources

A journal or magazine whose page numbers continue to the next issue (continuous pagination)

 Deluch, Max. "Mind from Matter." American Scholar July 1978: 339-53.

 A journal whose pages start anew with each issue

Barthe, Frederick, and Joseph Murphy. "Alcoholism in Fiction." Kansas Quarterly

August 1981: 30-37.

 A weekly, biweekly, or monthly magazine

 Miller, Tyler. "The Vietnam War: The Executioner." Newsweek 13 Nov 1978: 70.

 An article in a newspaper

 Strout, Richard L. "Another Bicentennial." Christian Science Monitor 10 Nov. 1978: 27.

 An anonymous article

 "Drunkproofing Automobiles." Time 6 Apr. 1987: 37.

 An article from a reference book

 "Mandarin." Encyclopedia Americana. 1980 ed.

 A signed article from a reference book

 Coble, Parks M., Jr. "Chiang Kai Shek." Encyclopedia of Asian History.

Ed. Ainslee T. Embree. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.

 A government publication

 United States Dept. of Labor. Bureau of Statistics. "Dictionary of Occupational

Titles." 4th ed. Washington: GPO, 1977.

 A radio or television program

 "The First American." Narr. Hugh Downs. Writ. and prod. Craig Fisher.

NBC News Special. KNBC, Los Angeles. 21 Mar. 1968.


Electronic Sources

Periodical information on CD-ROM

A source from NEWSBANK

McCullough, Peggy. "Juvenile Drug Use Prompts Test Push." (Memphis, TN)

The Commercial Appeal. 15 Jan. 1987. Newsbank: Health (1987):

fiche 3, grid G2.

A source from NY Times Ondisc

Angier, Natalie. "Chemists Learn Why Vegetables Are Good for You."

New York Times 13 Apr. 1993, late ed.: C1. New York Times Ondisc.

CD-ROM. UMI-Proquest Oct. 1993.

A source from Information Access

Shearson Lehman Brothers, Inc. "Reebok: Company Report." 29 July 1993.

General Business File. CD-ROM. Information Access. Dec. 1993.

A Source from InfoTrac

Anderson, George M. "Organizing Against the Death Penalty." America 3 Jan. 1988: 10+.

InfoTrac: Student Edition. CD-ROM. Gale Group. Nov. 2000

A Source from SIRS

Paliokas, Kathleen. "Trying Uniforms on for Size." American School Board Journal

May 1996: 33-35. School. Vol. 2. Art. 46. SIRS Researcher. CD-ROM.

SIRS. Inc., 1999


Other Electronic Sources


Danford, Tom. "Monday Greetings." E-mail to Terry Craig. 13 Sept. 1993.

Newsgroup Posting

Shaumann, Thomas Michael. "Re: Technical German." 5 Aug. 1994.

Online posting. Newsgroup 7 Sept. 1994.

Material accessed through a computer service

Guidelines for Family Television Viewing. Urbana: ERIC Clearinghouse

on Elementary and Early Childhood Educ., 1990.

ERIC. Online. BRS. 22 Nov. 1993.


"Foreign Weather: European Cities." Accu-Data. Online. Dow Jones

News Retrieval. 20 Aug. 1993.

Web site - Article in an Online Newspaper, Magazine or Newswire

"Endangered Species Act Upheld." AP Online. 22 June 1998. 5 Dec. 1999



Note: the first date in an online entry, if it is available, is the "date published" and the second date is the date accessed. If there is only one date listed it is assumed it is the date accessed.

Web site - Information directly from a home page

The Hemlock Society. 14 Dec. 1999 <>

Web site - Information on a section of a site with a link from the home page

Miller, David. "Abolition of Slavery." Social Studies Help Center. 26 Jan. 2001. 29 Jan. 2001.



