Writing a history paper
Written papers should follow an ‘argumentative’ rather than ‘narrative’ format. Generally, I need to know
A. Your principal theories
B. The supporting evidence behind these theories
C. Evidence that you have evaluated competing theories
D. A conclusion
Here is a good strategy for writing essays for this class:
An approach to writing argumentative reasoning papers
UNCOVER YOUR EVIDENCE
Go through all of your sources, and take note of everything in every text and in notes from each class that relates to this
topic. This means EVERYthing. Now let your brain go nuts. Literally, there should be a storm going on in your
brain. Put it all on paper until you have a record of all of the evidence pertaining to the question.
DETERMINE WHAT THE EVIDENCE TELLS YOU
This, after all, is what historians do. Figure out what the evidence tells you happened. Read the sources deeply, and
make sure you understand. The best type of historical reasoning is based on a convergence of evidence... that means
that you assemble various pieces of evidence together, and use them in conjunction, rather than using individual bits to
prove each assertion you wish to make individually.
CATEGORIZE YOUR BRAINSTORMING LIST
If you are having problems, further organize the evidence into themes, time periods, regions... whatever! You may
have only two categories, you may have thirty. Your topic (and probably the length of time you’ve been learning about
the topic) will determine the categories. Let your list be your guide. Make a visual reference guide by drawing arrows
to connect facts in your list that you think are related. Then create a category title for those related facts. You’ll soon
see some method to this madness and you might even begin to feel excited about writing the essay.
DEVELOP YOUR CATEGORIES INTO A THESIS STATEMENT
Take a close look at your categories. How are they related? How do they differ? You may want to ignore some of
them in your essay. You may want to include all of them. See how they fall into place. Can you use them to make a
strong statement about your topic? Can you use them to answer an assigned question?
Once you have the thesis statement you’re ready to roll. Each category should be noted either specifically or
conceptually in your thesis and introductory paragraph. Then, you can write the supporting paragraphs for your essay.
Often each category can be one unique paragraph that supports your thesis. Be sure to explain how it supports the
thesis when writing the paragraphs.
DON’T FORGET A STRONG CONCLUSION
These guidelines developed by Trevor Getz of San Francisco State University