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Writing in History

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Dave Boehm

on 24 September 2013

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Transcript of Writing in History

Writing for History
Understand how writing for history differs from writing for other disciplines.
Recognize the clues within the question to assist you in formulating your response.
Display a clear and focused understanding of the issues that make up your subject matter
Write a clear and cohesive thesis

Completeness - a paragraph must have enough information in it to give the
reader a clear picture or a full discussion of its main idea (the topic sentence).
A paragraph without details or examples will be vague, unconvincing, and

Logical and sensible order - a paragraph's sentences should be in a logical
or sensible order so that the reader is not confused or forced to miss the main
point of the paragraph.

Unity - all sentences in a good paragraph relate to the topic sentence, when
any idea does not relate specifically to the paragraph's main point, the
paragraph is not unified.

Coherence - all of a paragraph's sentences should be clearly connected to
each other.
A Relatively Simple Equation
Evidence or Support
Historical Essay
Unlike other classes, history requires the
writer to place their evidence and arguments correctly in time.
Sequencing and chronology are key in presenting a logical argument.
No C!
Understanding what is expected
Before you can attempt to write your thesis you must understand the question being asked.
The question will have a directive to guide you in formulating your response.
Once you have identified the directive you can move on to creating your response.
Look for directive verbs or phrases that are intended to direct the focus of the essay. Examples:

1. Analyze: Determine the nature and relationship of the component parts of; explain; break-down.Tell "how", "why" something happened. It is like "cause and effect".

2. Assess: Judge the value of character of something; appraise; evaluate. How true or false it is.

3. Compare: Examine for the purpose of noting similarities and differences. When the question call for comparisons, they expect you to include differences as well.

4. Describe: Give an account of; tell about; give a word picture of.

5. Discuss: Talk over; write about; consider or examine by argument or from various points of view;debate; present the different sides of.

6. Evaluate: Give the positive points and the negative ones; appraise; give an opinion regarding the value of; discuss the advantages and disadvantages of.

7. Examine: Make clear or plain; make clear the causes or reasons for; make known in detail; tell the meaning of.

8. To What Extent and In What Ways: How much? In what ways did an event or condition relate to another? Understand both what was done and what was still left to be done. Anticipate counterarguments.
In the post–Civil War United States, corporations grew significantly in number, size, and influence. Analyze the
impact of big business on the economy and politics and the responses of Americans to these changes.
Analyze the effect of the French and Indian War and its aftermath on the relationship
between Great Britain and the British colonies. Confine your response to the period
from 1754 to 1776.
Compare and contrast the Cold War foreign policies of TWO of the following presidents
Harry Truman (1945–1953)
Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1961)
Richard Nixon (1969–1974)
“Geography was the primary factor in shaping the development of the British colonies in North America.” Assess the validity of this statement for the 1600s.
Evaluate the influence of religion on the development of colonial society in TWO of the following regions: Spanish Southwest, New England, New France.
To what extent had the colonists developed a sense of their identity and unity as Americans by the eve of the Revolution?
Broad Topics
In the case of a research paper or project the topics given are much broader.

Often times these topics will lack directives and you will be required to come up with a research question before attempting to create your thesis.
It is important to be able to distinguish between a research question and a thesis statement.
The research question can be defined in the following ways:
The question that focuses your research on a significant problem, issue, controversy or contradiction.
The main question outlined in your assignment, or the final question you have arrived at after narrowing your topic.
The question that your thesis will answer in the form of a specific claim.
Tips for coming up with a good research question:
If you are given a broad topic try these strategies to help narrow down your focus
Ask the journalistic questions (who, what, when, where, why) about your topic until you get down to a single question that is both specific and substantive.
Consider how your question relates to published literature on the subject.
Use a purpose statement to help you come up with a research question:
"The purpose of this paper is to..."
Research Materials
Once you have identified the directive in the essay question, or come up with a research question, it is time to begin examining your research materials.
In the case of a research project or paper you may be directed as to how many primary and secondary sources you need to use.
In the case of an essay you may be given documents or asked to rely on your knowledge of the topic for your answer.
Quick Review
Primary Source - An original first hand document that is an eyewitness account of an event or set of ideas.
Secondary Source - A source that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon and is generally one step removed from the event.
Since there usually is a great deal of information available it is important to have a process that you are comfortable with to analyze that information.
If time permits, the tools in your Schoology toolbox provide you wit a framework in which to analyze that information.
In the case of an essay it is important, once you understand the question, to "brainstorm" what you know about the topic.

List everything; then categorize it in a way that makes sense to you and to will enable you provide the information required by the directive.
The Thesis
Historical essay writing is based upon the thesis.
Your thesis will be the most important sentence in your response because in it you will present the position you will take in your paper.
The thesis is in effect, your position, your particular interpretation, your way of seeing a problem.
Defined - the thesis is a statement of the authors position in response to a question or prompt which will be defended in their written response.
Be careful not to confuse your thesis statement with your research question.
Your research question is used to help you focus your research and come up with a thesis you can defend.
Your thesis tells the reader the position you are going to take in response to the directive in the question.
Research questions are typically used when working on a project or paper.
When writing an essay you may not have time or reason to work through a research question.
The Vietnam War
Research Question:
Why did the United States get involved?
The escalation of the Vietnam War in the 1960's was caused primarily by America's anti-Communist foreign policy.
The Thesis Statement
The thesis statement is written:
When writing a paper or doing a project (given a broad topic)
- You have written a strong research question and organized
your sources
When completing an essay
- You have identified the directive and developed a strategy
as to how you are going to answer the question based on your knowledge of the subject
Tips for writing an effective thesis statement
An effective thesis statement fulfills the following criteria.
It should be:
- Your thesis should be a claim for which it is easy to answer every reader's question:
"So what?"

- A thesis must be a claim that you can prove with the evidence at hand (e.g.,
evidence from your texts or from your research). Your claim should not be outlandish, or personal opinion or preference
(e.g., "Frederick Douglass is my favorite historical figure.")
- An effective thesis statement has been narrowed down from a very broad subject.
Your claim should not be something on which whole books could be written.
- A thesis statement should not be a statement of fact or an assertion with which every
reader is likely to immediately agree.
(Otherwise, why try to convince your readers with an argument?)
- If you are responding to an assignment, the thesis should answer the question your
posed. In order to stay focused, pay attention to the directives in the question.
(summarize, argue, compare/contrast, etc.)
Keeping it simple
A good thesis follows a basic formula:
(Active) Verb
The escalation of the Vietnam War in the 1960's
was caused
primarily by America's anti-Communist foreign policy.
What's Wrong With These Thesis Statements?
Frederick Douglass made a speech in which he wondered why slaves should celebrate the Fourth of July.
This sentence is a statement of fact. There is nothing to be argued here
Of all examples of persuasive speaking in American history, Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July" is far and away the most effective.
This sentence offers only the writer's opinion. The writer does not offer arguable criteria for why this speech is effective.
Throughout American history, brave leaders have stood up against oppression of all kinds.
This statement is too broad it would be more effective if narrowed down to particular leader
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