Guidelines for Writing Papers

  1. READ THE ASSIGNMENT. You cannot get full credit for your work unless it actually addresses the assigned topic and fulfills all of the stated requirements.
  2. DO SOME SERIOUS RESEARCH. Look at a variety of sources, both primary (contemporary with the events being considered) and secondary (written subsequently to the events being considered). Analyze each source critically: what bias(es) might it have? does it present compelling evidence to support its arguments or theories? are its arguments plausible? do its evidence and conclusions contradict those of other sources? if so, can these sources be reconciled, or are some wrong or inadequate?
  3. THINK ABOUT YOUR OWN WORK. Does your evidence support your arguments? Have you organized your material in a logical sequence? Have you made your points clearly? Do you have an interesting introduction, a well-reasoned main text, and a strong conclusion that doesn’t merely summarize the main text? Have you demonstrated independent thought, and not simply reproduced what your sources say?
  4. CHECK YOUR WRITING. Proof-read to eliminate all errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation, as well as wandering tenses, sentence fragments, clichés, and inappropriate use of colloquialisms or slang. It is your responsibility to ensure that these do not appear in your finished work. Make sure that your writing is crisp, accurate and to the point. Avoid the passive voice: Say “he did it” rather than “it was done by him.” Do not include extensive direct quotations from your sources — put such material in your own words whenever possible. Quote directly only when the original wording is essential in making your point.
  5. DOCUMENT YOUR WORK THOROUGHLY AND ACCURATELY. Presenting someone else’s work as if it were your own is plagiarism, so failing to cite your sources is a form of plagiarism. The penalty for plagiarism is an “F” or worse (it can include expulsion from the university). You must document all information and ideas, as well as direct quotations, that you take from your sources. Various conventions for bibliographic citation are in use; historians generally follow the style manuals published by the University of Chicago and by Kate Turabian. Good generic forms of bibliographic citation follow.

A. Bibliography

This is a list of all works that you consulted in the preparation of your paper, including works that you read but did not cite in your notes. Entries, which are alphabetized (but not numbered), are written in short phrases separated by periods. The main elements are: author, title, city of publication, publisher, and year of publication. Additional elements can include: editor, translator, volume, edition, page numbers, etc. Put the bibliography on a separate page at the end or your paper. Examples of various types of entries:

  1. Ordinary monograph:Carlin, Martha.

    Medieval Southwark. London and Rio Grande, Ohio: Hambledon Press, 1996.

  2. Volume in a series:Tanner, Norman P., ed.

    Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31. London: Royal Historical Society, Camden Fourth Series, 20, 1977.

  3. Multi-volume work:Moore, Norman.

    The History of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. 2 vols. London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1918.

  4. Editor(s) as author(s) (note that only the first author’s name is given in inverted order, so that the entry may be alphabetized):

    Chew, Helena M., and Martin Weinbaum, eds. The London Eyre of 1244. London Record Society, vol. 6, 1970.

  5. Edition/translation of original work:

    Pisan, Christine de. The Treasure of the City of Ladies. Trans. Sarah Lawson. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1985, Part 3, Chap. 12 (“Of the wives of labourers”), pp. 176-77.

  6. Chapter in book, or primary source excerpted or anthologized in book:

    Ficino, Marsilio. “The Golden Age in Florence” (letter to Paul of Middelburg, 1492; from Opera omnia, Basel, 1576). Trans. Mary Martin McLaughlin. In The Portable Renaissance Reader. Ed. James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin. New York: Viking Penguin, 1953; revised edn 1968, pp. 79-80.

  7. Encyclopedia article (author known):

    Gelsinger, Bruce E. “Hanseatic League.” In The Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 13 vols. Ed. Joseph R. Strayer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, for the American Council of Learned Societies, vol. 6 (1985), pp. 90-97.

  8. Dictionary or encyclopedia entry (author unknown):

    Encyclopaedia Britannica. 24 vols. 14th ed. London and New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1929, vol. 4, “Canon Law,” pp. 756-61.

  9. Journal article:

    Hill, David. “The Burghal Hidage: The Establishment of a Text.” Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 84-92.

  10. Work of literature:

    Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. In The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Ed. F. N. Robinson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1933; 2nd edn, Cambridge, Mass.: The Riverside Press, 1957; “General Prologue,” lines 1-42.

