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2. The paper

BA Art History

2.1 Preliminary research

2.1 Preliminary research
Research plan
Research question
Choice of question
Subject choice
Subject choice

During the course of the programme, you will be asked more often to choose your own research subject. It depends on the circumstances how broad that choice is: usually there are certain limits to your freedom of choice. These limits will be set by the lecturer.


The topic is not the same as the research question. The topic indicates what the research is about; the research question specifies which aspects of the topic will be investigated.

The imaginable number of research topics is infinitely large and new topics continue to arise. How do you make a choice? Your choice of topic must be based on a few points:

  • personal interest: because of prior knowledge, engagement, and so on.

  • knowledge of the field: what topics are current, controversial or underexposed?

  • knowledge of literature and sources: is there material about this topic available?

  • a realistic assessment of the scope and complexity of the topic: can the research be conducted within the available time and word count?

  • the presence or absence of certain skills: choose a subject that matches your language skills, and so on.


These five points must all be considered. To properly assess these points, a literature review is often needed to determine whether the topic is appropriate. That is the first orientation.

Research plan

Once there is a topic (either proposed by you or presented by the lecturer), it must, in most cases, be specified and defined. When you've decided what exactly you want to write about, you must ask yourself what you really want to know about this topic.

A research plan is the starting point of any research. You must pay attention to the research plan because this is the moment where you think about what you want to do exactly. A good researcher is goal oriented and knows at what point of their research they are at all times. For that, you need a plan.

What do you put in a research plan?

  1. What you are going to do​

  • the kind of research and the context in which it will be conducted

  • the intended product of your research (in this case: a paper)

  • your topic

  • your research question with further elaboration

  1. How you are going to address the research question, using which methods

  2. Why you want to do this research

  3. When you are going to do this research, so time plan or schedule


When you have chosen a topic or when a general topic is assigned, you must define your topic. Defining almost always means restricting. In fact, a substantial restriction is almost always necessary and that restriction is greater if the original topic is much broader. Very often research begins with a broad topic: the researcher begins too ambitiously. Incidentally, the process of defining as described below also takes into account expansion - but that rarely happens.

Defining is a matter of continually selecting and making choices, both in terms of the research topic, and for the period or the sources.

In all cases, keep asking yourself questions, because defining is often a matter of restricting. But not exclusively! If you start with a reasonably well-defined topic, it is also useful to take steps in the other direction, and ask: what is the broader framework of my topic? Perhaps, you will find that your topic belongs in two different areas. That can mean the start of an exciting interdisciplinary research. Always define in all directions and check at least how far you can continue your restriction (and framing). Even if you end up with a topic that is too detailed or too limited, it is still good to explore all possibilities.

Therefore, defining can be separated into two steps. The first step involves restricting the topic in the way described above. The next step is to view the restricted topic from different perspectives. First you zoom in on the topic to make it as small and doable as possible, then you look at your topic from various perspectives and contexts to find interesting questions.

As with the topic choice, while defining your topic you keep in mind:

  • your personal interest

  • knowledge of the field, so knowledge of literature and sources

  • a realistic assessment of the scope and complexity of the topic

  • the presence or absence of certain skills

It is not surprising that all these points should be involved in defining, because defining is a kind of continuing topic choice in which you specify exactly what your focus will be. While defining your topic, you will automatically refer back to the material you gathered during your initial orientation and conduct further orientating research. Nevertheless, it is good to consider defining as a separate step after choosing your topic. The definition gives you an idea of the context in which your topic exists and from the definition the exact formulation of the research questions arises.

Research question

Once you have chosen and defined a topic, you need to come up with a research question. A research question is essential to your paper. Without a research question, you cannot conduct research. People who claim to have no research question in fact do ask questions, but leave them implicit. For instance the question: 'what is there to say about...?' That is, in most cases, not a good question, but it is a question! To be able to view a question critically, it must be made explicit. It is useful to do this immediately, so that the conductor of the research, the potential supervisor and evaluator and all those who will take note of the results, all know where they stand at all times.

