Writing a Term Paper in Military History

by Edwin Moise

These guidelines are intended for students writing research papers for me in History 3900, History 4360/6360, History 4920/6920, and History 4990 at Clemson University. Students at other institutions might also find some of my advice useful.

Topic and Sources

Pick a topic on which you can find good sources.  Make sure before you get too deeply committed to the topic that you can actually get the sources.  It isn't enough to know the title of a good source; check and make sure you will actually be able to get your hands on a copy.
    Pick a topic on which you will be able to find primary sources.  These are accounts of the events written by people who were actually involved in them, or witnessed them.  Actual government documents are primary sources if you are studing the development of government policy.  Memoirs written by people who participated in, or witnessed, the events, are primary sources.  Newspaper articles written by reporters who covered the events are usually primary sources.  History books are usually secondary sources, not primary sources.  Even if they quote passages from the original documents, you are not seeing the whole documents, just the particular passages the historians choose to quote. 
    TV documentaries are not primary sources. They often contain good quotes from people who were involved in the events, but when the people making a documentary interview a witness, they do not normally put in the whole interview, or even a quarter of it. They just select brief sections, so what you are seeing does not count as a primary source.
    You will almost certainly need to use secondary sources quite a bit, but don't do a paper that is all or almost all based on secondary sources. I will be a lot happier if I see at least ten source notes in your paper that refer to primary sources.
    Be careful about the first few pages of books; the first ten pages are often by far the least accurate part of a book on warfare. An author writing about a topic he or she really knows will often start off by writing an introduction about the historical background--about what had been happening in the years before the period that the author really knows about. Students like these introductions because they provide nice, neat summaries of events. But they are often seriously inaccurate.
    If there is only one good book on the topic you want to write about, forget it and find another topic.  You want to write a paper in which you put together information from a bunch of different sources. I would suggest the following rough guideline for the number of sources you should use. Count two points for each primary source (example: a general's memoirs); count one point for each secondary source (a book such as Keegan's book on Normandy, written by a historian on the basis of primary sources); count zero points for each tertiary source (example: an encyclopedia or a textbook of American History). On this scale, you should if possible have ten points or more. But this is only a rough guideline, not an absolute quota.
   I tend to get unhappy if I see too many source notes citing books, whether they are primary or secondary sources, that were assigned texts in the course you are taking.
   Interviews can be very good primary sources, but if you are using material from interviews, try also to get printed sources that cover the same events so you can compare the information you are getting from the interview with the information about the same events that you find in printed sources.

Judge Sources

Judge the validity of your sources.  Don't just assume that if your source says something, it must be true. If one of your sources (primary or secondary) says something that is wrong or makes no sense, notice this, and comment on it.  If your sources disagree with one another, take sides: explain why you think this one is right and that one is wrong.
   Please bear in mind that Wikipedia is not a very reliable source.

Make clear what is going on

Don't just give a bunch of details without explaining what the overall situation is.  If you are talking about some people attacking a position, then before you give the details of the attack, you need to give a good clear description of the position they were attacking.
   If you are giving background to the events, focus on aspects of the background that actually help to explain the events. This usually means focusing on the short-term background, not the long-term background. If your paper is about what a general did in a certain battle, then it is unlikely to be useful to explain where the general was born or where he grew up. It is much more likely to be useful to explain where he was and what he was doing one day before the battle, and one week before the battle.


If you are talking about things that happened in particular locations, you probably need maps to show those locations.  It is OK if you just xerox the maps out of books, but after you have xeroxed them, look at them and ask yourself whether they make clear the things you are talking about in your paper.  If they don't, mark them up with colored pens or magic markers.  Mark in arrows, or highlight the place names that are important to your paper.

