How to write a history essay
History is about reading, imagining and writing!
The subject “history” may conjure up fantastic images in your mind, may excite your imagination and can be really good fun as a read but the intention to write an essay on history can challenge even lovers of history. You may be given the topic but it can be so complicated that you end up getting lost trying to answer it.
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A good quality essay requires the utmost efforts in terms of understanding, comprehension, analysis and good use of language from students. It is a showcase of your intellectual prowess. In the case of history essays, this is especially challenging as your subject matter would be about people/places/events in the past which played a pivotal role in development of the world as we know it today.
So, you really need to understand and appreciate the facts, as well as use native insight to use the facts and interpret in as accurate a way as manner- factually based and possible interpretations. You also got to demonstrate excellent use of argumentation- stating claims and validating it by providing evidence. In addition, you have to do a considerable amount of research, collect and organise the information in a way which makes sense to the reader. Relevance Being relevant is essential to delivering a good history essay.
Why history essays need special attention!
History is one subject full of facts and incidences, which can be interpreted in myriad ways. One of the dangers of history essay writing is that you can end up putting in a lot of irrelevant and information in order to show your expertise and your knowledge. This can end up being a distraction from the main question and thus lead to you scoring less in the specific topic.
So, the first thing is to understand the question, really understand it and what it is asking of you and then try and answer it. You can attack the question from different angles to determine the most accurate meaning. The answer should be specific and should include evidence, which supports it. This can be a challenge.
Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint one single answer to a question: there can be multiple choices. Hence, you need to sift through these choices and choose the ones that have maximum responsibility to the issue. For e.g. if a question asks you to trace the immediate cause of the World War I, you would have to mention that the trigger was the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and then lead back to the preceding causes.
Another example is if you are asked to define the contributions of an individual to history- you need to really get to the heart of the question-what exactly did the individual do to merit a mention in history? This is how you approach the question to be answered. One thing which can help you in this is to create an essay outline based on the words from the essay topic. The essay topic would contain specific keywords and phrases around which your essay has to be organised. This would give structure as well as ensure that your essay sticks to the point. Use direct language where possible- address points directly and explicitly- connect it to the overall topic. This ensure that the focus is retained through out.
Structure of the essay
A historical essay also demonstrates the following structure, just like other academic essays. The essay would have two parts: a thesis (essay question) and evidence presented in favour or against the thesis topic. The thesis question is presented in the first paragraph of the essay. The evidence would be presented in a detailed discussion which covers the body of the essay and the conclusion. The thesis statement presented in the beginning of the essay is related to the essay question but is not a restatement or a copied question. It has to be an interpretation of the issue in your own words and you have to demonstrate that you have understood the topic and the implications of it. You have to explain why the topic is important and relevant to study.
The rest of the essay has to be about demonstrating why your thesis is credible and is a correct interpretation. The thesis needs to be supported by the evidence (body) presented in the essay. Both have to complement each other. A thesis which is inadequately supported by the evidence and vice –versa will lead to a poor and weak essay. Presenting supporting evidence or arguments is not simply about presenting facts, dates and incidents but it is about selecting the most relevant information and presenting it in a way which makes for persuasive and compelling reading.
Unlike other essays, your history essay may require the use of footnotes and bibliographies for referencing purposes. The footnotes are presented at the end of every page. Each footnote is a reference which provides evidence for the statement you are making in the main body. So, the reader can easily weigh your argument against the evidence you are presenting at the same time. Any doubts as to how you have constructed your argument and your grounds for making the claims you make, would be removed through the use of proper referencing and footnotes.
Presenting the correct narrative
One of the greatest errors you can do in a history essay is to not present a narrative in a proper way. When you are presenting facts in your essay, you need to present it in a proper “chronological” fashion. The incidents narrated as supporting evidence in the essay have to be presented in the correct order – with respect to time as well as to space. Inaccuracies or misrepresentation of dates/times/locations can really cost you a lot.
Likewise, ascribing incorrect thoughts/expressions to people and figures which have no connection can also lead to penalties in essay writing. As a critical account and analysis of past events/people and places, history essays have to stand true to accuracy of time/space. The other mistake many students do is to explain and interpret past events from the point of view of the present. When you present your discussion, you should speak of the past, from the viewpoint of a person who belonged to the time.
The narrative should match the context. Following these basic guidelines should help you deliver a well-crafted and impactful history essay. Rewriting and drafting A number of rewrites and drafts may be necessary to ensure that your essay takes the appropriate shape. This would also help to remove any inaccuracies in content, language, grammar and other defects which may lead to your essay scoring less.
Image courtesy of [Stuart Miles] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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