What to write in a research paper on 9/11

The 9/11 terrorist attacks are among the defining events of the modern age, which makes them a natural subject for research papers at all levels. If you're planning such a paper it's a good idea to work out in advance what to write about and what to steer clear of.

  • Know your market. If you're writing a serious paper there are some things you don't want to mention. How no aircraft wreckage was found at the Pentagon, for example, or the mysterious pods seen on the planes that hit the WTC towers. There are plenty of theories about why the US Air Force didn't shoot down the planes. All of these have been completely debunked, and mentioning them won't help your credibility.
  • A good place to start any paper is to examine the origins of the plot. Why did Osama bin Laden hate the USA so much? What motivated him to order this attack, and where did he find the people to carry it out? The hijackers were mostly well educated and from wealthy families, so what made them do it?
  • Why did the towers collapse? It's been widely reported that jet fuel burns at well below the melting point of steel, and that's led to a lot of misunderstandings and helped the spread of the more bonkers conspiracy theories. Areas to look at involve how much of its strength steel loses when heated to the temperature of burning jet fuel (around half) and how much other stuff was burning inside the WTC. There are also other examples of steel-framed buildings that have collapsed in fires, that can be compared with the WTC; the McCormick Center in Chicago is a good example.
  • How credible are the claims that the towers were brought down by controlled demolitions? There's been a lot of speculation that either explosives or termite charges were used to cut the steel structural members and cause the collapse. It's worth looking into how much explosive would be required, how much detonating cord would be needed to connect all the charges together and how long it would take to wire it all up; the answers are quite interesting.
  • There's a lot of good material in the social effects of the attacks. How did American society change in response? What impact did the hijackings have on global travel? Has the potential for future conflict been increased by the aftermath of 9/11?

A paper on 9/11 gives you plenty of chances to show good research and analysis skills. Just be careful with your sources, because there's a lot of unreliable stuff on the internet. Steer clear of conspiracy theorists, though, and you'll do fine!