A topic that you think is worth researching and that, within the limitations set by you is indeed 'researchable', does not automatically result in a research. This requires a certain research question.

There are questions that lead to a more descriptive research, or to a commentary, and questions that exist on a meta level, i.e. research that looks into the interpretation of Art History.

Choice of question

Which question and what kind of question you ask depends on:

  • knowledge of the field

  • knowledge of literature and sources

  • a realistic assessment of the scope and complexity of the topic

  • the presence or absence of certain skills

It is best to let the question emerge from the research material and the research object itself. Study the object or the material carefully and formulate the questions the object itself evokes, based on your visual or textual analysis.


Formulating a research question is therefore nothing more than a further definition. To the four points mentioned above we can add that, depending on the objective of the research, one will choose a research question that will hopefully result in a new fact or insight, or one where an adequate representation of what is already known is a sufficient answer.

In the first year of the programme, you are not expected to create innovative work: you do not have to come to new insights (though you are more than welcome to of course!). In the first year, you will mostly learn how to design and write up a research. When you have successfully completed this phase of learning academic skills, you can begin formulating your own (original) ideas.
Dividing into subquestions

At some point you will have a defined topic and a research question. Now it is important to distinguish between main questions and subquestions. Sometimes the main question can be divided into subquestions. Often, however, this distinction already becomes clear (unconsciously) during the defining phase. The different viewpoints from which you can look at your topic, often already form possible subquestions.

The subquestions often already play a role from the beginning. Sometimes they will only arise during your research. Still, it is good to come up with a few subquestions in advance, because everything that contributes to your search being targeted is a bonus. Such questions are necessary to be able to distinguish between information that is relevant for your paper and information you can feel free to leave out. It is not wrong to just look around a bit: everyone can accidentally find something that proves to be very useful. But working in an unstructured manner takes time. When time is limited, and that is almost always the case, be sure you know what you want. Go to work with a set of questions that arise from the second step of the definition: viewing your topic from various perspectives.

Research plan

Making research plans is not always easy, because while making the plan, it is not entirely clear yet what you will find along the way. A plan is guiding and should therefore logically be made beforehand. But that also implies that the plan is provisional. Everything in the plan, can, at any given moment, be revised, even the topic that for instance should still be further restricted. The latter often happens. Of course while refining the plan it is not about introducing a completely new topic.

Usually, there is a deadline and it is wise to divide the period between starting the paper and the deadline and allocate a certain time period to each task. Thanks to your plan and study of the requirements you know after all exactly what those tasks are. What are the elements that should be included in the plan? Think for instance about: gathering materials, collecting, organizing, and processing data, writing the text and the final editing thereof, including one or more rounds of correction.

Dividing into subquestions
Research plan

2.2 Author guidelines  

2.2 Author guidelines

The paper should be about 2500 words excluding the title page, table of contents, preface (not required), notes, bibliography and illustrations.

The body of the text should be printed:

- in a common font, such as Times New Roman or Garamond

- font size 12

- line spacing 1,5

- margin of 3,17 cm on both sides and 2,54 cm top and bottom

- printed single sided.

The above is also true for the bibliography and the notes, except the line spacing (1,0). For the notes you can also use font size 10 or 11.

It is customary to start each chapter on a new page.

It is not necessary to start each paragraph on a new page, in fact do not do this at all. This will result in large empty spaces.


Format final paper:

The main components of the paper are: introduction, argument and conclusion. The following components should always be included in your paper, in this order:

  • Title page

  • Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Argument (divided into chapters and paragraphs with shortened footnotes placed at the bottom of the corresponding pages.)

  • Conclusion

  • Appendices (if any)

  • (numbered) Illustrations (If you are placing all illustrations together, this is the correct place in your paper. You can also insert illustrations at relevant places in the body of the text.)

  • Origin of the illustrations

  • Bibliography.


Below, each of these components of your paper will be explained. Then you will find tips for spelling and grammar in your paper.

