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Getting Started Guide

View Getting Started page on the National History Day website.

It is best to choose your topic before choosing your means of communicating your research (exhibition, paper, documentary, website, or performance). Your research and thesis should drive the category you choose. For example, for a documentary, you will need moving images and visual sources, so it will be challenging if you choose an event that happened before photography or film was available.

Once you choose the type of entry you will develop, be certain to review the  NHD contest rule book. Documentaries and performances are limited to 10 minutes and there are word limitations for papers and exhibitions, for example.

To register, view the School Participation Information section on the previous page. 

Tips for Participants 


Use a variety of different sources…the sky is truly the limit. Different sources might include: books, letters, pictures, magazines, articles, videos, music, journals/diaries, recordings…the list goes on and on.
Visit an archive to do research. While many sources will be available locally and online, unique sources can be found in archives which makes historical research exciting.

Archives in West Virginia include:

  • Robert C. Byrd Center, Shepherdstown
  • West Virginia & Regional History Center, Morgantown
  • West Virginia State Archives, Charleston

When you conduct research in an archive, you are viewing one-of-a-kind sources, that cannot be checked out. Most archives will require you to use pencils and sign in upon arrival. Many archives will have a portion of their collections scanned and available on-line.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers is a free database that enables users to read historic local and regional American newspapers from the 1830s to 1922 created through a partnership of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Library of Congress. 

Learn more about Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

When creating your project, always include historic context...what else important was happening in the world while your project topic occurred? Keep in mind that historical context cannot simply be conveyed in a timeline. In general, secondary sources will help to better understand historical context.

For more information on how to cite sources, create a bibliography, and understand the difference between a primary and secondary source, visit the  NHD website.


View documentary project guide on National History Day website.

Your ability to include original sound recordings and moving images is important to developing a strong documentary. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds several resources and many are available on-line. 

In general, NARA will have unpublished film and sound recordings and the Library of Congress will have photographs (which are considered a published source).


–  View exhibit guide on National History Day website.

Careful selection of materials to display on your exhibit is key to your success. You must be able to justify the significance of everything on your display and why it is important to proving your thesis.

There is a 500 word limit for all student-composed text that appears on exhibitions, however, this should not prevent you from captioning your photographs, images, and documents you have on your display. Captions need to identify what it is that your viewer is looking at, but more importantly, why it deserves space in your exhibit. Why is this significant? Judges only have about 10 minutes to review your work and will not have time to read copies of original documents. It’s up to you, as the historian, to summarize its significance.

Avoid too much extraneous supplemental material. Judges do not need to see oral history transcripts, copies of books you read, or irrelevant props. Oftentimes, students are excited about their primary source finds and what to show them off. A citation in the bibliography and appropriate selections from the sources incorporated into your exhibition will demonstrate to judges your keen research skills.

Be certain that your thesis is stated clearly.

Make sure your font is clear and of a readable size. (20 point font works best if possible)
Do not use colored ink.

Your exhibition will look more professional if you mount your labels on foam core.


View paper guide on National History Day website.


View performance guide on National History Day website.

Your costume and set design research needs to be included in your bibliography. For example, if you studied photographs of flappers from the 1920s to design your costume, you should cite those photos as primary sources. If you listened to a sound recording to create a specific dialect, you should include it as well.


View website project guide on National History Day website.