  11. Citing material from the Internet:

    Use the conventions described above under headings i-x. (You may need to scroll to the end of the online entry to obtain some or all of this bibliographical information.) Then add at the end of the citation: . [Date seen by you.] Example:

Einhard. Life of Charlemagne. Trans. Samuel Epes Turner. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1880, Chap. 22, “Personal Appearance.” [seen 25 August 2005.]

Note that many books appear in multiple editions and reprints; be sure that you accurately cite the number and date of the edition (and also date of reprint) that you are using. Also, when citing primary sources (such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), works of literature (such as Chaucer), or other works (such as the Bible) that commonly are available in multiple editions, always cite the chapters or line numbers (or any other divisions used) as well as the page numbers, so that your reader can follow your references in any edition of the work.

B. Endnotes/Footnotes

Use either endnotes or footnotes (but not parenthetical citations; see below, section D) to document your source(s). Endnotes are listed on a separate page at the end of your text; footnotes are placed at the foot of the page on which they occur. In all other respects, the format of endnotes and footnotes is identical.

Typically, each paragraph of a scholarly paper will have one or more notes. Note numbers should be in superscript font, and in Arabic numerals. Put note numbers outside all punctuation, and at the ends of sentences rather than in mid-sentence. Number all notes in strict numerical sequence, beginning with 1; do not “re-use” note numbers even if a later note contains the same information as an earlier note.

The first citation of a source in an endnote or footnote should convey the same information as in the bibliographical entry, but in a different format, as a single running sentence. Note that authors’ names are given with surname last (that is because notes, unlike entries in a Bibliography, are not alphabetized), and main elements are separated by commas. Examples:

David Hill, “The Burghal Hidage: the Establishment of a Text,” Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 84-92.

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, trans. Samuel Epes Turner (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1880), Chap. 22, “Personal Appearance,” [seen 25 August 2005].

Subsequent citations of a source in endnotes or footnotes should employ a much shorter form, of which the following are all reasonable versions:

Hill, p. 85.

Hill (1969), p. 85.

Hill, “Burghal Hidage,” p. 85.

Hill (as in n. 10), p. 85.

Use the second, third or fourth versions if you cite more than one author named Hill, or more than one work by Hill.

Notes can contain references to more than one source. Use a semicolon to separate multiple sources. Example:

Dobson, pp. 4-6; Hill, p. 90; Page, pp. 5, 18-23.

C. Abbreviations

Abbreviations of such words as “page” (p.) or “line” (l.) are doubled when they represent plurals. Thus, p. = page, but pp. = pages; l. = line, but ll. = lines; n. = note, but nn. = notes; MS = manuscript, but MSS = manuscripts; etc.

It is useful to abbreviate frequently-used titles. For example, if you cite various articles in a journal, you can streamline your citations by establishing an abbreviation at the first usage of the title:

Colin Morris, “William I and the Church Courts,” E[nglish] H[istorical] R[eview], 72 (1967), 449-463.

Helena M. Chew, “Scutage under Edward I,” EHR, 37 (1922), 321-336.

Always keep abbreviations clear, brief and consistent. For example, don’t use “Jnl.” as the abbreviation for “Journal” in one entry, and “J.” in another.

Some Latin abbreviations often used in scholarly papers:

Idem is a Latin word meaning “the same (male);” eadem means “the same (female).” They can be used in adjacent citations that repeat an author. Examples:

Derek Keene, “Medieval London and Its Region,” London Journal, vol. 4, no. 2 (1989), 99-111; idem, “The Medieval Urban Environment in Documentary Records,” Archives, 16 (1983), 137-44.

Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); eadem, “Tithe Controversy in Reformation London,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 32 (1981), 67-112.

Ibid. is short for the Latin word ibidem, which means “in the same place.” It is used when an endnote/footnote is identical to the one preceding it, except for a change in page (or line) number, as in:

David Hill, “The Burghal Hidage: The Establishment of a Text,” Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 84-92.

Ibid., p. 85.

Loc. cit. is short for the Latin phrase loco citato, which means “in the place cited.” This is used when an endnote or footnote is entirely identical to the one preceding it, including page (or line) numbers. Example:

David Hill, “The Burghal Hidage: The Establishment of a Text,” Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 85.

Loc. cit.

Op. cit. is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase opere citato (“in the work cited”). It is used to indicate that this source has already been cited at least once. Example:

David Hill, “The Burghal Hidage: The Establishment of a Text,” Medieval Archaeology, 13 (1969), 84-92.