Title and subtitle

Come up with a title that makes clear what your paper is about. Make sure that the title is consistent with the content. If you choose a very cryptic title, for instance a quote by an artist, make sure that you clarify the topic of your paper in the subtitle.

For instance:

  • Ackerman, J. “'Ars sine Scientia Nihil est': Gothic theory of architecture at the cathedral of Milan." The Art Bulletin 31 (1949): 84-111.

  • de Bodt, S. ... Op de Raempte off mette Brodse ... Nederlands borduurwerk uit de zeventiende eeuw, Amsterdam 1987. Ex. cat. Amsterdam Historical Museum, Amsterdam.

  • Ottens, E. Ik moet naar een kleinere woning omzien want mijn gezin wordt te groot: 125 jaar sociale woningbouw in Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Municipal Housing Service, 1975.

  • Koopmans, J. Muurvast & gebeiteld: Beeldhouwkunst in de bouw 1840-1940. Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers, 1994.

N.B.: The first three examples use a quote, but only in the first example this is made explicit, namely by the double quotation marks. That explains the triple quotation marks at the beginning of the title.

Title page

In the middle of the title page, mention the title and subtitle (if any) of your paper. For this you may use a larger font size than for the body of the text, for instance 16 or 18. Above or below the title and subtitle you can insert a relevant illustration.


In the lower right corner of your title page list the following on separate lines:

  •     the academic year and the semester

  •     the name of the course that you are writing the paper for

  •     the name of your lecturer

  •     your own name and your student number

  •     your university e-mail address

  •     your mobile phone number.

everything in font size 12.

Table of Contents

The first required part of your paper is a table of contents. There you list, in the right order, on which page each part starts.

Do not list the table of contents and your title page in the table of contents. The first part that must be listed is Chapter 1 of your argument. Paragraphs within chapters are also not listed in the table of contents.

Every page in your paper has a page number, even the title page. The title page thus has page number 1, even though you do not list it on that page. If you insert all your illustrations together on one page, then those pages also get page numbers.

Because the text is printed single-sided, only the 'fronts' get ('recto') a page number.


Your paper should always have an introduction in which you tell the reader what to expect.

  • You introduce the topic of your research and explain your choice of topic.

  • In short, you make clear what the research question/hypothesis is and how you will address the topic.

  • It is important that you inform the reader of the current 'state of research' (status quaestionis) of your topic and what exactly you intend to add. In other words, who has written about the topic so far and what has that specifically produced? What different ideas exist about the topic and what gaps are there in the research? Here, you refer to the most important literature that has been published to date, possibly annotated with your own critical comments. What are the historical/contemporary sources on the topic? You should mention these sources in the introduction and indicate where to find these sources.

  • It is important that you make clear to the reader how you define the research area. This avoids questions about why you pay attention to certain aspects while paying little or no attention to other aspects.

  • In your introduction, you also give a short summary of the structure of your paper.

The introduction is often the most difficult part of a paper. It is therefore wise to draft a first version as soon as possible, but write the final version last, when the rest of the paper is finished.


After the introduction comes the argument, the main part of your actual narrative. This is the core of your paper. In clear English, you must present an academic Art Historical argument in which the research issues and the results are clearly developed.


  • Do not write the text as a whole without interruption, but rather divide it into paragraphs. This enhances the clarity for yourself and the readability for the reader. You can highlight paragraphs by inserting a few spaces at the beginning, or even easier, indent with tabs. A paragraph is supposed to form a coherent whole, the content of which you can summarize in a few keywords. By using keywords to summarize what each paragraph is about, you can check whether there is a logical structure to the narrative. If you repeat yourself or refer back to something mentioned a page before, in a text of only fifteen pages, then the structure of your text is off.

  • Ensure a logical and balanced layout of the text in chapters, sections and paragraphs. A chapter is divided into sections, a section into paragraphs. Within a section you can indicate the coherence of a few paragraphs in a 'text area'. Do this by using a blank line. Title the chapters and give the sections a subheader.