Quotes and Notes

Anything that is word-for-word out of one of your sources must be clearly labeled as a quote (either use quotation marks or make it an indented block quote), AND must have a note giving the source. A source note is NOT a substitute for quotation marks.
     Don't use too much quoted material. Most things you should be putting into your own words. But if someone has already found the exact right words to say something, you can quote instead of rephrasing. The times it is most important to quote is when you are using other people's words as evidence of something. It may be more convincing as evidence if you quote the exact words. This is particularly true if you are saying somebody has written something silly. Quote the exact words, so the reader will be able to tell that the person really did write something that silly.
     When you are not quoting, I still want you to give enough notes telling where you got ideas and information to give me a good general idea of what types of sources you were using for what sections of the paper.  I would like ten or more notes referring to primary sources.  Give notes if you think I might be curious about the source.  This is especially important if there are things in your paper that I think are not true; if I can go to the library and check your source, then it might convince me that you really are correct, or at least that your source gave you good reason to think what you thought.  (Please return the books you used to the library as soon as you hand in your paper, so I will be able to do source note checks.)
     I am flexible about notes; you can use footnotes, or endnotes, or you can just put something in the text like this (Herrington, p. 119).  Notes should almost always specify particular page numbers, not just identify a book or article.  If your notes are not at the end of your paper, you must have a bibliography.
     When you cite something, make sure it is clear what you are citing. For example, on page 548 of the book Into the Storm, by Clancy and Franks, there is a quote from the regimental log of the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, February 26, 1991. If you cite this in your term paper you will need to tell me that it is the regimental log of the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, February 26, 1991, and that you found it in Clancy and Franks, p. 548.
     If you cite a statement made by a particular person, please tell me, if you can, who that person was. For example, if you are writing a paper on the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, and you quote or cite Larry Gwin, make sure that anyone reading your paper will be able to tell that Gwin was an officer, and will be able to tell which battalion Gwin was in (the 2/7 Cavalry).
     This is especially important when you are citing a primary source. If you cite a book by a particular author, and you want me to give you credit for this as a primary source, you need to tell me what role the author played in the events, so I will know that the author was actually involved in them.
     When you cite a source that you found on the Internet, you should tell me where you found it on the Internet and also tell me what it is. I don't just want to see
     I want to see
Lieutenant Colonel John R. Galvin, "The Relief of Khe Sanh," Military Review, January 1970 http://calldbp.leavenworth.army.mil/eng_mr/txts/VOL50/00000001/art11.pdf


Academic integrity requires that we not try to pass other people's work off as our own. The things that have happened on term papers that led me to file charges of academic dishonesty against students, in past years, have been:

Re-Using Papers

While it is not exactly plagiarism for you to turn in a term paper in my course that is indentical or very closely similar to on you have done in another course (in the same semester or a previous semester), it is not acceptable unless you have discussed the matter with me and obtained my permission.


After you have written your paper, read it over and see what needs changing.  Is the language clear?  Do your sentences fit together correctly, or do you have singular nouns with plural verbs, dangling participles, and so on? Are your paragraphs in the right order, or do you need to rearrange them to make your paper fit together as a coherent whole? Are there unnecessary words that can be deleted, to make your paper simpler and more straighforward? Then read it over again. AND AGAIN.
    Do you have the right details?  One of the most important skills that students need to develop in writing is choosing which little detailed fact actually will illustrate or prove the point the student is trying to make, and which words really need to be quoted word-for-word, to show exactly what the source was saying.


If you run into problems or if you have questions, come and ask me in my office, or phone me at home.  The University pays me to help you with this stuff. It is a shame not to use my services.

Source Suggestions

If you are doing any battle or campaign of the Civil War, you should use The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. These huge collections of documents contains the reports and orders written by officers of both sides in the war. You should use a lot of different documents from these collections, not just three or four documents. They are on level 3 of the library, call numbers
W 45.5: [for the armies]
W 45.6: [for the navies]

Bibliography of the Vietnam War: If you are thinking of doing a term paper on the Vietnam War, you should check this bibliography to get ideas about sources you could use.

Bibliography of the Iraq Wars: If you are thinking of doing a term paper on either the First (1991) or the Second (2003- ) US-Iraq War, you should check this bibliography to get ideas about sources you could use.

