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
(2017 Update)

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paper rules

Paper Category Rules

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

  • Papers are written only by individuals, not groups.
  • Papers are 1,500-2,500 words in length. Please note that all words or numbers in the text body count toward the word limit. This includes student-composed text as well as quotations. The word limit does not apply to citations, Summary Statement, the Annotated Bibliography, illustration credits, and appendix material. The word count must be provided on the paper’s title page.
  • Citations must be included as either endnotes, footnotes, or parenthetical citations. Citations should be provided for paraphrased ideas, as well as direct quotations. Both Turabian and MLA styles are acceptable, but Turabian is preferred. 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 10 or 12 point font and double-space text in the body of the paper.
  • Submit two complete sets to the History Fair office by the contest deadline. Electronically submitted papers are not accepted.
  • Each set submitted to the History Fair office for judging includes the following, stapled together (no binders):
1. Title page with project title, name, division, category, and word count
2. Summary Statement
3. Research paper (text body)
4. Proper citations (footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations)
5. Appendix material (optional)
6. Annotated Bibliography

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. 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.
  • If images are used within the paper or an appendix, the words on analytical captions count, but brief source credits do not.
  • The judging process for research papers follows a different evaluation schedule than other History Fair projects and interviews are optional.


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 1 point for every 100 words.
  • No Summary Statement: Minus 10 points
  • Bibliography not annotated: Minus 5 points
  • No citations: Minus 5 points
  • No bibliography: 0 points in sources category

Rules for All Categories

All History Fair projects must comply with these rules AND the specific rules for each category which follow.

  • Topics must connect with Chicago or Illinois history in order to advance to the state contest. Non-Illinois topics are only permitted at the regional and finals competitions.
  • Projects competing to advance to National History Day must connect to Chicago/Illinois history and use the NHD theme.
  • Projects registered as “NHD eligible” will be assessed on how well their project integrates the NHD theme.
  • Students may 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—will 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 production of their own project, as well as operating their own equipment and materials, including any narration. 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. Materials created by others for use in the entry violate this rule.
  • Each project is required to have a Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography. [See “Required Materials” for more details.]
  • Word counts must be provided for exhibits, websites, and papers. Time lengths must be provided for documentaries and performances.
  • Plagiarism is unacceptable, and constitutes grounds for disqualification. [See for further guidance.] Items potentially dangerous in any way—such as weapons, firearms, animals, etc.—are strictly prohibited.
  • Do not place school name on projects, nor give in interviews.
  • 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. Website and paper interviews are optional.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Required Materials

All projects must include an Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement. Bibliographies must follow either the Turabian or MLA style format. Turabian is preferred. 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).

Students must acknowledge all sources used in the development of the project in the Annotated Bibliography in order to avoid plagiarism.

Include all sources that contributed useful information, perspectives, or visuals. Annotations may explain why students placed the source as primary/secondary if it is not immediately obvious; and, in the case of web sources, note its credibility. 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.

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, where the Summary Statement and Annotated Bibliography should be printed on plain, white paper and stapled together and brought to the event with the project. The Annotated Bibliography and Summary Statement are not included in the word count.


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