  • It is important that you make sure that all sentences flow logically from the preceding sentence. This seems redundant, but too often papers are handed in where every sentence is a separate 'announcement' or a stand-alone 'statement'. The text then merely consists of individual written pieces that were 'glued' together, and the reader is left figuring out what all these pieces have to do with one another.


Do not write endlessly long sentences in which the reader gets caught up, but also try to avoid really short sentences. That makes reading unpleasant and makes the text 'short-winded'. From time to time, it is helpful to read aloud the pieces of text you have written. You will immediately hear when something sounds off, whether the sentences flow well, whether they logically follow each other and whether there are any disturbing repetitions.

  • The text should be written by you; copying passages from secondary literature will not be accepted. If you use quotes or paraphrase, you must explicitly mention the name of the writer in the text. Quote only when absolutely necessary, and that is rarely the case. You are not permitted to copy large pieces of text from someone else by way of quotation (see also Chapter 6 'Quotes and plagiarism', p.48).

  • Always be critical of everything you read and also of what you write yourself. A paper should be your argument that is based on your own observations. A patchwork of individual pieces of text with information that is uncritically copied from others is completely useless.


The paper should include a clear conclusion. The conclusion is the end of your story.

Start your conclusion with a summary of the content of the chapters of your argument. That is not all. A summary is not the same as a conclusion. Essential to a conclusion is an answer to the research question laid out in your introduction: you must return to what you promised you would do at the beginning of the paper. In the conclusion, the results of the research must be clearly visible. Note: a conclusion can only be drawn based on that which precedes it. Thus in a conclusion you may not provide new information.

A research that did not yield the results you had originally hoped for and expected is not necessarily a bad thing. A negative result is also a result. However, it is wise, in that case, to contact your lecturer-supervisor in a timely manner – that is, during the research and not after you have written the paper. It may be possible, in mutual consultation, to adjust the research question and/or the method. All the more important, in that case, is that you clearly state in your introduction and conclusion, what your original research question was and how you tried to answer it. Especially in that case, suggestions for further research are important.

A well argued original opinion and creativity in your treatment of the chosen Art Historical issue will be much appreciated.


See chapter 3, page 28



See chapter 3, page 32


Origin of the illustrations

See chapter 3, page 32



See chapter 3, page 28

Before you hand in your paper, check the spelling and grammar

The text should be written in clear and understandable English, without spelling and grammar mistakes. Tips:

  • Check whether you correctly copied the titles of the literature you used.

  • Look up strange place names in an atlas. This can prevent silly mistakes. Keep in mind that some places have a different name in another language. A notorious example is Mailand, the German name for Milan.

  • Do not use abbreviations in the body of the text. Write everything in full, so don't use: e.g., i.c.w., i.a. and etc. '2D' and '3D' should also be written in full: 'two-dimensional' or 'three-dimensional'.

  • In your paper, the only abbreviation you are allowed to use is: 'Fig.' (figure + number). In the notes and in the bibliography you are allowed to use abbreviations.

Format final paper
Title and subtitle
Titel page
Table of Contents
Before you hand it in

2.3 Evaluation criteria final paper

Evaluation criteria

We have established clear requirements your paper must meet, in order to not only facilitate your writing but also to make clear what the evaluation entails. Of course the evaluation criteria can be deduced from the aforementioned, but for the sake of completeness they are mentioned here separately.


The paper will be evaluated on:

  • the formulation of a relevant objective and research question

  • a justification for the approach

  • the answering of the research question and a coherent argument

  • the formulation of the conclusion with an evaluation of the extent to which the research question led to results and new insights, followed by recommendations for further research

  • displaying a critical-analytical ability and a resourcefulness in the collection and handling of visual material and literature

  • being able to work independently and making an original contribution

  • a good coherence between text and illustrations

  • neat, clear and correct language

  • properly compiling notes and a bibliography

  • incorporating clear illustrations and information on their origin

  • a clear layout.

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