There is a useful web page "Using Primary Sources on the Web" written by the American Library Association.

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), based at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, has recently been publishing a considerable amount of good scholarship on the Cold War, and English translations of documents recently released from Chinese and Russian archives. There is quite a lot on the Korean War, and some on other aspects of the Cold War. Most of this material is available at CWIHP web sites.
CWIHP Publications. Combined Arms Research Library of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

There are many topics for which the published transcripts of congressional committee hearings can be useful sources. The published transcripts are often accompanied by considerable amounts of documentation, or the documents may even be published without the excuse of a hearing. Transcripts of important committee hearings, if not classified, are usually published by the Government Printing Office (GPO), in Washington.  In the Clemson University Library, these are located on Level 3 (one floor down from where you come in), and usually have call numbers starting with Y 4.

The GPO issues monthly and annual subject indexes to its publications, and you can also do a search of recent ones on the GPO web site.. But for the years from 1970 onward, the index published by the Congressional Information Service (CIS) is better. For each year since 1970 CIS has published two volumes. One, titled Abstracts, has all the hearings published that year, arranged by committee. The other, Index, is the subject index. Look up whatever you are after, such as "Laos" or "Colby, William" in the Index, and you will see a list of items. If one looks as if it might be interesting, look it up in the Abstracts to get a more detailed description, and the call number that will let you find it on the shelf (at least in most cases) two floors up on Level 3. Bear in mind that a hearing held in one year may be published in a later year. (In the Clemson University Library, the CIS volumes have recently been moved down to Room 104, with a sign "Abstracts" by the door, in the back on the lowest floor of the library. The last time I checked, these volumes were in the middle aisle, right side, but I presume the room will soon be reorganized; when that happens, look for them under call number KF 49 .C62. They may be moved again when the current renovation program is completed.)

Foreign Relations of the United States is a huge compilation of documents on U.S. foreign policy, including wartime policy, published by the State Department. Bound volumes are on level 3 of the library, call number S 1.1: The series provides very thorough coverage of U.S. policy in the Vietnam War, and somewhat less thorough coverage of earlier wars.
                The State Department has been making the complete texts of recent volumes available through the Internet, at its
Foreign Relations of the United States web site.
The University of Wisconsin has made many of the older volumes available online at its own
Foreign Relations of the United States web site.

U.S. Army Oral Histories: The U.S. Army War College and the Military History Institute associated with it have had a variety of oral history programs over the years, including the Senior Officers Debriefing Program, the Senior Officers Oral History Program, and others. An impressive number of oral histories from these various programs have recently been placed online in the Army Heritage Collection Online,

An impressive number of books and documents on the history of the U.S. Army Medical Corps have been placed online in the Medical Corps' Books and Documents site. Some of these (particulary some of the memoirs) might have relevance for research in some topics other than medical care.

Military Journals: There are a number of U.S. military journals people might find useful, many of which can be found in the Clemson library (see further comments at the end of this page). Such journals include:

ADA Magazine. Fort Bliss, Texas: U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School. Formerly titled Air Defense Trends (1968- ), then Air Defense Magazine (1976-1982), then Air Defense Artillery (1983-1990) (Clemson has only a handful of issues, call number, on level 3 of the library, D 101.77: ). Publication on paper appears to have ceased at the end of 1997; it was replaced by ADA Magazine Online in 1998. Issues from Winter 1998 to April 2001 can be found at an ADA Magazine Online Archives. There is another ADA Magazine Online Archives containing the issues from May 2001 to September 2006. The print publication came back as Air Defense Artillery at some point--at least issues seem to have been published in 2005 and 2006, and are also available online, but it was terminated at the end of 2006. The plan is for the print publication to merge with that for the Field Artillery School under the title Fires Magazine, to begin publication at some point in 2007. There will continue to be an online publication from the Air Defense Artillery School, Air Defense Artillery Online.

