FAQs - National History Day (NHD) Contest Rules

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Click here to access the NHD official rulebook.  

Below are FAQs answered by the national NHD office:

Is the 500 word limit in an exhibit category separate from the 500 word limit for the process paper?

Yes, the title page, process paper, and bibliography are considered as being separate from the exhibit and do not count towards the 500-word limit for the exhibit itself.

Can you have pictures in a paper, like illustrations, graphs, etc.?

Illustrations are acceptable. Captions do not count in the word total. Make sure that illustrations are directly related to the text, and don't overdo them. The people who volunteer as paper judges tend to be quite text-based, and they're probably not going to be impressed by excessive illustrations.

Can I use a fictional 1st person in a paper or performance?

Yes. At the beginning of the "Category Rules for Papers" in the National History Day Rule Book, there is a description of papers: "A paper is the traditional form of presenting historical research. Various types of creative writing (for example, fictional diaries, poems, etc.) are permitted, but must conform to all general and category rules. Your paper should be grammatically correct and well written." The rules state, "A performance is a dramatic portrayal of your topic's significance in history and must be original in production." A performance is not simply an oral report or a recitation of facts. You can make up characters to make a broader historical point, but don't make up history. While performances must have dramatic appeal, that appeal should not be at the expense of historical accuracy.

Therefore, clearly it is possible to have fictional characters, for example, writing a fictional diary. However, you need to make sure that you cite sources just as you would for a traditional paper or in a performance. Most importantly, it still has to be good history. You can make up the character, but the circumstances and events of the character's life and which that character witnesses or participates in should be based on historical facts.

How many sources should I have for my annotated bibliography?

We can't tell you a specific number of sources, as that will vary by the topic and by the resources to which you have reasonable access. For some topics, such as the Civil War or many 20th-century US topics, there are many sources available. For other topics, such as those in ancient history or non-US history, there likely are far fewer sources available. The more good sources you have, the better, but don't pad your bibliography. Only list items which you actually use; if you looked at a source but it didn't help you at all, don't list it in your bibliography.

You do need to find both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources help you to put your topic in context, that is, to see how your topic relates to the big picture and to understand its long-term causes and consequences. Primary sources help you develop your own interpretation and make your project lively and personal.

As much as possible, your research should be balanced, considering the viewpoints of all relevant groups. That means losers as well as winners, males and females, different nations, different socioeconomic/ethnic/religious groups, etc. What balanced means will vary depending on your topic.

Do you have a question that isn't answered here or in the National History Day Contest Rule Book? Please email: nhdcoord@chestercohistorical.org for additional help.