On this page are the rules which apply to all categories of history fair competition. These rules are known as "Part III" of the offical NHD rule book. Every project must adhere to these rules, as well as to the rules specific to the category in which it is entered.

This is a long page, but you must be sure to read it all and understand it. You must also read and understand the rules for your chosen project category. If you have any questions, contact the HOTRHF office via e-mail or telephone (254) 710-3783.

The National History Day rules have been included on the HOTRHF website has a convenience. All participants are strongly encouraged to download and read the official NHD Contest Rule Book available at

General Rules For All Entries

Rule 1: Annual Theme

Your entry must relate clearly to the annual theme and explain your topic’s significance in history.

Rule 2: Contest Participation

You may participate in the research, preparation, and presentation of only one entry each contest year. You may share research with up to four other students who are fellow participants in your group entry. You may not create a common pool of research from which several entries are developed.

Rule 3: Individual or Group Entries

A paper, individual exhibit, individual performance, individual website, or individual documentary must be the work of only one student. A group exhibit, group performance, group website, or group documentary must be the work of two to five students. All students in a group entry must be involved in the research and interpretation of the group’s topic. Once a group project enters a competition (regional or affiliate), additional students may not be added or replaced at that or subsequent competitions within a contest year.

Rule 4: Development Requirements

Entries submitted for competition must be original and have been researched and developed in the current contest year. Revising or reusing an entry from a previous year-whether it is yours or another student's-will result in disqualification. The contest year begins each June, following the National Contest.

Rule 5: Construction of Entry

You are responsible for the research, design, and creation of your entry. You may receive help and advice from teachers and parents on the mechanical aspects of creating your entry, such as typing your paper and other written materials. You may seek guidance from your teachers as you research and analyze your material, but your conclusions must be your own. You may have reasonable help preparing your project.

Examples of reasonable help include:

  • a teacher instructs you in how to use an editing software program
  • a parent uses a cutting tool to cut the exhibit board or performance prop that you designed
  • a teacher offers editing suggestions on your historical paper
  • a parent assists in sewing costumes that you have designed
  • a teacher shows you or your group how to build an NHD website
  • you have photographs commercially developed

NOTE: Objects created by others specifically for use in your entry violate this rule. Examples include a parent editing a documentary or an artist drawing the backdrop for your exhibit or performance. You may receive reasonable help in carrying and placing props and exhibits.

Rule 6: Tampering with Another NHD Entry

You may not tamper with, deface, or alter another student's or group's entry. Doing so will result in your project’s disqualification.

Rule 7: Contest Day Setup

You are responsible for setting up your own exhibit, equipment, or props at the contest. You may have reasonable help carrying them, but setup must be completed by you (and/or your group members).

Rule 8: Supplying Equipment

You are responsible for supplying all props and equipment at each level of competition. All entries should be constructed with transportation, setup time, size, and weight in mind (e.g., foam board versus solid oak for an exhibit, folding table versus antique desk for a performance, etc.). You must provide your own equipment, including computers and software, unless the contest coordinator has specified that certain equipment will be provided at the contest venue. Projection screens for documentaries and performances may be provided, if requested. Check with your contest coordinator about available resources at all contest levels. Be prepared.

HOTRHF NOTE: For documentaries, projection screens, TV, VCR and DVD players are provided. For performances, screens are provided upon request. Pianos and Internet access are not provided. Bring extension cords if needed.

Rule 9: Discussion with Judges

You should be prepared to answer judges' questions about the content and development of your entry and to explain the design, research, and creation of your entry. Judges need to know that your entry is the result of your own work. However, you may not give a formal, prepared introduction, narration, or conclusion. Let the judges' questions guide the interview. Ultimately, your entry should be able to stand on its own without any additional comments from you.

Rule 10: Costumes

You are not permitted to wear costumes that are related to the focus of your entry during judging, except in the performance category.

Rule 11: Prohibited Materials

Items potentially dangerous in any way-such as weapons, firearms, animals, organisms, plants, etc.-are strictly prohibited. Such items will be confiscated by security personnel or contest officials. Replicas of such items that are obviously not real are permissible. Contact your teacher and contest coordinator to confirm guidelines before bringing the replica to a contest.

