Worksheet on Choosing a Topic

Worksheet on Choosing a Topic


Choosing a topic for any paper is a process. Completing each of the following steps (in any order), should help you choose a topic that is appropriate for the assignment.

  1. Briefly describe the library research that you did towards choosing a topic. Include at least two reference books that you used and three library card catalog subject headings that you found useful.

When I began to research my topic, I initially utilized the broad heading of the Civil War.  After deciding upon the Battle of Gettysburg and specifically Robert E. Lee’s decision to order Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, I focused my research on three specific categories –   Pickett’s Charge, Gettysburg, and Lee.  Consequently, these subdivisions represented my three card catalog subjects, thus providing me with a wealth of information.  Additionally, I approached Mr. Jack Bales who proved to be an invaluable source aiding me in my overall search for library books.  After speaking to Mr. Bales, I then utilized several books in the Reference section including – Civil War America: 1850 to 1875 and The Gettysburg Campaign:  June 3- August 1, 1863.

2. Briefly describe the internet research that you did. What words did you google successfully? Name at least one useful website. Do not include web based library card catalogs in this section.

Subsequent to narrowing down my topic to Lee’s decision to order Pickett’s Charge, I entered the words, ‘Battle of Gettysburg,’ into google and located several sites describing the overall battle and strategies adopted by both the North and the South.  However, upon closely examining the information provided, I located a phenomenal website – – which provided me with a multitude of information including first hand accounts of Pickett’s Charge. Additionally, the aforementioned website led me to several others including  After thoroughly reviewing this site, I discovered several extremely detailed maps of Pickett’s Charge. Surprisingly, these were the most accurate that I had viewed to date.  Consequently, I realized that I should rely on the links that both websites provided as opposed to solely utilizing the google search engine.

3. You should talk to at least one member of this history department about your topic, or at least an expert in your field. Name that expert and briefly describe his/her comments.

Dr. Porter Blakemore was enthusiastic and offered his commentary, as well as criticism regarding my overall topic.  Additionally, he provided me with several sources which enhanced my overall understanding of Lee’s intentions and mindset when he ordered Pickett’s Charge.  Furthermore, my advisor recommended that I research various aspects concerning Lee’s order to send approximately 15,000 Confederate troops to charge against a heavily entrenched enemy.  As a result of Dr. Blakemore’s help and guidance, I definitively pinpointed a topic, thus providing the catalyst to earnestly not only compile sources, but also research the topic at hand.

4. You must have a primary source for this paper.  Provide any pertinent information on that primary source including website and/or call number.

The primary source from my personal library, Recollections and Letters, penned by Robert E. Lee represents a compilation of the thoughts and writings of the Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Even though there does not exist one definitive author for this source, General Robert E. Lee wrote this collection of letters throughout his life; and upon, his death in 1870, his son, Captain Robert E. Lee, compiled his father’s writings. In fact, the twenty-five chapters in the book cover Lee’s entire military career, as well as his occupations and mindset subsequent to the Civil War.  Additionally, as of result of analyzing Lee’s own words and thoughts, I will obtain an enhanced appreciation and understanding of the man, as well as his military accomplishments and defeats.  This source will also help me to delve into the mindset of the Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia.

5. Are enough secondary sources available on this topic? Tell me a bit about what you found.

There exists a multitude of secondary sources written about Pickett’s Charge, as well as Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Currently, I have obtained several books from the University of Mary Washington’s library, as well as numerous secondary sources from my personal library shipped to Fredericksburg in order to aid me with the writing of this paper.  Interestingly, the sources take a definitive side in either defending Lee’s actions or attacking his mindset. As a result of that interesting split, I will be able to garner information that supported and antagonized, as well as scrutinized Lee’s every movement prior to issuing his order to charge.

6. Finally, describe your conversations with me about your topic and how your topic has evolved as a result.

When I initially approached you with a potential topic idea, it encompassed the charge of Lewis Armistead and his brigade on July 3, 1863.  After researching my proposed topic, I sadly realized that enough information did not exist. While that momentarily unbalanced my idea for a topic, I was able to keep the broad spectrum of Pickett’s Charge, while specifically analyzing the reasons that Robert E. Lee ordered the attack.

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