"NYCLU Opposes Internet Censorship in the Schools." NYCLU, New York Civil

Liberties Union. 9 Nov. 1999. 21 Dec. 1999 <>


Style and Other Hints

  • Make sure your grammar, punctuation and spelling is perfect. Have someone else read and proofread your paper for you. We often do not see our own mistakes.
  • Make sure you answer your thesis, stay organized and make sense!
  • Never use "I" or write in the first person. Always write in the third person.
  • Never begin a sentence with "because," "and," "however," or other linking words.
  • Do not wait for the last minute. Your research will be shoddy and your presentation poor.
  • Use a computer word processor. The enable you to be neat and to make changes. If you don't have one start early so you can use the computers available at school.
  • Keep your paper on disk so that you can make changes and store the disk in a safe place. You may even want to have a copy of the disk for security.
  • Make sure you organize yourself when writing the paper. Keep your notes together with the bibliographic information you will need. You don't want to forget where you found your information.
  • Do not throw anything away until after your paper has been returned, you may need to defend yourself against plagiarism.
  • Do a professional job, my expectations are very high!
  • Putting together a research paper is like a puzzle. You have to fit together all of your research, quotes and paraphrases into a well organized document.

Back To Home Page

This article discusses the teaching of K-12 social studies in the United States. Social studies is the name given to a constellation of interrelated disciplines -- including economics, political science, geography, history and civics -- that are intended to provide students an increasingly sophisticated understanding and appreciation of themselves, our society, and the experiences of others in societies around the world. The basic pattern for social studies education was established by the 1916 report of the National Education Association's Committee on Social Studies. However, in the century since social studies was established as a proper subject in U.S. public schools, many education experts have lamented that students have been subjected to a program of study that emphasizes rote memorization over critical thinking and an in-depth understanding of the subject matter.

According to a formal definition issued by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), "Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence…. The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world" (National Council for the Social Studies, 1994).

Unlike English and math, which have been fixtures on the American educational landscape since the founding of the country, social studies has a much more recent history. Its roots can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution that swept Great Britain and the United States in the early nineteenth century. Beginning with the British textile industry in the late eighteenth century, machinery began to change the way business was conducted on both sides of the Atlantic. Inventors harnessed the awesome energy of water and coal, and workers crammed into cities like London and Manchester to work in the factories that began to mass produce consumer goods.

Industrialization reached the United States as well, and one side effect was the growth of the American city. In 1860 there were only sixteen cities with a population over 50,000, but by 1900 there were seventy-eight (Walker, 1967, p. 57). Immigrants who sought a better life for themselves and their families poured into this land of plenty: ten million came between 1865 and 1890 (Johnson, 1998). "By 1890 New York had half as many Italians as Naples, as many Germans as Hamburg, twice as many Irish as Dublin, and two and a half times as many Jews as Warsaw" (Davidson, 1951, p. 407).

Such rapid industrialization did not come without a human cost, however. For the common people, political corruption, big business, and the rise of industry seemed to be conspiring -- intentionally or not -- against their happiness and the economic well-being of their families. In the context of their own lives, these realities raised some troubling questions for many Americans: How could good citizens help reduce the ills of society? How should one's quest for individual rights and economic opportunities be reconciled with the needs of society? In what ways could Americans understand their place within the world?

Social studies was the result of efforts to bring about improvements in social welfare -- one student at a time. Not surprisingly, the term "social studies" goes back a to 1887 book on conditions of urban workers, where it was proposed as a tool to improve social welfare (Saxe, 1991, p. 17). Social welfare activists understood that to enact positive changes in society at large, the individual members of that society must be taught about their roles and responsibilities as citizens. That meant education.

The first serious attempts in the United States to conceptualize the discipline that would become known as social studies began at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1896, Conway MacMillan, an education professor at the University of Minnesota, advocated the use of education to form students into social rather than non-social individuals, though he didn't use the term social studies. A year later Edmund James, president of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, called for inclusion of social studies in the public school curriculum, but he predicted that his dream would take another generation or two to become reality (Saxe, 1991, p. 21).

In 1905, Arthur E. Dunn, who would later chair the social studies Committee of the National Education Association, called for "social study" or "society study" (Saxe, 1991, p. 20). While he believed that sociology should be taught only in colleges and universities, Dunn argued that a less demanding version of sociology in the form of "social study" or "society study" should be taught in all public schools.

