Although less frequent than argumentative, expository and descriptive papers assigned in language and composition classes, history essays are quite popular with history professors who find written papers to be an effective tool for assessment of your knowledge. By writing an essay in history you can demonstrate understanding of the influence of certain historical events on the further course of history. This, in turn, gives your teacher a possibility to evaluate your comprehension of the topic. If you have been assigned your first essay in history class, and you feel completely clueless about how and what to write in your paper, do not panic. By following certain writing guidelines you can produce an effective essay, as long as your writing techniques are coupled with knowledge of the subject to be covered in your paper.
What Are the Main Features of History Paper?
Writing an essay in history is not a rocket science. There is no special academic “historical style” required for this type of writing. As in case with any other kind of school paper, students are expected to produce a logical and grammatically correct piece of writing. Apart from coherence and correctness, a paper in history is characterized by the following features:
- Precision of facts
- Well thought out organization
Your history paper must be absolutely precise. If a certain event happened on a certain date, you have to make sure that you do not confuse the date when it happened. Avoid generalizations and vague statements as they indicate that you do not have a good grasp of the issue. When a certain incident triggered a course of events, you should demonstrate a cause and effect correlation. For example, it would be inaccurate to state that the cause of the Gulf War was invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. In fact, the causes could be traced back a decade earlier when Iraq had been at war with Iran and Kuwait had lent Iraq some 14 billion US dollars and then refused to repay the debt. It is important to emphasize all the causes of the war including economic, political and geopolitical reasons.
By staying relevant you ensure that your paper answers the questions asked in your assignment. For instance, you can be asked to:
- explain a certain historical event,
- evaluate the significance of a certain situation,
- compare and contrast different events,
- analyze to what extent one thing or event influenced course of events, economy, trade or intellectual life, etc.,
- demonstrate how one event played role in development of another event, etc.
You should take great care to fulfil the objective outlined in the rubric, explore the topic. Try not to deviate from the task of your assignment.
In your essay be clear about whether a thought belongs to you, to a historical figure you are writing about or a historian whom you cite.
Be concise. Dwell on the facts related to the topic. Avoid excessive wordiness and repetitions. Use shorter sentences that convey a meaningful message rather than compound and complex sentences overloaded with trite phrases and scarce facts.
The structure and the format of your history essay are also of paramount importance. Let us consider them in more detail.
Structuring your Essay the Right Way
The format of your history paper does not differ from the structure of any other academic paper. It consists of an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.
A good opening is vital to your essay in history. The first sentence should serve as an attention-grabber and make your reader get interested in your paper. Get to the point of your writing. Demonstrate that you know what you are writing about and let your marker see what your paper is going to be about. In your introduction write a powerful thesis statement that reflects your perspective of the topic raised in the assignment. Make sure that your thesis statement answers the question posed in the task. In a main body you will dwell on the thesis statement by uncovering its different aspects and providing arguments to support the idea expressed in a thesis statement.
In a main body devote a separate paragraph to each argument you want to propose. It is recommended to start each paragraph with a topic sentence and then substantiate it with evidence and examples in the following sentences. Support your arguments with quotes, citations and information from the primary sources. Make sure to make it clear when a citation ends and your opinion starts. Indicate which historian’s interpretation you are using, if applicable.
You conclusion must be logical and come out from the arguments provided in the main body. Basically, you must provide a concise summary of what has been said earlier. Avoid introduction of any new facts. Stay relevant to the task outlined in your assignment.
Things to Remember While Writing an Essay in History
To produce a powerful paper in history, you should concentrate on a pre-writing stage, writing itself and proofreading. Follow our advice given below which will help you write a good essay:
- Analyze the question posed in your assignment and make it clear for yourself what exactly is required for you in paper.
- Read literature/sources which will help you brush up your knowledge or get a deeper insight into the matter you are to write about.
- Make a plan (an outline) of your essay. This will enable you to compose a paper logically.
- Ensure that a thesis statement relates to the question asked in the assignment and reflects your perspective on a given matter.
- Write in the active voice. By avoiding passive constructions you make your essay more clear and precise.
- Make sure that every single paragraph in a main body has a topic sentence.
- Rely on primary and secondary sources while writing an essay. Primary sources include letters, memoires, and government records produced by a participant of the events you write about or someone who witnessed those events. Secondary sources are written by later historians.
- Be critical of the sources you use and particularly cross-check information gathered online.
- Avoid excessive quotations. An essay containing numerous quotations from secondary sources often indicates of a poorly written paper. Your opinion together with paraphrased author’s arguments (be sure to indicate you paraphrase an author) make your paper more meaningful.
- Beware of chronology. History is all about important dates on which events happened. For that reason your teacher will not accept it if you distort facts and dates when they occurred or talk generally about an event without mentioning when it happened.
- Stay consistent with tenses. When writing about past events, use the Past Simple. Sometimes you might need to use the Past Perfect to describe events that preceded a situation described in your essay.
- Avoid turgid language. Instead, use plain English which makes your writing more engaging, comprehensible and readable.
- At the same time do go to another extreme by using slang words/informal language. Remember that you are writing an academic paper, not an e-mail to a friend.
- Be laconic and avoid clichés.
- It is better not to incorporate any intensifiers in your writing not to cause exaggeration. Such words as “very”, “unique”, “most important” should be avoided as, for example, you cannot define which aspect of President Truman’s policy was the most important. Incorporate with care claims of size, importance, uniqueness, intensity, etc. because they can be viewed by your teacher as unfounded.
- Avoid unnecessary relative clauses. For instance, you substitute the phrase “Hitler was a man who tried to exterminate the Jews” with “Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews”. This way you eliminate excessive use of words that do not convey any valuable meaning.
- Make sure each sentence contains a subject and a predicate.
- Try your best to produce a strong conclusion to make an effect on your marker.
- Proof read the essay carefully. Look out for grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax mistakes. Although history is not a composition class, your teacher expects correctness of a paper.
- Revise your essay several times. Let is sit for a while after you complete it and then re-read the essay a day or two later with a fresh mind. Ask your friends or family to read the paper for you as well.
As you can see, writing an essay for history class does not differ much from academic writing for your language classes. The main difference between a descriptive essay and a paper in history is that the latter requires both, in-depth knowledge of the subject as well as good analytical and writing skills needful for a composition class. However, you should not be daunted: with regular practice proper and attention to details you can improve your writing from average to excellent following the tips outlined above and sticking to the assignment task given by your professor. Apart from that there are no limits on how and in which order you can express your thoughts and opinion on certain historic events.