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Writing Center: History Papers

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

FAQs About The Expectations Of History Papers

What are students expected to write in history papers? 

Students are expected to write about academic texts, including primary and secondary sources of historical events, that they read. They should critically analyze this material in their paper by identifying and defending an argument about the significance of the material. 

What are common mistakes students make in history papers? 

While students often have a general understanding of how to work with the texts, they often 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.

Why do students struggle with history papers? 

Students often struggle because they are not history majors and lack the experience of writing history papers. Many of them are also in college for the first time and struggle to write at a college level. 

What is the difference between lower-level and upper-level history 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. 

Should students write in active or passive voice? 

Students should write in active voice. 

What should be included in the introduction of a history paper? 

The purpose of the introduction is to frame the entire paper by bringing the readers into a period or event. As such, the introduction should not contain broad statements, such as “Since the beginning of the time.” Rather, the 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.

What should be included in the thesis of a history paper? 

The thesis 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. 

What should be included in the conclusion of a history paper? 

The conclusion should be a summary of the main argument and supporting points in the paper. The conclusion should not contain any new information. 

When should students include a quote in their history papers? 

A quote should be included when it contributes strongly to the student’s argument. 

How much emphasis is placed on the use of correct citations? 

Students in lower-level courses are usually only expected to demonstrate that they can cite the information and quotes they take from academic sources. Their professor provides the students with a citation guideline. During tutoring sessions in the Writing Center, the tutor can request that the student bring this citation guideline. 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.

What do typical prompts for history papers look like? 

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. 

FAQs About Tutoring MC Students Who Are Working On History Papers

How can a tutor help a student who is writing history papers? 

The purpose of writing history papers in lower-level courses is to teach students how to conquer typical college papers. Tutors can show students how to include the various aspects of a strong college-level paper. Tutors can help students form and prove an argument, create a strong introduction, write a clear thesis, and critically analyze the material they read. 

What should a tutor do when they are not familiar with the topic of the student’s paper?

Since the purpose of the tutoring sessions is to strengthen the student’s writing skills, the tutor does not need to have prior knowledge on the topic. The tutor can still focus on the various aspects that make a strong paper. Tutors can look at the structure and organization, thesis statement, supporting arguments, transitions, and more. 

How can a tutor help a student with a history paper introduction? 

Students often write their introduction before they identify their thesis and write their supporting arguments. Due to this, the information in their introduction is often separated from the rest of the paper. A tutor should advise that the student rewrite their introduction after they finish their paper. This revision will allow their introduction to be focused on the information they will actually discuss in the paper. 

How can a tutor encourage a student to analyze the material?

The tutor can push the student to think about the significance of the material. Questions such as “What do you believe is the major takeaway from this material?” and “What did you learn from reading this material?” will allow the student to analyze the material and identify the significance. The tutor can also encourage the students to think about why they viewed information as relevant enough to include in the text. Questions such as “Why did you select this information” and “What is the significance behind this information you included?” can help the student consider why certain information is important and how this information contributes to their argument.

How can a tutor help a student write their thesis statement? 

The tutor can ask questions about the significance of the material the student read to encourage them to identify an overarching theme about the importance of the material.

Tips For Writing History Papers

  • Open with an engaging sentence that makes the audience want to continue reading 
    • Avoid “Since the beginning of time…” and other vague, boring introductions
    • Start with a captivating short story or anecdote, engaging quote, puzzling scenario, a common misconception, or interesting fact
  • Provide sufficient background information in the introduction 
    • Use the background information to ensure that the audience is able to fully understand the topic of the paper
  • Identify a thesis statement and base your paper around defending this thesis statement 
    • Ensure that the thesis statement contains a strong argument 
  • Make the thesis statement easily identifiable in the introduction 
  • Use each body paragraph to defend and support the thesis statement 
  • Make the topic of each body paragraph known by utilizing a strong topic sentence 
  • Connect each body paragraph together by using transitions and explaining how the ideas in each body paragraph connect
  • Focus the paper on a narrow topic, rather than trying to fit too many ideas into one paper
  • Go beyond simply summarizing the sources 
    • Push for analysis of each source
    • Whenever a source or piece of evidence is included, inform the audience of the significance and meaning of this source or evidence
    • Critically engage with the sources you include by demonstrating the importance of these sources and explaining how these sources relate to the argument of your thesis statement
  • Use the conclusion to restate the thesis statement, demonstrate how the thesis statement was proven in the body paragraphs, and explain the significance of the argument of the thesis statement 
  • Be precise in your statements and avoid making generalizations
    • Generalizations indicate that you have not fully read and understood the material 
  • Help the audience follow a logical order and sequence throughout the paper by utilizing transitions, cues, and topic sentences 
  • Remember to write in active voice 
    • Continually read over the information you wrote and ensure that passive voice was not used
  • Only include quotes when the information cannot be said better or just as well in your own words 
  • Cite each source in-text and on the reference page you use as you enter the source into the paper 
    • This will prevent you from forgetting to cite a source or losing the source later on
  • Keep in mind that history papers still require all the traditional rules of academic writing, such as a thesis statement, a defense of the thesis statement, and citations

Checklist For History Papers

  • The introduction is engaging and pulls the audience in 
  • The introduction informs the audience of the subject of the paper
  • The introduction includes a sufficient amount of background information
  • The introduction defines key terms that are necessary to understand the topic
  • Contains a thesis statement with a clear argument 
  • The thesis statement is easy to find
  • The thesis statement is introduced at the beginning of the piece
  • Topic sentences are listed at the beginning of each paragraph 
  • Arguments in each body paragraph support the thesis statement
  • Each argument is supported by sources and evidence  
  • Argument is well-developed 
  • Concludes with a summary of the information stated in the previous paragraphs
  • Introduction and conclusion mirror each other in style and content
  • Original thought and ideas of the writer are clearly included throughout the paper 
  • Goes beyond just a summary of the paper and includes an analysis of the sources, concepts, and ideas
  • Explains why the argument of the paper is significant to the audience
  • The paper is focused on one narrowed topic 
  • The paper is logically organized and the audience can follow the flow of ideas
  • Quotes are only included when necessary and each quote supports the main argument
  • Includes sources throughout the paper 
  • Citations for all sources are provided at the end of the paper 
  • Follows proper citation style required by the rubric 
  • Includes a clear and engaging title 
  • The paper adheres to the rubric and requirements provided by the professor 
  • A professional tone is maintained throughout the paper 
  • Free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors

Additional Resources For History Papers