Notes on writing a History essayThese are general guidelines for writing essays in the Department of History. You should ensure that yourinstructor does not have specific requirements that differ from those set out here.What is a History essay?Instructors assign essays to give you the opportunity to study a specific subject and to develop conclusionsof your own about it. The main objects of the exercise are to get you to think about the subject and to reachconclusions based on relevant evidence and the creation of a logical argument.Essay topics are generally framed as questions to be answered or problems to be analyzed. For example, theessay topic “Assess the relative importance of political and economic factors in the origins of the FrenchRevolution” asks you to decide which were more important in explaining the outbreak of the Revolution:political factors or economic factors. Some instructors may ask you to devise your own essay topic to giveyou an opportunity to study a problem you find particularly interesting. It is important to frame your topicas a question or problem so that you do not write an essay that is simply descriptive or a narrative of events.There is no single "right answer" to any question posed in an essay assignment in History. Theconclusions you come to might be judged more or less "right." What is important is not only the conclusionyou reach but also the evidence and arguments you use to support it. In the example of the essay on theFrench Revolution, you could make a case that (a) political factors were more important than economic, (b)economic factors were more important than political, (c) political and economic factors were so closelyconnected that it is impossible to discuss them separately, or (d) other factors (such as social) were moreimportant than either political or economic. The evidence you collect will lead you to one of theseconclusions.Although there is no single "right answer" to a question in History, there are "wrong answers." You couldnot successfully argue, for example, that political or economic factors were totally irrelevant to the originsof the French Revolution and that the Revolution was caused by a particular conjunction of the stars andplanets. The important thing to remember is that you are asked to assess evidence and to present an informedpoint of view, not merely to give an opinion. Reaching conclusions in History is not the same as havingan opinion about a movie or whether apples taste better than oranges. Historians use agreed-upon rules ofevidence and argument. They select information relevant to the problem they are analyzing, they apply theevidence fairly, and they argue logically. They do not decide on a conclusion in advance and then presentonly the evidence that supports it while concealing evidence that contradicts it.