WRITING A HISTORY ESSAY
This page contains some general tips for writing a successful story essay. An essay is a piece of sustained writing in response to a question, theme or issue.
Essays are often used to assess and evaluate the student's progress in history. History essays test a range of skills, including historical understanding, interpretation and analysis, planning, research and writing. To write an effective essay, students must examine the question, understand its focus and requirements, acquire information and evidence through research, and then construct a clear and well-organized response.
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Writing a good history essay should be rigorous and challenging, even for stronger students. As with other skills, essay writing develops and improves over time. Each essay you complete helps you become more competent and confident.
Study the question
This is an obvious tip - but one unfortunately neglected by some students. The first step in writing a good essay, regardless of topic or topic, is to think a lot about the question.
An essay question will set a kind of task or challenge. It may ask you to explain the causes and / or effects of a particular event or situation. It may ask if you agree or disagree with a statement. It may ask you to describe and analyze the causes and / or effects of a particular action or event. Or it may ask you to evaluate the relative importance of a person, group or event.
You should start by reading the essay question several times. Emphasize, highlight or comment on keywords or terms in the text of the question. Think about what it requires you to do. Who or what does it want you to concentrate on? Does it indicate or suggest a specific time frame? What problem or issue does it want to address?
Start with a plan
Each essay should begin with a written plan. Start making a plan as soon as you receive your essay question and think about it.
Prepare for research by brainstorming and noting your thoughts and ideas. What are your first answers or thoughts on the question? What topics, events, people or issues are related to the question? Do any questions or questions flow from the question? What topics or events do you need to learn more about? Which historians or sources can be useful?
If you come across a mental 'brick wall' or are unsure of how to approach the question, do not hesitate to discuss it with anyone else. Consult your teacher, a skilled classmate or someone you trust. Also keep in mind that once you start researching, your plan may change as you find new information.
After studying the question and developing an initial plan, start gathering information and evidence.
Most people will start by reading an overview of the topic or issue, usually in some reliable secondary sources. This will refresh or build your existing understanding of the topic and provide a basis for further questions or research.
Your research should take shape from here, led by the essay question and your own planning. Identify terms or concepts you do not know, and find out what they mean. Once you find the information, ask yourself if it is relevant or useful to solve the question. Be creative with your research, look at different places.
If you have trouble finding information, you can seek advice from your teacher or someone you trust.
All essays with a good story have a clear and strong claim. An assertion is the main idea or argument in your essay. It serves as both an answer to the question and the focal point of your writing.
Ideally, you should be able to express your statement as a single sentence. For example, the following statement may form the basis of an essay question on the rise of the Nazis:
Question: Why did the Nazi Party win 37 percent of the vote in July 1932?
A. The Nazi Party's election success in 1932 was the result of economic hardship caused by the Great Depression, public dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic's democratic political system and ordinary parties, and Nazi propaganda that promised a return to traditional social, political and economic values.
An essay using this statement goes on to explain and justify these statements in more detail. It will also support the claim with argument and evidence.
At some point in your research, you should start thinking about a controversy for your essay. Remember that you should be able to express it briefly as if you were addressing the essay question in a single sentence, or summarizing it in a debate.
Try to frame your statement so that it is strong, authoritative and convincing. It should sound like the voice of someone who is well informed on the subject and confident in the answer.
Plan an essay structure
Plan an essay structure - history essays outline
When most of the research is complete and you have a strong claim, you can start noting a possible essay structure. This does not have to be complicated, a few lines or dots are plentiful.
Each essay must have an introduction, a group with several paragraphs and a conclusion. Your sections should be well organized and follow a logical sequence.
You can organize paragraphs in two ways: chronologically (covering events or topics in the order in which they occurred) or thematically (covering events or topics based on their relevance or significance). Each paragraph must be clearly marked in the subject sentence.
Once you have completed a plan for your essay, you can start the draft.
Write a compelling introduction
Many consider the introduction to be the most important part of an essay. It is important for several reasons. This is the reader's first experience of your essay. This is where you first raise the issue and express your claim. This is also where you lay out or 'sign' the direction your essay will take.
Aim for an introduction that is clear, confident and effective. Get straight to the point - do not waste time with a wandering or storytelling.
Start by giving a brief context, then address the question, formulate your statement and indicate the direction your essay will take.
Write full paragraphs
Many history students fall into the trap of writing short paragraphs, sometimes containing as little as one or two sentences. A good history assignment contains sections that are in themselves 'mini-essays', usually between 100-200 words each.
A section should only focus on one topic or topic - but it should include a thorough exploration of that topic or topic.
A good paragraph begins with an effective introductory sentence, sometimes called a subject sentence or a signifying sentence. This sentence introduces the topic of the section and briefly explains its significance for the question and your statement. Good paragraphs also contain thorough explanations, some analysis and evidence, and maybe a quote or two.
Conclude with an effective conclusion
The conclusion is the last section of your essay. A good conclusion should do two things. First, it should repeat or repeat the statement about your essay. Second, it should end your essay, ideally with a polished ending that is not abrupt or difficult.
An effective way to do this is with a brief summary of 'what happened next'. For example, an essay discussing Hitler's rise to power in 1933 can be concluded with a few sentences about how he consolidated and strengthened his power in 1934-35.
Your conclusion does not have to be as long or as developed as your body sections. You should avoid introducing new information or evidence in the conclusion.
Refer and cite your sources
A story essay will probably only succeed if it is referred to correctly. Your essay should support information, ideas and arguments with quotes or references to reliable sources.
Referral not only recognizes the work of others, but it also gives authority to your writing and gives the teacher or assessor an insight into your research. More information about referring to a piece of history writing can be found here.
Proofread, edit and seek feedback
Each essay must be proofread, edited and, if necessary, printed out before it is submitted for assessment. Essays should ideally be completed a few days before the due date, and then set aside a day or two before proofreading.
When proofreading, first look for spelling and grammatical errors, typographical errors, incorrect dates, or other actual errors.
Then think about how you can improve the clarity, tone and structure of your essay. Does your essay follow a logical structure or sequence? Is the signage in your essay clear and effective? Are some sentences too long or 'wandering'? Are you repeating yourself? Does the section need to be expanded, fine-tuned or strengthened with more evidence?
Read your essay aloud, either to yourself or another person. Seek feedback and advice from a good author or someone you trust (they do not need expertise in history, only in effective writing).
Some other tips on the story
Always write in the third person. Never refer to yourself personally, using phrases such as "I think ..." or "That's my claim ...". Essays on good history should take the perspective of an informed and objective third party. They should sound rational and factual - not as an individual expressing their opinion.
Always write in the past. An obvious tip for a history assignment is to write in the past. Always be careful when using tension. Watch out for mixed times when you proofread your work. An exception to the rule of the past is when writing about the work of modern historians (for example e than "Kershaw wrote ..." or "Kershaw wrote ...").
Avoid generalizations. This is a problem in all essays, but especially in history assignments. Generalization occurs when you form general conclusions from one or more examples. In history, it most often occurs when students study a particular group and then assume that their experiences have been applied to a much larger group. For example, "all the peasants were outraged", "women rallied against conscription" or "the Germans supported the Nazi party". History and human societies are never so clear or simple. Try to avoid generalization and look for generalized statements when proofreading.
Write short, sharp and hollow. Good writers vary the sentence length, but as a rule of thumb, most of your sentences should be short and punchy. The longer a sentence lasts, the greater the risk that it will be lengthy or confusing. Long sentences can easily become incoherent, confused or confusing. Try not to overuse long sentences and be careful with the sentence length when reading proofs.