Army. Washington, D.C.: Association of the U.S. Army. Call number, on level 6 of the library,
U1 .A7

Army History: "The Professional Bulletin of Army History" Fort McNair, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History. A typical issue has a couple of long articles, not a lot of short ones. Call number, on level 3 of the library,
D 114.20:

Aviation Digest. The monthly professional journal of US Army helicopter forces. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 101.47:

Armor. Fort Knox, Kentucky: U.S. Army Armor School. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 101.78/2:

Field Artillery. Fort Sill, Oklahoma: U.S. Army Field Artillery School.
D 101.77/2:
The Clemson library does not seem to have paper copies for years before 1997. This journal began in 1911 under the title The Field Artillery Journal, and it has been published intermittently under various titles for most of the years since then. Issues all the way back to the beginning are available on a nicely organized web site (you can choose to access a whole issue in one very large .pdf file, or an individual article) through the Field Artillery archives page. The titles include:
      The Field Artillery Journal (1911- )
      Artillery Trends
      The Field Artilleryman
      Field Artillery

Infantry. Fort Benning, Georgia: U.S. Army Infantry School. Tables of contents for issues since 1982, with actual links to the texts of articles in issues since 1988, can be found on the Infantry web site. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 102.83:

Marine Corps History magazine, formerly Fortitudine, published quarterly. The new version has more pages per issue, and more per article, than the old. Current and past issues are available though Marine Corps History and Fortutudine web pages at Marine Corps University.

Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin. Fort Huachuca, Arizona: U.S. Army Intelligence Center. Some issues used to be available online at a U.S. Army web site, but this appears no longer to be the case. Some have been placed online at a website of a private-sector organization, the Federation of American Scientists. The Clemson University Library has the issues from 1997 through 2005 on the shelf.
D 101.84:

Military Review. "Professional Journal of the US Army." Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: US Army Command and General Staff College. Publication began in 1922. There is an index giving a table of contents for every issue on a Fort Leavenworth web site. This index has links to the individual texts of the articles all the way back to 1922. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 110.7:

Parameters. "Journal of the U.S. Army War College." Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College. Publication began in 1971; Clemson's holdings begin 1977.
D 101.72:

Quartermaster Professional Bulletin. A quarterly publication. Issues since 1995 are available online in its Archive File.

Special Warfare. Fort Bragg, N.C.: John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Issues since 1990 are online at the Special Warfare Archives.
D 101.124:


Air University Review, "The Professional Journal of the United States Air Force." Published by the Air University, Maxwell AFB, 1947-1987. (It was replaced in 1987 by Airpower Journal, in 1999 by Aerospace Power Journal, and in 2002 by Air & Space Power Journal--see below.)
D 301.26:

Airpower Journal, Aerospace Power Journal. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 301.26/24:

Air & Space Power Journal Index. This is a complete subject index to articles published since 1987 in the journal, published by the U.S. Air Force Air University, at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, now called Air & Space Power Journal, formerly Airpower Journal (1987-1999) and Aerospace Power Journal (1999-2002). The texts of the articles are available online. Some of the ones relevant to the conflicts in the Persian Gulf are:

