Essay Writing Guide


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H OW TO W RITE A G OOD H ISTORY P APER A. R. Ruis If there’s anything history teachers agonize over, it’s how to teach our students to write good argumentative essays. If you are not mystically blessed with the ability to crank out perfect five-page papers while leaping tall buildings in a single bound, then writing a good essay will be a lengthy and sometimes arduous process. So here are some things you should consider when writing and editing your work (and please notice that ‘writing’ and ‘editing’ are separate steps): (1) Your paper must have a clear, concise thesis statement. A thesis statement is ~1-3 sentences in the introductory paragraph that tells the reader what you will argue over the course of the essay. It is NOT a summary, but rather your interpretation of historical events. You are taking a position and trying to convince your reader that it is a valid one. To this end, you should be able to support your interpretation with evidence. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Is my thesis more than just a summary or characterization of historical events? Is my thesis factually accurate and supportable by available evidence? Is my thesis specific? (E.g. Avoid statements such as “ X influenced Y ” or “ A had an impact on B ”; use more precise language.) If my thesis is similar to one found in the readings, is it clear that I am not simply restating someone else’s argument? Is my thesis self-evident? (E.g. “Advances in anatomical dissection led to greater knowledge of the body” is an argument, but it is uninteresting because it is so obvious.) (2) A good introduction sets up a good paper. Your introduction is critical; without it, the reader becomes lost from the very beginning and is likely to remain lost. Your introduction does two things: it tells the reader what the topic of the essay is, and it says something about that topic, i.e. it contains your thesis. To determine if your introduction is doing its job, ask yourself these questions: Does my intro begin with a ‘dawn of time’ sentence? If so, get rid of it.
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