There are so many types of essays; it can be hard to know where to start. History papers aren’t just limited to history classes. These tasks can be assigned to examine any important historical event or a person. While they’re more common in history classes, you can find this type of assignment in sociology or political science course syllabus, or just get a history essay task for your scholarship.
Purpose of a History Essay
Wondering how to write a history essay? It helps to understand its purpose. This essay aims to examine influences that lead to a historical event. It can also explore the importance of an individual’s impact on history.
However, the goal isn’t to stay in the past. A well-written history essay should discuss the relevancy of the event or person to the “now”. After finishing this essay, a reader should have a fuller understanding of the lasting impact of an event or individual.
Need basic essay guidance? Find out what is an essay with this 101 essay guide: What is an Essay?
Elements for Success
Understanding how to write a history essay is crucial in creating a successful paper. These essays should never only outline successful historic events or list an individual’s achievements. Instead, they should focus on examining questions beginning with what, how, and why. Here’s a pro tip in how to write a history essay: brainstorm questions. Once you’ve got questions, you have an excellent starting point.
Preparing to Write
A typical history essay format requires the writer to provide background on the event or person, examine major influences, and discuss the importance of the forces both then and now. When preparing to write, it’s helpful to organize the information you need to research into questions. For example:
- Who were the major contributors to this event?
- Who opposed or fought against this event?
- Who gained or lost from this event?
- Who benefits from this event today?
- What factors led up to this event?
- What changes occurred because of this event?
- What lasting impacts occurred locally, nationally, globally due to this event?
- What lessons (if any) were learned?
- Why did this event occur?
- Why did certain populations support it?
- Why did certain populations oppose it?
These questions exist as samples. Generate questions specific to your topic. Once you have a list of questions, it’s time to evaluate them.
Evaluating the Question
Seasoned writers approach to writing a history by examining the historic event or individual. The goal is to assess the impact then and now. To do so, the writer needs to evaluate the importance of the main essay guiding the paper. For example, if the essay’s topic is the rise of American prohibition, a proper question may be “How did societal factors influence the rise of American prohibition during the 1920s?”
This question is open-ended, allowing for insightful analysis, and limits the research to societal factors. Additionally, work to identify key terms in the question. In the example, key terms would be “societal factors” and “prohibition”.
Summarizing the Argument
The argument should answer the question. Use the thesis statement to clarify the argument and outline how you plan to make your case. The thesis should be sharp, clear, and multi-faceted. Consider the following tips when summarizing the case:
- The thesis should be a single sentence
- It should include a concise argument and a roadmap
- It’s always okay to revise the thesis as the paper develops
- Conduct a bit of research to ensure you have enough support for the ideas within the paper
Outlining a History Essay Plan
Once you’ve refined your argument, it’s time to outline. Many skip this step to regret it then. The outline is the map that shows where you need to arrive historically and when. Taking the time to plan, placing the strongest argument last, and identifying your sources of research is a good use of time. When you’re ready to outline, do the following:
- Consider necessary background the reader should know in the introduction paragraph
- Define any important terms and vocabulary
- Determine which ideas will need the cited support
- Identify how each idea supports the main argument
- Brainstorm key points to review in the conclusion
History essays typically require both primary and secondarysources. Primary resources are those that were created during the historical period being analyzed. Secondary resources are those created by historians and scholars about the topic. It’s a good idea to know if the professor requires a specific number of sources, and what kind he or she prefers. Most tutors prefer primary over secondary sources.
Where to find sources? Great question! Check out bibliographies included in required class readings. Ask a campus Librarian. Peruse online journal databases; most colleges provide students with free access. When in doubt, make an appointment and ask the professor for guidance.
Writing the Essay
Now, that you have prepared your questions, ideas, and arguments; composed the outline; and gathered sources – it’s time to write your first draft. Each section of your history essay must serve its purpose. Here is what you should include in essay paragraphs.
Unsure of how to start a history essay? Well, like most essays, the introduction should be include an attention-getter (or hook):
- Relevant fact or statistic
- Rhetorical Question
- Interesting quotation
- Application anecdote if appropriate
After gaining the reader’s interest, introduce the topic. Next, present critical historic context. It is necessary to introduce any key individuals or events that will be discussed later in the essay. End with a strong thesis, which acts as a transition to the first argument.