Hill, op. cit., p. 85.

Frankly, in both of the above cases (loc.cit. and op. cit.), it is clearer simply to write: Hill, p. 85. Loc. cit. and op. cit. are seldom used at all any more.

C. (or ca.) stands for the Latin word circa, meaning “around,” and is used especially with dates or other numeric references. Example:

Jesus is thought to have been crucified c. AD 30, but the exact date is unknown.

I.e. (id est) is a Latin phrase meaning “that is.” It should always be enclosed with commas, as here:

Primary sources, i.e., sources that are contemporary with the subject under study, are essential tools for the historian.

E.g. (exempli gratia) is a Latin phrase meaning “for example” and is also set off with commas:

Some types of primary sources, e.g., diaries and personal letters, are very rare for the medieval period.

Cf. (confer) means “compare” and directs readers to a comparable case or study. It is generally used in notes rather than in the main text. Example:

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. Richard Barrie Dobson (London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 12; cf. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” ll. 4564-4587.

D. Parenthetical citations (also known as in-text citations)

These are notes that are included within the text, rather than appended as endnotes or footnotes. They are generally avoided by historians. The advantages of parenthetical citations are that they don’t make the reader go to the foot of the page or the end of the text for citations, and that they are cheap for publishers to set and print. Their disadvantages are that they are intrusive to the reader, disrupting what should be the easy flow of language and ideas; and they allow only the briefest of citations, with no discussion. They require the reader to turn to the bibliography for the complete bibliographical references.

Parenthetical citations are as terse as possible, in both wording and punctuation. Typically they include only the author’s surname, year of publication (if you cite more than one work by that author), volume number (if necessary) and page number(s). Sample usage:

The aim of this report is to analyze the information on coin hoards found in the 1985-86 excavations (Macaulay 1988). Michael Page suggests (i 6-7), that they probably were deposited during the Viking invasions of the 860s, but other scholars have questioned this (Dawson 112; Chandler 1987:13).



In the end, the point of documentation is to make your sources of information as clear as possible to the reader.

Your notes should allow the reader to learn at a glance exactly what your sources were for each segment of your paper, point by point. They should make it possible for the reader to distinguish your own original contributions from material taken from your sources. Your notes will also reveal which sources you relied on most heavily.

Your Bibliography demonstrates the breadth as well as the depth of your research. A good Bibliography is thus extremely valuable to readers since it is, in effect, a summary of all of your bibliographical research.

(Don’t let this happen to you.)

Do not add an apostrophe to form a plural: the plural of “book” is “books”; Harry and Gerry Smith are “the Smiths”.

Do not add an apostrophe to form the following possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, theirs, yours, ours. (The only possessive pronoun to require an apostrophe is “one’s”.)

In a clause containing a parenthetical phrase, put the punctuation after it, not before it (as I am doing here).

“Hopefully” means “with hope,” not “it is hoped that.” For example, it is correct to say “The dog eyed the leftovers hopefully,” but not “Hopefully it will rain tomorrow.”

Watch out for homonyms: their/there, wear/where, led/lead, your/you’re [= “you are”]], its/it’s [=”it is”], etc.

Watch out also for anachronisms. For example, don’t put expressions that are based on modern idioms, ideas, writings, technologies, or activities into the mouths of medieval people. It would be anachronistic to say: “According to medieval chroniclers, Richard I lived his life in the fast lane.” Similarly, medieval people would not have quoted either Shakespeare or modern textbooks.

Finally, say precisely what you mean, rather than approximately what you mean. Otherwise, despite all your research efforts, your finished work will be vague, unclear, awkward, flabby and boring. Here is an authentic example of student writing that is all of those bad things (as well as ungrammatical):

[The medieval London suburb of] Southwark appears to have been the site of many inns: travelers in and out of London may have stayed there during their visit, as Chaucer’s pilgrims gather for the trip to Canterbury. The usefulness of inns outside the city walls may have been increased due to some legislation in the fourteenth century that made innkeepers within the city responsible for the conduct of their non-citizen patrons.

Can you actually understand what this passage means? Much better would have been something like:

Medieval Southwark was known for its many inns. One of these was the Tabard, where Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered before setting out for Canterbury. Innkeeping developed in the fourteenth century as a characteristically suburban trade, partly in response to municipal curfew and hosting laws, which closed city gates at night and made city innkeepers responsible for the conduct of their guests.