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Tips on How to Write a History Essay


The process of writing history essays demands knowledge and sufficient practice in this field. It is crucial to know how to start a history essay since a proper beginning is a key to success. It is also essential to provide all the information required and at the same time make it in an intelligent and cohesive way. Remember that essay reveals not only your knowledge of the subject but also your writing skills.

Preparation for Writing a History Essay

First of all, it is recommended to evaluate the essay question. Focus on finding a proper answer to this question and only then start writing. You can think about particular key words and phrases comprised in the question, check all the terms you are uncertain about, double-check history details entangled into the area of question. History essay topics vary, but there is one common aspect all of them have – they require precision and accuracy.

The keywords are crucial as far as they usually serve as boundaries for the essay. For instance, when the question is "To what extent can the First World War be considered a Total War?", the keywords here are "First World War" and "Total War." Hence, you should not delve into other domains, but focus on these two historical phenomena. One more time: determine the keywords before you start research.

You should also remember that when it comes to a history essay, there are plenty of different kinds of questions you may be asked, and each one will require a different response and a different focus. Determine what you should do while responding: explain, evaluate, interpret, argue, or compare. For instance, when you need to explain, it means that you are required to provide an explanation of the reasons that led to something that has happened or has not. The question here is why. When the question asks you to evaluate, it implies presenting and supporting a value-judgment, whereas interpretation requires analysis of information within a larger framework in order to contextualize it.

We also recommend summarizing a key argument, or a thesis statement. It is crucial to have a strong argument since this is the backbone of the whole essay. The ultimate point of an essay should be clear so that it is possible to structure the whole essay plan around it.

The next step is making an essay plan. It is useful to organize all the notes and start designing the overall structure of an essay. This plan is important so that you can evaluate the depth and quality of the evidence you have collected in the process of research, as well as consider if a thesis statement is supported sufficiently. You should also select several key quotes to make the whole argument precise and persuasive.

Conducting the Research

The next step is distinguishing between primary and secondary sources. Every history essay regardless the topic requires a strong argument supported by credible and reliable evidence. It is possible to include both of them or just focus on one type of the given sources: this depends on the peculiarities of the essay instructions.

Primary sources comprise any texts, pictures, films, or any other type of evidence that was produced in a particular historical period or by a particular person, who took part in the events of the period you are writing about, whereas secondary sources include works by historians or other writers aimed at analysis of events that took place in the past.

When writing a history essay, it can be a challenge to get going with the research. As a rule, there are huge numbers of texts, and it is hard to know where to start. On the contrary, there can be times when it is a challenge to find the sufficient number of credible sources relevant to the topic. Anyway, the following recommendations will explain to you how to write a good history essay with credible and solid basis of sources:


  • Start with the ultimate texts provided in the reading list or given in the course bibliography.
  • You should also check bibliographies and footnotes since they can guide you to the list of other relevant sources.
  • Use the library. Simple? No. Effective? Yes. Just make the most of it: search on your own and do not hesitate to ask for assistance referring to librarians.
  • You should also use online journal databases.
  • We strongly recommend not going straight to an Internet search engine. It seems to be quite a temptation, but the scholarly value of the prevailing majority of the results you will get is questionable.

Critical reading is a must here. As soon as you have collected a set of credible and relevant sources, you should take comprehensive notes and read all these texts critically. Think about the following: what exactly the author implies, and how this argument is supported by evidential background. Good history essay requires the following questions in the process of critical reading: why does the author make this argument? Can this be a part of a particular tradition in historiography? Should this be regarded as a response to a particular idea? What are the weaknesses and limitations of this argument?

Thorough notes are obligatory to be taken during this stage of writing an essay on history. We also recommend labeling all the notes with relevant page numbers and accurate bibliographic information on the source. One more crucial thing: remember the threat of plagiarism and always cite!

Writing the Introduction

You should start with a strong first sentence announcing the topic of the essay and indicating what you this essay will be about. Next, make a brief and consistent outline of what you will argue. A brief overview of all the crucial points is required, as well as the type of evidence you have used for supporting your claims. This is the way to structure your whole paper. Furthermore, it is necessary to provide a brief context for the given work.

