A well-written history paper is concise, clear, analytical, concrete, and precise. It is written in active voice; it has a strong thesis; it presents the importance of the topic; and it tells the reader who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Avoid pretentious, vapid beginnings. This garbage bores the reader, and shows that you have nothing impressive to say. Start your paper with a statement that tells your reader what your paper is about and is a good platform for you to develop your thesis.
Your thesis is your take on the subject, your perspective, your explanation, the case you’re going to argue. “Famine struck Ireland in the 1849s” is not a thesis – it is just a true statement. “The English were responsible for famine in Ireland in the 1840s” is a thesis. A good thesis statement answers an important research question about how or why something happened.
Historical analysis explains the origins and significance of events. It digs beneath the surface to see relationships or distinctions that are not immediately obvious. Begin your analysis as soon as possible. Making a summary of the facts is easier and less sophisticated than analysis – that’s why writing a summary alone never earns an “A.”
Use Evidence Critically
Like good detectives, historians are critical of their sources and cross-check them for reliability. Competent historians may offer different interpretations of the same evidence or choose to stress different evidence. In general, the more sources you can use, and the more varied they are, the more likely you are to make a sound historical judgment, especially when passions and self-interests are engaged. You don’t need to be cynical as a historian, but you need to be critical and skeptical.
Vague statements show that you haven’t devoted much time to learn the material. Consider these sentences: “During the French Revolution, the government was overthrown by the people. The Revolution is very important because it shows that people need freedom.” What people? Which government? When? How? Who needed freedom? Use abstractions and generalizations carefully – try to be precise.
Know Your Audience
In fact, your professor will usually be your only reader, but if you write directly to your professor, you may become cryptic or sloppy. Explaining your ideas to someone who doesn’t know what you mean forces you to be clear and complete. You should assume that your audience consists of educated, intelligent nonspecialists.
Have a Strong Conclusion
A weak conclusion leaves the reader wondering why your paper was worth reading. A strong conclusion explains the importance of what you have written. Don’t leave the reader asking, ‘So what?”
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