Rule 12: Title

Your entry must have a title that is clearly visible on all written materials.

Required Written Materials For All Entries

Rule 13: Written Material

Your entry must include the following written material in the order presented below:

  1. A title page as described in Rule 14;
  2. A process paper as described in Rule 15 (process papers are not required for paper entries);
  3. An annotated bibliography as described in Rule 16.

These materials must be typed or neatly printed on plain white paper, and stapled together in the top left corner. Do not enclose them in a cover or binder.

  • Exhibit, performance and documentary categories - you must provide three copies of these materials, bringing along an extra set for your own reference.
  • Website category - you must include these required materials within the site.
  • Paper category - You must include the title page and annotated bibliography with your paper.

Rule 14: Title Page

A title page is required as the first page of written material in every category. Your title page must include only the title of your entry, your name(s), the contest division and category in which you are entered, and applicable word counts. Please see Figure 2 (in the rule book) for examples of required elements for the paper, exhibit, performance, and documentary categories. Details of requirements for a website’s home page can be found in Rule E3 (see Individual Rules for Websites).

NOTE: The title page must not include any other information (pictures, graphics, borders, school name, or grade) except for that described in this rule.

Rule 15: Process Paper

All categories, except historical paper, must include a process paper with the entry. It must describe in 500 or fewer words how you conducted your research and created your entry. The process paper must include four sections that explain:

  1. how you chose your topic;
  2. how you conducted your research;
  3. how you selected your presentation category and created your project; and
  4. how your project relates to the NHD theme.

You can view sample process papers at

Rule 16: Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is required for all categories. List only those sources that contributed to the development of your entry, i.e., sources that provided usable information or new perspectives in preparing your entry. Sources of visual and audio materials and oral interviews must be included. Bundle photos or other materials from the same collection in a single citation. The annotations for each source must explain how you used the source and how it helped you understand your topic. Your annotated bibliography is not included in the word count.

For example:

Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. New York: David McKay Co. Inc., 1962.

Daisy Bates was the president of the Arkansas NAACP and the one who met and listened to the students each day. This firsthand account was very important to my paper because it made me more aware of the feelings of the people involved.

NOTE: Oral history transcripts, correspondence between you and experts, questionnaires, and other primary or secondary materials used as sources for your entry should be cited in your bibliography but not included as attachments to your bibliography.

Rule 17: Separation of Primary and Secondary Sources

You are required to separate your bibliography into two sections: one for primary sources and one for secondary sources.

NOTE: Some sources may be considered as either primary or secondary. Use your annotations to explain your reasoning for classifying any sources that are not clearly primary or secondary. Listing a source under both primary and secondary is inappropriate.

Rule 18: Style Guides

Style for citations and bibliographic references must follow the principles in a recent edition of one of the following style guides.

  1. Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers
  2. Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers

Regardless of which manual you use, the style must be consistent throughout all written material.

HOTRHF IMPORTANT NOTE: When using automated citation tools, be sure to use one that allows you to select a specific style guide. Some tools, like EasyBib, assign a combination of styles and may result in documentation not being in compliance.

Rule 19: Plagiarism

You must acknowledge in your annotated bibliography all sources used in your entry. Failure to credit sources is plagiarism and will result in disqualification.

Contest Participation Rules For All Entries

Rule 20: Entry Procedure

At each contest level you must register online or by submitting paper entry forms (check with your contest coordinator for the required format), meet specific deadlines, and follow any procedures established by that contest’s coordinator. You are responsible for knowing and meeting the deadlines.

Rule 21: Entries to National Contest

Each affiliate is limited to two entries per contest category in the National Contest. Ties at affiliate contests must be resolved at the affiliate level.

Rule 22: National Contest Attendance

Individual students and groups must be present for an entry to be judged at the National Contest. All members of a group entry must register for the National Contest.

HOTRHF Note: Rules listed on this web site have been updated for 2015.