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Writing a Good History Paper

Undergraduate

❶Some professional historians disparage popular history and may even discourage their colleagues from trying their hand at it.

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Why study history?

Don't let yourself stray from the subject as you have framed it. If you have something nifty you badly want to include, you should arrange the initial presentation title and introduction to make it relevant -- Right from the start.

This is where you manage or fail to capture interest and thereby improve your grade. Usually the first paragraph should introduce the argument. Sometimes a short opening paragraph is also needed to set the historical context.

Marshall evidence to support your thesis. This does not mean that you simply pile up facts. If others take different lines of argument on your topic, indicate why you agree or disagree with them.

Finish with a bang not a whimper. Summarize the debate neatly in a paragraph or two. Save a point of interest to end on -- a comment on the significance of the subject, what is original about your argument, etc. The conclusion should reinforce, in the reader's mind, the persuasiveness of your whole argument. Write in clear, concise English.

Use the least number of words possible to make your point. Each paragraph should contain one major point with advances your argument. Use about 3 or 4 paragraphs to a page. Don't write the paper as a "stream of consciousness" with the stages of the argument undifferentiated. Keep all quotes short: I am more interested in what you have to say than in anyone else's words.

All quotes must fit smoothly into the text. Any quotation longer than 3 lines should be indented and single-spaced. Acknowledge the source of all direct quotations in a footnote -- author, work, page etc. Use either footnotes or endnotes, but not both! A first reference even to a textbook should contain certain details. But always date your citation. Websites are much less stable than publicly printed books and articles.

They change as their "authors" develop them. The Falcon server through whose good graces you read this crashed over the summer, and was not backed up! Always consider too how far and why you should trust the information offered, just as you would a book or a con artist. See further below under " Source Criticism". W hy bother with citations anyway? In my former life, I never expected students to provide footnotes and bibliographies.

In North America they are, however, required, and we too must follow local rules. One quite common rationale says that you cite sources to establish that your work is your own, that you are not plagiarizing. I do not myself see the force of that. I know from experience other people's! Ask me, and I just might teach you some of the tricks! No, technicalities do not keep people honest.

But anyway, we are not like that, are we? Please cite your sources for more positive reasons. I cite mine so that a reader can if he or she chooses follow my footsteps and check my argument.

Footnotes trace a kind of paper trail for future hunters to follow. Hopefully those who follow will feel that our work is solid enough for them to build on to it, for that is how knowledge advances. Once you have written the paper, read it through again. Provide a cover sheet with the course number and title, as well as your name and the date.

Number the pages and staple them together. You are expected to include an accurate bibliography in one of the accepted formats at the end. It looks bad to mispell the title of a book you have used all the time! Rules of Evidence including "source criticism". The counter argument in this country is of course the First Amendment. But it is unnecessary to invoke the U. Constitution, which in any case does not bind men and women outside this country. There is no conceivable way to police the Web; the damn thing is far too big.

So we all have to beware. Evaluate the essay question. The first thing to do if you have a history essay to write, is to really spend some time evaluating the question you are being asked. No matter how well-written, well-argued, or well-evidenced your essay is, if you don't answer the answer the question you have been asked, you cannot expect to receive a top mark.

Think about the specific key words and phrasing used in the question, and if you are uncertain of any of the terms, look them up and define them. Do this before you begin conducting your research to ensure that your reading is closely focussed to the question and you don't waste time.

Consider what the question is asking you. With a history essay there are a number of different types of question you might be asked, which will require different responses from you. You need to get this clear in the early stages so you can prepare your essay in the best way.

Look at your set essay question and ask yourself whether you are being asked to explain, interpret, evaluate, or argue. You might be asked to do any number or all of these different things in the essay, so think about how you can do the following: Try to summarise your key argument.

Once you have done some research you will be beginning to formulate your argument, or thesis statement, in your head. It's essential to have a strong argument which you will then build your essay around. So before you start to plan and draft your essay, try to summarise your key argument in one or two sentences. Your thesis statement should clearly address the essay prompt and provide supporting arguments.

For example, your summary could be something like "The First World War was a 'total war' because civilian populations were mobilized both in the battlefield and on the home front". Make an essay plan. Once you have evaluated the question, you need to draw up an essay plan. This is a great opportunity to organise your notes and start developing the structure which you will use for your essay.

When drawing up the plan you can assess the quality and depth of the evidence you have gathered and consider whether your thesis statement is adequately supported. Pick out some key quotes that make your argument precisely and persuasively. Distinguish between primary and secondary sources. A history essay will require a strong argument that is backed up by solid evidence.

The two main types of evidence you can draw on are known as primary and secondary sources. Depending on the essay you are writing, you might be expected to include both of these. If you are uncertain about what is expected be sure to ask your teacher well in advance of the essay due date. Primary source material refers to any texts, films, pictures, or any other kind of evidence that was produced in the historical period, or by someone who participated in the events of the period, that you are writing about.

