Study Skills: Keys for constructing a high-level history essay

Posted by The Writing Wizard on 2/21/13 9:16 AM

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I’ve been a history student and history tutor for more years than I’d like to count.  So needless to say, I’ve written (and graded) many papers.  And as an academic tutor in New York City, I’ve worked with many students who have trouble getting enthused about any kind of research paper, let alone in turning that paper into a clear, well-argued, and sophisticated A-range essay that is fit for a writing tutor.

We all have enough trouble sometimes in gathering our thoughts to organize a basic essay, but with the following study skills in mind, you can send a series of cues to your grader to show that you’re writing analytically at a high level and that you deserve that perfect essay grade. You can make a paper written for high school academics feel like a college level piece of work.

Include an oppositional moment

Try incorporating a well-respected opinion that diverges from your thesis.  This is a move that will show your reader that you’re not only confident in your argument and your essay writing skills, but also that you’ve done your background reading.  Most high-level extended essays will include a significant section conceding to an alternative approach.  Of course, you’ll want to end this concession with a brief explanation of why you’re still right!  But even a few sentences like this in your conclusion will go a long way in showing your serious approach to analytical essay writing.

Get another perspective

In this same vein, you should remember that it’s always important to back up your ideas, and this means getting opinions from other well-respected historians.  See if your library subscribes to JSTOR, Project MUSE, or even Google Scholar.  Search for reviews about books you’re writing about – and cite them!  Even finding a little essay in a historical journal that provides some background to the period you’re looking at will show your teacher that you’ve done your homework as it were and that you’re invested in the topic.

Think about all the different “histories” you could be exploring

There are so many angles to any particular question or essay prompt, and within the field of “history,” there are countless specializations that are tailored to each one.  Political history, social history, economic history, intellectual history – there are so many different modes of enquiry, and they each answer specific questions.  By exploring the possible advantages and disadvantages to some of these different historical “lenses,” you can really add great depth to a paper and prove to your reader that you’re aware of all the different ways of attacking the argument.

Look for primary sources

To some, this might seem obvious, but the inclusion of primary sources – or an original document, one that provides direct evidence of a certain event or historical moment – is one of the hallmarks of a truly advanced paper.  If you’re writing a paper for your AP US History class about the market revolution in the nineteenth century, find something like a diary entry written by a factory worker.  Or if you’re writing a report for your class on Art History, maybe find one of the original reviews associated with an exhibition’s unveiling.  These sorts of things not only give your paper richer content but also make the subject come alive, both for the reader and for you!

So before throwing up your arms and submitting the first draft you manage to eek out, try incorporating a few of these suggestion to create a high-level piece of analytical writing that will really send your teacher the right message.

Tags: history, expository writing