The types of contexts vary according to the type of essay required, but usually, a brief overview of the core historiographical debates for the chosen topic will suffice. It is essential to show that a writer has a proper understanding of what other historians have added to the area of concern, and be capable to situate own argument(s) within such a broad context.

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Writing the Body of the Essay

Clear structure is a must. That is why make sure your claims and arguments are consistent, focus does not disappear, and the whole paper does not transform into a mere description. Furthermore, the constructive development of the argument is required. We recommend thinking carefully about how every paragraph is constructed. Remember that each paragraph should be a single micro-sized version of the essay structure, which means that there should be a topic sentence so as to introduce each paragraph, subsequent main part of the paragraph where all the explanations, details, and evidence are provided.

More recommendations for writing body part:

  • include a sentence making brief inference for each paragraph and linking it to the next one;
  • remember that one paragraph should address and discuss only one issue;
  • the close focus should be kept throughout the whole essay;
  • mind tenses: if you write about something in the past, highlight it by means of the relevant tense form so that to avoid confusion.

It is time to talk more about sources. It is strongly recommended to use only relevant sources. Proper use of the evidence plays a significant role in a persuasive layer of the paper. Introduction of evidence can be performed either by means of direct quotes, or by summarizing them. Strategic use of evidence contributes to the overall quality of the essay. We recommend avoiding long quotations and using ones only when they are necessary to highlight or support the argument. Never insert a quote from a primary source into the essay without proper reference and introduction. In case of secondary sources, you should summarize the content of the quote in your own words – direct quotes are not recommended in this situation.

Make sure that your essay flows. Remember that the fluency of the text is a crucial element in writing a good history essay. Build transitions between paragraphs and carefully and consistently, also try to link the core points together, developing your basic argument as you go. Students rather often tend to present essays where the text seems to be a disconnected series of points reads but not a fully developed and properly connected solid argument.

Some more tips for you:

  • consider the first and last sentences in each paragraph and determine their connection with the previous and next ones
  • avoid starting a paragraph with simple and conventional phrases that make the whole essay resemble a list. For instance, limit the active use of words such as: "Additionally," "Furthermore," "Moreover"
  • indicate where this essay aims to go and how you tend to build on what you have already discovered and said.

Make succinct conclusions. A smart and effective conclusion should summarize your argument and key points precisely. It is crucial for a conclusion to reflect the content of the whole essay and at the same time to refer back to the outline that has been provided in the introduction. Try reading your conclusion and check if it answers the essay question directly. If not – well, you need to think again.

It is useful to briefly outline the implications of the ultimate argument of the essay and its significance in terms of historiography. Nevertheless, try to avoid grand sweeping statements since history essay writing does not tolerate them. A conclusion should also provide an opportunity to point to the scopes beyond the area of the given paper. It is crucial so as to indicate where the research can be developed and expanded in the future.

Proofreading and Evaluating the History Essay

Proofreading the essay is a very important step in his process. Even cases with good history essay topics require it. Once the essay has been written, you should set aside a particular period of time in order to proofread it in a thorough and consistent manner with the perspective of working on any revisions necessary. Proofreading is not simply picking out some typos or improving cases with grammar mistakes, but primarily it is an excellent opportunity for evaluation of the work completed so far. This evaluation comprises areas of both style and content. Therefore, you should pay attention to the language you use and also sentence construction.

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We recommend the following:

  • cutting down all overly long sentences, as well as run-on sentences
  • concentrating on the development of a clear, simple, and comprehensive prose style
  • reading your essay out loud can assist you in getting a clearer picture of awkward phrasing and excessively long sentences
  • analyzing rather than describing
  • understanding each point of every paragraph in the paper
  • focusing on the responding to the ultimate question set initially to be answered by means of this essay. Otherwise, this essay will be a failure.

What is also important:
Make sure to check all the references and bibliography page. Remember that the essay will never be complete until an author has included and double-checked all the references together with the bibliography. There exist numerous diverse style conventions used for the formatting of references, so make sure you double-check this question with your teacher. Yes, we all know that this part of the assignment usually looks as the most annoying task ever, but bear in mind that if you do not use the right style it will imply your laziness and lack of competence.
As a rule, bibliography should have primary sources presented first, followed by secondary ones.

Double-check (or even more!) that you have included all the used and required references in the essay. Check the paper for plagiarism and improve if needed. Good luck!

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