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  • Annie Marks

How To Write History Papers

Hey there, Writing Center family! It’s me (Annie)! I hope all of you had a great spring break. I always find it a little difficult to adjust to attending courses and completing assignments after taking a well-needed break from school. I am sure some of you can relate! To help us adjust to school again, I wanted to offer some tips on writing history papers. Dr. Pinnen, one of our History professors here at Mississippi College, recently conducted an educational workshop for the Writing Center staff on writing history papers. Since history papers are a form of academic writing a lot of students request help with at the Writing Center, I wanted to provide you with some of the advice and tips Dr. Pinnen gave us!

To understand how to write history papers, we first should discuss what students are expected to write about in history papers. Students are expected to write about academic texts, including primary and secondary sources of historical events, that they read. Students are encouraged to critically analyze this material in their paper by identifying and defending an argument about the significance of the material. Students are almost always encouraged to write in active voice. Similar to most college writing assignments, students are usually provided with prompts to help write their history papers. Prompts in history courses are often used as guiding questions and concepts for the student to consider as they analyze the material. The prompt does not always need to be directly followed. Instead, the prompt should help the student to critically analyze the material.

Students are expected to engage with academic texts in their history papers!

Although students are expected to write similar types of papers in lower-level and upper-level history courses, a slight difference in requirements exists between these courses. Students in lower-level courses are expected to have a base argument that is carried throughout their paper. While their argument should be introduced in the thesis statement and proven in the body paragraphs, their argument does not need to contain a significant amount of historical analysis. Students in upper-level courses are expected to deal with more sources in their papers and include more historical analysis in their writing. Additionally, students in lower-level courses are usually only expected to demonstrate that they can cite the information and quotes they take from academic sources. Upper-level students have more strict guidelines for including Chicago / Turabian Style citations in their papers because they have taken a course on Chicago / Turabian Style citations.

Students sometimes face difficulties when writing these history papers in these courses for multiple reasons. While they may have a general understanding of how to work with the texts, they struggle to critically engage with the texts. They summarize the material when they should form an argument about the significance of the material. Students also struggle to form a descriptive thesis. Their thesis often summarizes the academic texts and states what they read word-for-word, but their thesis should contain an argument. Although they may face these difficulties for varying reasons, students sometimes request help with history papers because they are not history majors and lack the experience of writing history papers. Some students are also in their first semester of college and experience difficulty adjusting to writing at a college level.

Students can struggle with writing history papers for multiple reasons!

Considering the difficulties that students face when writing history papers, we should discuss what students should include in their papers. Similar to most academic writing, the students should focus heavily on creating a strong thesis statement. This thesis statement should be specific and focused on a narrowed topic. The thesis should also critically analyze the text and form an argument about the significance of the text. Once the student has formed their thesis statement, they can form their entire paper around this thesis. Each of their body paragraphs should be used to support and defend the thesis statement. The body paragraphs should begin with a strong topic sentence that explains how the paragraph will support the thesis and the information within the paragraph should provide evidence to perform what the topic sentence claims.

Once the student has created their thesis statement and body paragraphs supporting this thesis, they can focus on their introduction and conclusions. They should use their introduction to frame the entire paper by bringing the readers into a period or event. As such, their introduction should not contain broad statements, such as “Since the beginning of the time.” Rather, their introduction should focus on the content that will be included in the paper, frame the material for the reader, and easily transition into the argument stated in the thesis. When creating the conclusion, the student should restate their thesis statement and describe the supporting points stated in their body paragraphs. Instead of simply stating the supporting points, the student should explain how each of these points supported the main augment in the thesis statement. The conclusion should end with a discussion of the significance and implications of the argument in the thesis statement. The student should avoid adding new evidence or information in their conclusion.

Students can write their introduction and conclusion after creating their body paragraphs!

When you are working on your next history paper, we highly encourage you to visit the Writing Center. All of our Writing Center tutors have experience writing papers for history courses and some of our tutors are history majors! During a tutoring session, we will help you strengthen your thesis statement, ensure your body paragraphs defend the thesis statement well, improve your introduction and conclusion, and focus on other important aspects of history papers. You can also request that we focus on a specific part of your paper or writing skills. We hope you will schedule an appointment soon!

Schedule an appointment today!


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