Writing Guidelines

Writing Guidelines:



Include a thesis statement in your first paragraph, perhaps even your first sentence, and outline your evidence there. Give me Google Map Directions for your where your paper is headed.

The best essays have a strong thesis and pertinent supporting evidence. Since your sources for History papers are almost all primary documents, you should quote directly from them to build your argument.

Please make sure to quote sources to prove your point. The assignment is to state a thesis and support with evidence drawn from the sources. People in the past are more eloquent and more accurate on the subject at hand than we can ever be (after all, they were there). Of course, you have to provide citations when you quote these people.



            History uses the Chicago style for citing sources, either footnotes or endnotes. An excellent guide is available at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center. Check each assignment to see if footnotes or endnotes are required, and whether or not a bibliography is needed.

            For papers where only one source, or just a handful, is used, you may use a modified parenthetical style. Check with your instructor or the assignment itself before employing this method!



A Few Pointers:


• In general, historical writing uses the simple past tense, even when referring to primary sources. It’s much simpler that way and avoids confusion.

Also, the subjects of historical writing are almost all dead, thus requiring the past tense.

Example: “The colonies WERE against taxation”, rather than “The colonies are against taxation.”

Corollary: use the present tense (but past still works) when discussing a document: “As Adams states, the colonies preferred chocolate to tea.” It is best to stick to one verb tense throughout (usually the simple past) as it makes the essay flow better and avoids confusion.


• Avoid using personal pronouns. “I” should NEVER appear in your paper, unless it is a direct quote from a source.


• The books we read for class are modern, non-fiction analyses of past events. They are NOT "novels," so please do not call them this.


• Avoid “to be” verbs (i.e. was, had, did)—they make for dull writing and reading.


• VERBOTEN: “obviously” or “naturally”!! Your job is to explain the why and how; there is nothing obvious or natural about history.


• Also, please do not use the phrase, “Throughout history”, especially to start your paper. It makes me grumpy.


• Spell-checking is grate, butt knot prefect. It misses mistakes you mite place their. (Can you find six errors in the preceding sentence?) Proof-read your papers after printing out a draft to ensure good grammar and spelling. Try reading your writing aloud and listening for awkward phrases.


• Review the rules for comma usage. They either separate a string of words or set off clauses. In general, if you use one comma, there should be a second one nearby.


• No block quotes, please (excerpts from a source of more than five lines). In a paper of fewer that ten pages your analysis is important, and should be supported by brief and frequent quotations from the sources.


• Avoid Chambers’ pet peeve—the passive voice! The passive voice is where the subject of the sentence is not the actor but is acted upon. Make sure each that sentence has a clear subject who/that is causing the action later in the sentence.

Example: “England was conquered in 1066.”
Active voice is where the subject of the sentence is also the actor.
Change to: “Duke William of Normandy conquered England in 1066.”
The active voice makes for better writing and more readable prose (something is happening!).



Rewrite policy:


On occasion you will find “Rewrite” as your paper grade. This means that you either did not fulfill the assignment of made fundamental errors that merit correction. You have one week to revise your essay (either in consultation with me or based on my comments). For those of you who received a grade of C or below, you may also rewrite. In both cases, a rewrite grade will be no higher than a C. Turn in your original paper with your rewrite.