Arkin, William M. "Baghdad: The Urban Sanctuary in Desert Storm?" Vol. XI, No. 1 (Spring 1997): 4-20.
Bingham, Lt Col Price T. "Air Power in Desert Storm and the Need for Doctrinal Change," Vol. V, No. 4, (Winter 1991): 33-46.
Clodfelter, Maj Mark, "Of Demons, Storms, and Thunder: A Preliminary Look at Vietnam's Impact on the Persian Gulf Air Campaign," Vol. V, No. 4, (Winter 1991): 17-32.
Downer, Brig Gen Lee A., "The Composite Wing in Combat," Vol. V, No. 4, (Winter 1991): 4-16.
Drew, Col Dennis M. "Desert Storm as a Symbol: Implications of the Air War in the Desert," Vol. VI, No. 3, (Fall 1992): 4-13.
Drew, Col Dennis M., USAF, Retired, "The Essence of Aerospace Power: What Leaders Need to Know," Vol. XV, No. 2 (Summer 2001) pp. 23-31.
Fedorchak, Maj Scott A. "Air Operations Must Be Joint," No. 1 (Spring 1995): 79-87.
Finelli, Frank, "Transforming Aerospace Power," Vol. XIII, No. 2 (Summer 1999): 4-14.
FitzGerald, Mary C. "The Soviet Military and the New Air War in the Persian Gulf," Vol. V, No. 4, (Winter 1991): 64-78.
Garrard, Col Mark USAF, "War Termination in the Persian Gulf: Problems and Prospects," Vol. XV, No. 3 (Fall 2001): 42-50.
Gilster, Dr Herman L. "Desert Storm: War, Time, and Substitution Revisited," Vol X, No.1 (Spring 1996): 82-93
Gunzinger, Lt Col Mark A. "Airpower as a Second Front," No. 3 (Fall 1995): 63-73.
Hammond, Dr. Grant T. "Myths of the Gulf War: Some "Lessons" Not to Learn," Vol. XII, No. 3 (Fall 1998): 6-18.
Hicks, 2d Lt Jeffrey J. and  Maj Brent J. Talbot, "Led by a Lion: The US Role in Preserving Gulf Security,"  Vol. XIV, No. 2 (Fall 2000): 77-95.
Humphries, Lt Col John G. "Operations Law and the Rules of Engagement in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm," Vol. VI, No. 3, (Fall 1992): 25-41.
Lohide, Maj Kurtis D. "Desert Storm's Siren Song," No. 4 (Winter 1995): 100-110.
Owen, Col Robert C. "Aerospace Power and Land Power in Peace Operations: Toward a New Basis for Synergy," Vol. XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1999): 4-22.
Smith, R. C. "Coalition Air Defense in the Persian Gulf," Vol. I, No. 2 (Fall 1987): 28-39.
Wojtysiak, Lt Col Martin, USAF, "Another View of the Myths of the Gulf War," Aerospace Power Journal, Vol. XV, No. 3 (Fall 2001): 51-59.

Airman, "Official Magazine of the U.S. Air Force." Monthly, published by the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.
D 301.60:

Air Force Journal of Logistics. Published quarterly by the Air Force Logistics Management Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
D 301.91:


Leatherneck: Magazine of the Marines. This monthly magazine is published by the Marine Corps Association, which is nominally a private organization, but has its offices on the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. The Clemson library only started getting this a couple of years ago. A lot of articles have been appearing about the Marines' involvement in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf conflicts. Call number, on level 1 of the library:
D731 .L4


Naval Aviation News. Washington, DC: Navy Department. Publication apparently began in 1920. NOTE: shorter articles may not be mentioned in the table of contents just inside the cover of the magazine. Issues since late 1996 available online at Naval Aviation News. Call number, on level 3 of the library:
D 202.9:

Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute. The monthly professional journal of the U.S. Naval officer corps, with the Marines also included to a significant extent. Call number, on Level 6 of the library:
V1 .U8

Naval War College Review. Issues since 1996 are available online. Bound volumes on Level 3 of the library, call number:
D 208.209:


Joint Force Quarterly. Published for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. All issues are available online, beginning with issue #1 (Summer 1993).


Huge collections available online through Clemson University: There are now commercial services making available online, for a fee, huge amounts of documents of various sorts. Clemson University has paid the fees for a lot of these collections, so you can access them if you are browsing the Internet through the Clemson University computer system, going through the Library's web pages. (If you are reading this from some university other than Clemson, your institution probably has a fairly similar system. Check and find out what is available to you.) There are far more than I can discuss here, but I particularly thought I would mention:


Edwin Moise's Home page

All opinions expressed on this page are my own, although I am sure Clemson University agrees with at least a few of them, such as that plagiarism is bad.

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018, Edwin E. Moise.

Revised March 8, 2018.