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Chicago Metro History Fair Research Paper Rules
Chicago Metro History Fair Research Paper Rules PDF Print E-mail
rulebook papers

The research paper allows students to develop a historical argument in a lengthy written form.

newThe NEW Research Paper Category Rules

Wondering what has changed? Read the Summary of the New Rules and Clarifications.


Download the NEW Research Paper Rule Book

Paper Category Rules

A History Fair paper is a traditional research paper offering a historical argument with supporting evidence.

Paper Rules

  • Papers are written only by individuals, not groups.
  • Papers are 1,500-2,500 words in length (about 8-11 double-spaced pages). Please note that all words or numbers in the text of the paper count as one word each. This includes student-composed text as well as quotations from primary or secondary sources. The word limit does not apply to citations, the outline or Summary Statement, the Annotated Bibliography, illustration credits, and appendix material. The word count must be provided on the paper’s title page.
  • The paper is preceded by a title page (title, student name, division/category, and word count only), Summary Statement, and outline. It concludes with an Annotated Bibliography, which is divided between primary and secondary sources.
  • Citations must be included as endnotes, footnotes, or parenthetical citations. Citations should be provided for paraphrased ideas, as well as direct quotations. Both Turabian and MLA styles are acceptable; whatever style is selected, be consistent.
  • Papers are printed (one-sided) on plain white 8.5 x 11 inch paper with one-inch margins on all sides and page numbers. Use an easy-to-read 10 or 12 point font and double-space text in the body of the paper. Staple all materials together — no binders.

Paper Competition Notes

Submit two complete sets to the History Fair office by the contest deadline — note that the paper deadline may be different than the deadline for other categories. Each set includes the following, stapled together:

  • Title page with project title, name, division, category, and word count
  • Summary Statement and outline
  • Research paper
  • Proper citations (footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations)
  • Appendix material (optional)
  • Annotated Bibliography [See “Required Materials” ]

Paper Guidelines

[See "History Fair Project Guides" and "Research Papers" for further guidance.]

  • Appendices are allowed but not required. If included, appendix material must be referred to within the text of the paper. Extensive supplemental materials are inappropriate. Use of appendices should be very limited and may include photographs, maps, charts, and/or graphs that are needed to provide evidence or explanation for a point made in the paper. Oral history transcripts, correspondence, questionnaires, and other primary/secondary materials should be cited in the bibliography but are not typically included as appendices. Do not send original sources—CMHEC is not responsible for loss of originals.
  • Brief source credits do not count toward the word count, but interpretive/analytical captions do count.
  • A Summary Statement and outline are required for research papers. History Fair no longer requires a separate thesis page for papers; the thesis should be embedded in the paper’s introduction.
  • The judging process for research papers follows a different evaluation schedule than other History Fair projects. Paper entrants will, however, have an opportunity to share their work at the regional competitions. Papers are eligible for all awards and scholarships.


High School papers that violate the rules will be subject to penalty point deductions. Junior Division papers will not receive separate penalties.

  • Exceeds word/page limitations: Minus 2 points for each full page over 11 pages (11 pages is the approximate length of a 2,500-page paper)
  • No Summary Statement: Minus 10 points
  • No outline: Minus 5 points
  • Bibliography not annotated: Minus 5 points
  • No citations: Minus 5 points
  • No bibliography: 0 points in sources category

Rules for All Categories

  • Exhibits, documentaries, websites, and performances may be completed individually or by a group of 2-5 students. Papers are individual only. All students in a group entry must be involved in the research and interpretation of the group’s topic.
  • Topics must connect with Chicago or Illinois history in order to advance to the state contest. Non-Illinois topics are permitted at the regional and finals competitions.
  • Teachers often require integration of the National History Day theme, but the theme is not required by the Chicago Metro History Fair. Projects registered as “NHD eligible” will be assessed on how well their project integrates the NHD theme.
  • Students may research, create, and enter only one project each year. Sharing research in multiple projects is not permitted. Revising or reusing an entry from a previous year—whether one’s own or another student’s—may result in disqualification.
  • Entries submitted for competition must be original and have been researched and developed in the current contest year.
  • Students are responsible for the research, design, and creation of their own project, as well as operating their own equipment and materials. Students may receive advice from adults on the mechanical aspects of creating an entry and/or reasonable help necessary for safety, but the work must be completed by students. Feedback on the student’s work is permissible (help proofreading; suggestions or questions based on the student’s ideas, etc.). Materials created by others specifically for use in the entry violate this rule.
  • Each project is required to have a Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography.[See “Required Materials” ]
  • Word counts must be provided for exhibits, websites, and papers. Time lengths must be provided for documentaries and performances.
  • Exhibits, performances, and documentaries will be judged and interviewed at the public competitions. Papers and websites are judged in a separate stream, which may have different deadlines for submission. Paper and website entrants will have an opportunity to share their projects at the competitions.
  • Interviews: Students should not prepare a formal, verbal presentation; however, they should plan to respond to questions posed by judges. The interviews are important to the History Fair experience, but the entry is judged on its merits alone.
  • Plagiarism is unacceptable, and constitutes grounds for disqualification. [Seewww.plagiarism.org for further guidance.]
  • Items potentially dangerous in any way—such as weapons, firearms, animals, etc.—are strictly prohibited.
  • The Fair Use Doctrine allows students to use pre-existing materials (photos, footage, music, etc.) for educational purposes, including student productions like History Fair; therefore, students need not seek formal permissions within the context of the competition. However, if the project is shown in non-educational settings, then permissions should be sought as appropriate.
  • Teachers may have additional rules/restrictions for the History Fair at individual schools. Students should comply with all rules set by their teacher.

Required Materials

All projects must include an Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement. In the bibliography, each source should be annotated with a short description of how the student used that source. The bibliography must be divided between primary sources (sources from the time period or written by someone with firsthand knowledge) and secondary sources (sources written after the time period, typically by a historian). Bibliographies must follow either the Turabian or MLA style format. Include all sources that contributed useful information, perspectives, or visuals, but not necessarily every source consulted. Annotations may describe why students placed the source as primary/secondary if it is not immediately obvious; and, in the case of web sources, may also describe who sponsors the site. Bundle photos or other materials from the same collection into a single citation. Cite oral history transcripts, questionnaires, or other supplementary materials in the bibliography—do not provide copies of them. Students must acknowledge all sources used in the development of the entry in the annotated bibliography in order to avoid plagiarism.

The Summary Statement provides the project’s thesis, a summary of the argument, and information about the development of the project. The form is available on the History Fair website. Except for websites, the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography should be printed on plain, white paper and stapled together. The Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement are not included in the word count.


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