A quick guide to writing good history papers
A good history paper is a well-structured, well-argued essay that displays a good sense of history. The rules described below apply to any good paper, regardless of academic disciplines. Historians build arguments by interpreting documents produced in the past. Precision is paramount in historical analysis. You must cite names, places and dates accurately. You also need to define ideas, concepts, movements, or social groups with the utmost care, paying careful attention to past meanings and their evolution. What differentiates history is that it deals with human phenomena that occurred in the past. Therefore, a good history paper will seek to understand what was different then and will try to comprehend other periods in their own terms, without imposing present-day analogies or explanatory models. Your argument needs to incorporate time as a critical dimension, highlighting what has changed (and what has stayed the same), when, how, why, and why it matters.
Argument and thesis statement
Organize the material you have at hand, think about it, and come up with a thesis statement that expresses the idea you want to put across in your paper. A thesis statement pulls together all the disparate information in your essay and forms out of it one general argument that answers the question posed (all of the question, and nothing but it). The thesis carries the paper from the introduction to the conclusion. If you read an essay with a clearly articulated thesis, its central argument sticks with you after you put the paper down. With a weak or fuzzy thesis, on the contrary, a paper wanders and you have a hard time recalling what point the author was trying to make. Your thesis statement should appear in the first paragraph of your paper and be restated in your conclusion.
Once you have a thesis, decide on a manageable number of steps to prove your argument. Three is a good number; more than four or five is probably too many for your reader to keep in his head. Too many steps in your argument should also signal to you that perhaps your thesis lacks focus. Make an outline. Outline your arguments rather than your facts. Each major heading in your outline should constitute one of the three or four major points that will prove your thesis. At this juncture, you should read over your thesis statement and your major points. Do the points connect with each other? Do they build upon each other? Together, do they form a compelling argument?
Think hard about the architecture of your first paragraph. Ideally, the first paragraph should introduce the subject in an argumentative fashion. You might begin, for instance, with a brief explanation of a controversy or with a broad question. You might also choose to introduce your argument by outlining the subject’s traditional interpretation. Regardless, by the time your reader has finished the first paragraph, she should know how you resolve the controversy, answer the question or revise the traditional interpretation.