The first formalized proposal for "social study" was given by David Snedden, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1907. He said it should be one of the five parts of the school curriculum, along with physical education, vocational education, cultural education, and "the education which aims at general mental discipline" (Saxe, 1991, p. 14).

These early proposals were made in the context of calls from progressive educators like John Dewey to orient the educational system around the needs of the child. Dewey and others argued that the teacher should be an advisor, a "Socratic midwife," helping students give birth to their own ideas through critical inquiry (Dewey, 1916, p. 38). These educators recommended communal learning and the development of problem-solving skills over rote memorization.

Progressive ideas dovetailed with calls for social studies instruction to produce more thoughtful citizens. In 1912 the National Education Association formed the Committee on Social Science as part of its Reorganization of Secondary School Studies. By the time the committee was ready to issue its preliminary report a year later, it had renamed itself the Committee on Social Studies. The committee's dual goals were "improv[ing] the citizenship of the land" and "the development in the pupil of a constructive attitude in the consideration of all social conditions" (cited in Glasheen, 1973, p. 2). While all education was to contribute to the betterment of society, social studies was particularly focused on that aim. Generally, for the committee and for Dewey, all education "must be a part of, not apart from, society" (Glasheen, 1973, p. 36).

In its 63-page final report, issued in 1916, the 21-member committee recommended a two-cycle program of social studies for grades 7-12:

Cycle One Cycle Two Grade 7: Geography and European History Grade 10: European History Grade 8: U.S. History and Civics Grade 11: U.S. History Grade 9: Civics Grade 12: Problems of American Democracy

The members of the committee briefly covered elementary school social studies, noting that it was centered on the study of geography, social institutions, and the like. They were confident that this course of study was laying the necessary foundation for secondary school social studies.

At the time, a large number of students completed their schooling by ninth grade. The intention of the committee members was for students in grades 7-9 to gain a basic understanding of social studies in case they were completing their education, and for students in grades 10-12 to gain a more complete mastery of the material in preparation for undergraduate studies in sociology, history, political science, and other fields.

However, as a warning to those who would slavishly follow the letter of the report, the members of the committee emphasized that their guidelines were precisely that. Twice quoting a relevant passage from Dewey, the members stressed that the needs and interests of the particular students in the classroom should weigh heavily in the creation of classroom assignments and discussion topics (Glasheen, 1973, pp. 32-39). The members added that this approach would result in the mastery of material related to the topics under discussion, though not necessarily the "mastery of a comprehensive body of knowledge" (Glasheen, 1973, p. 66). More specifically, the committee recommended teaching by "the problem method" (Glasheen, 1973, p. 5), wherein teachers would ask questions to spur their students to think carefully and creatively about the topic at hand. This would enable a multidisciplinary approach to addressing a given topic. The members argued that this approach would engage young minds by drawing upon their inherent interest in events taking place around them. All of this thinking was directed toward the goal of creating a self-sacrificing, "socially efficient person" who would better society as a whole (Glasheen, 1973, p. 65).

By 1924, one-third of schools had adopted the NEA's proposal for two three-year cycles for teaching secondary school social studies (Hertzberg, 1981), and the committee's guidelines continue to dominate social studies education to this day. The typical secondary school social studies curriculum echoes that of a century ago, though with some changes to make the coursework less Eurocentric:

Cycle One Cycle Two Grade 7: World History/Cultures/Geography Grade 10: World Culture/History Grade 8: U.S. History Grade 11: U.S. History Grade 9: Civics/Government or World Cultures/History Grade 12: American Government and Sociology/Psychology

Further Insights

Constructivism vs. Objectivism

Some of the debate about the state of social studies education centers on two philosophical theories of knowledge that have often been pitted against each other: constructivism and objectivism.

Constructivism places emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches and synthesizing ideas. "Constructed knowledge is embedded in one's own authentic...

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