Each body paragraph should offer a single idea to support the argument. After writing a strong topic sentence, the topic should be supported with correctly cited research. A typical body paragraph is arranged as follows:
- Topic sentence linking to the thesis
- Background about the topic
- Research quotation or paraphrase #1
- Explanation and analysis of research
- Research quotation or paraphrase #2
- Explanation and analysis of research
- Transition to next paragraph
The point of body paragraphs is to build the argument. Present the weakest support first and end with the strongest—doing so leaves the reader with the best possible evidence.
You’re almost there! Conclusion paragraphs should review the most important points in the paper. Prove that you’ve supported the argument proposed in the thesis. When writing a conclusion paragraph keep these tips in mind:
- Keep it simple
- Avoid introducing new information
- Review major points
- Discuss the relevancy to today
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Make it Shine
An A-level essay takes planning and revision, but it’s achievable. Avoid procrastination and start early. Leave yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, outline, research and write. Follow these five tips to make your history essay shine:
- Write a substantial introduction. It’s the first impression the professor will have of the paper.
- State a clear thesis. A strong thesis is easier to support.
- Incorporate evidence critically. If while researching you find opposing arguments, include them and discuss their flaws.
- Cite all the research. Whether direct quotations or paraphrases, citing evidence is crucial to avoiding plagiarism, which can have serious academic consequences.
- Include primary and secondary resources. While primary resources may be harder to find, the professor will expect them—this is, after all, a history essay.
History Essay Sample
Ready to tackle the history essay format? Great! Check out this history essay example from an upper-level history class. While the essay isn’t perfect, the professor points out its many strengths.
You can check a history essay example, completed by our writers. Link: Essay on Indian History and Culture
Remember: start early and revise, revise, revise. We can’t revise history, but you can revise your ideas until they’re perfect.
Planning your essay
The quality of your essay will be directly proportionate to the quality of your plan. Those few minutes you spend formulating a clear, well thought out and logical plan will save you time a lot of time when writing your essay and ensure that you are answering the question set.
When planning your essay you should focus on four things:
- The question
- The context of the question
- The main factors in relation to your question
- The conclusion of your argument
You should use an A4 piece of paper to plan the question something like this:
1. The question
Understanding the question is the most important factor in writing a 20 mark essay. In your plan you have to ensure that you are fully aware of what the question is actually asking you to do. By breaking down the question at the planning stage you are ensuring that you are taking the correct approach to answering it. There is really no room for mistake when you only have 40 minutes in the exam to answer each of your 2 essay questions.
If we take the question:
This question is asking you to do three things:
- Explain the importance of the use of new technology as a reason for Allied victory
- Explain the importance of other reasons for the Allied victory
- Make a judgment on the importance of the use of new technology as a reason for Allied victory.
2. The context
By placing the question in context you are showing the marker that you have knowledge and awareness of the historical period that you are studying.
When placing a question in context it helps if you think of the marker as an alien (and some probably are!) who is visiting planet earth for the first time and has no knowledge of any event, development or issue in the history of human civilisation. Therefore you need to give a bit of background knowledge in your introduction that puts the question in its historical background or explains some of the terms of the question.
There are a number of ways that you could set the wider context for the above question:
- By describing overall the course and outcome of the First World War
- By describing the causes of the war
- By explaining the importance of new technology in warfare today and in the past
3. The main factors
By identifying the main factors involved in answering the question this will give you an overview of how you are going to develop the essay. The main factors for our question are:
- New technology, you would tackle this first as it is the factor identified in the question
- The entry of the USA into the war
- The Allied Naval Blockade
- The collapse of Germany’s Allies
- The collapse of the German Home Front
4. The conclusion
Finally, you should identify the overall judgment that you are going to make from your argument. For example:
New technology was vitally important in the victory because of the battlefield superiority it gave the allies.
The entry of America made it inevitable that the Allies would be victorious because of the wealth of money, materials and men.
Whatever the evidence in your argument leads you to believe was the most important reason for Allied Victory.
This short plan will ensure that you are answering the question fully. The process of planning will ensure that you are focused on the question before you begin to write your essay. Essay planning is also a skill and you will get better and quicker at it. You should be aiming to complete the plan in less than five minutes in the exam.
Your finished plan for writing this essay would look something like this: