So I said I’d be back in January with a more conventional blog. While this is much more conventional, it is no longer January.   Many of you are working on your Internal Assessments so that seems to be a good subject for this posting.  However, I could probably write an IA-length post on the IA, so I am going to focus solely on the research question for now.

The plan of the investigation is the first part of the IA that will be read.  It worth 3 points – which may not seem like much out of 25, but it is here that you lay the foundation for the entire assignment.   A good plan predisposes the essay to successful treatment.  The plan is divided into the research question, and scope and method of the investigation.

The key to a successful IA is an appropriate research question.  If you know the topic you want to study that is great and you can move forward.  If you don’t, take some time to think about what interests you.

So, let’s say you are interested in Pope John Paul II’s role in the end of the Cold War.  That is a good topic but you still have more work to do.

The topic must lend itself to historical analysis, so simply asking ‘What was Pope John Paul II’s role in the end of the Cold War’ will tend to end up as narrative with limited analytical opportunities or content.  It might do well in some of the sections but it will not do well in others.  If your response turns into a list or a 1-sentence answer, you need to work on the question further.   It is helpful to look over the history command terms: “To what extent”, “Analyze”, or “Evaluate” are going to help focus the assignment on the necessary components.  After looking these, you may decide that “To what extent was Pop John Paul II responsible for the end of the Cold War” is better.

As your research progresses, you probably find a lot of analytical content but you are having problems with concrete details.  There are just too many of them to put into a coherent framework.  So, you need to narrow the subject even further.  And, you realize you found his visits to Poland very interesting.  So, finally, after a lot of research, and thinking about the research, you end up with, “To what extent were Pope John Paul II’s visits to Poland responsible for the collapse of communism in Poland”?  That question much more specific than your starting point and can be treated well in 2000 words.

Whew!  That seems like a lot of work just for a research question, but along the way, you have evaluated sources, conducted research and found different historical viewpoints on the question.  As long as you have been taking notes along the way, you are now really far along in the process.  Just by developing a good research question.