Secondary material is the work by historians or other writers analysing events in the past. The body of historical work on a period or event is known as the historiography. Typically a research essay would need significant primary material. It can be difficult to get going with your research. There may be an enormous number of texts which makes it hard to know where to start, or maybe you are really struggling to find relevant material. In either case, there are some tried and tested ways to find reliable source material for your essay.

Start with the core texts in your reading list or course bibliography. Your teacher will have carefully selected these so you should start there. Look in footnotes and bibliographies. When you are reading be sure to pay attention to the footnotes and bibliographies which can guide you to further sources a give you a clear picture of the important texts. If you have access to a library at your school or college, be sure to make the most of it. Search online catalogues and speak to librarians.

Access online journal databases. If you are in college it is likely that you will have access to academic journals online.

These are an excellent and easy to navigate resources. Try using free scholarly databases, like Google Scholar, which offer quality academic sources, but avoid using the non-trustworthy websites that come up when you simply search your topic online.

Avoid using crowd-sourced sites like Wikipedia as sources. However, you can look at the sources cited on a Wikipedia page and use them instead, if they seem credible. Evaluate your secondary sources. It's very important that you critically evaluate your sources. For a strong academic essay you should be using and engaging with scholarly material that is of a demonstrable quality. It's very easy to find information on the internet, or in popular histories, but you should be using academic texts by historians.

If you are early on in your studies you might not be sure how to identify scholarly sources, so when you find a text ask yourself the following questions: Who is the author? Is it written by an academic with a position at a University? Search for the author online.

Who is the publisher? Is the book published by an established academic press? Look in the cover to check the publisher, if it is published by a University Press that is a good sign.

If it's an article, where is published? If you are using an article check that it has been published in an academic journal. Once you found some good sources, you need to take good notes and read the texts critically. Try not to let your mind drift along as you read a book or article, instead keep asking questions about what you are reading.

Think about what exactly the author is saying, and how well the argument is supported by the evidence. Ask yourself why the author is making this argument. Evaluate the text by placing it into a broader intellectual context.

Is it part of a certain tradition in historiography? Is it a response to a particular idea? Consider where there are weaknesses and limitations to the argument. Always keep a critical mindset and try to identify areas where you think the argument is overly stretched or the evidence doesn't match the author's claims.

When you are taking notes you should be wary of writing incomplete notes or misquoting a text. It's better to write down more in your notes than you think you will need than not have enough and find yourself frantically looking back through a book. Label all your notes with the page numbers and precise bibliographic information on the source.

If you have a quote but can't remember where you found it, imagine trying to skip back through everything you have read to find that one line. If you use something and don't reference it fully you risk plagiarism. Start with a strong first sentence. When you begin writing up your essay, a strong introduction can set the scene, create interest in the reader, and provide an outline of what is to come in your essay.

The first sentence or two can give a broader view of a problem which you will then focus in on in the rest of the introduction. This first sentences introduces the topic of your essay in a broad way which you can start focus to in on more. Outline what you are going to argue. In your introduction you should give a clear outline of how you are going to answer the question, and what your argument is. You should give a brief overview of your main points and the type of evidence that you will use to support them.

Try to explicitly answer the question in one sentence, and then expand on how you are going to argue your case. Here you will explain the particular approach you have taken to the essay. For example, if you are using case studies you should explain this and give a brief overview of which case studies you will be using and why.

Provide some brief context for your work. Depending on the type of essay you are writing, it will be necessary to provide a brief overview of the main historiographical debates for your topic.

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Making Sure your History Paper has Substance Get off to a good start. Avoid pretentious, vapid beginnings. If you are writing a paper on, say, British responses to the rebellion in India.

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A Brief Guide to Writing the History Paper The Challenges of Writing About (a.k.a., Making) History At first glance, writing about history can seem like an overwhelming task. History’s subject matter is immense, encompassing all of human affairs in the recorded past —.

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Welcome to the History Department Studying history is important in order to fully understand the complexities of this modern globalized world. Students develop critical thinking skills, learn to write persuasively, and increase their cultural awareness. Writing a history paper is a process. Successful papers are not completed in a single moment of genius or inspiration, but are developed over a series of steps. When you first read a paper prompt, you might feel overwhelmed or intimidated.

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some tips for writing history papers Thesis: A good historian does not adopt a thesis until quite late on in the process of preparing a paper. First, find good questions to ask yourself, questions that deserve and actually call for an answer, real world questions even if the paper is about a remote period of the past. Get Professional Writing Assistance with any type of History Research Papers and Dissertations. Native English-speaking writers only. Money-back guarantee.