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A Student Guide to Writing a History Paper

The first thing that you may ask is why write papers at all? Writing is an invaluable part of the educational process, because writing forces you to take your knowledge of a subject, and organize it all into a coherent and concise presentation. Furthermore, it forces you to dig deeper and uncover interesting information about a person or event that might otherwise be mentioned during instructional time.
There is another practical reason why you should write well. After you graduate, many of those with whom you will have contact in your professional life will judge you and your work based upon your writing. Whatever career path you choose, you will have to write letters, reports, speeches, proposals, etc., that others will read before they ever hear the sound of your voice. These individuals will develop their first and often lasting impression of you based on your writing skills.
Writing is a skill and like any skill is fine-tuned through practice. When you write history papers, use this as a guide and it will improve your final product.
Thesis Statement
Before you start writing your paper, develop a carefully constructed thesis. Every paper must have a thesis. Your thesis should be stated clearly in the introduction of the paper so the reader is not left to wonder just what argument you are making. If you cannot say what you want in one or two sentences, then your thesis is probably to broad. The thesis statement does not have to be in the first sentence of your paper (although it can be) but it should appear somewhere on the first page. In the paragraph that contains your thesis, you should also mention the sort of evidence that you are going to use to offer support for the body of your paper, your argument, and how your topic fits into a broader context of history.
Body of the Paper
Once you have a clear introduction for your paper, you must elaborate on the argument that you are pursuing. Discuss relevant facts, arguments, and counter-arguments and explain why you think your thesis is correct. Early in the paper you should place your topic in its proper historical context. Go back into the history of your topic only so far as that background is relevant to your argument. Also, do not spend too much time on other people's arguments.

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Your argument is the one I am most interested in.
Above all, analyze. Do not recite a series of facts in the form "This happened and this happened, etc., etc.," The purpose of your paper is to always analyze a text, a series of events, or set of data. I usually know what happened. What I want to know is what you think about the matters in question.
At the end of your paper, there should be a conclusion. In the final paragraph you should sum up, without restating, the arguments you have made in the paper. One great way to be sure that you have remained true to your thesis is to compare your concluding statement to your thesis. Be sure they are in agreement.
As you see, writing a history paper is a balancing act. You need to include as much relevant information as possible without cramming every piece of information you can find into your paper. Much of what you learn you may have to simply leave out of the paper because that extra information is just not necessary. Likewise, if your argument is a controversial one you may need enough concrete information to convince the reader that you know what your are writing about.

Here are a few simple steps to follow:
1.     Do not procrastinate. You should begin thinking about your paper as soon as possible. This may involve frequent trips to the library and gathering information. You have more time early in the semester, so use it!
2.     Assemble as much information as you can before you begin writing. If you write a page or two, then gather more evidence, then write more, your paper may read choppy and inconsistent.
3.     Write as many drafts of your paper as time allows. Your first draft is basically the first try, and not what you want me to read. Take the evidence you have assembled and write what you want to say. After you have your first draft, begin improving on what you have written. Every paper can be improved. If you cannot read a sentence without stopping to take a breath, than that sentence is probably too long and should be broken up into two or three shorter sentences.
4.     Spelling and grammar mistakes make it difficult for the reader to pay attention to your argument. When a paper contains many of these errors, the reader spends most of their time correcting mistakes instead of focusing on the effectiveness of the paper's argument. Do not let the computer do your editing. There is no substitute for careful proofreading. I will know who has taken the time to edit carefully and who has not, and it will be reflected in your grade!
5.     Use the writing center to help you. Make an appointment in advance (don't wait until the last minute) and use this invaluable tool for the improvement of your writing. They will not write the paper for you, but they will help you organize and edit one of your rough drafts.
Citing Sources
Throughout your paper you must cite your sources. If you quote directly or indirectly from an article, journal, interview or document, you need to indicate the sources of your information. Your research should come from scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are those written by historians. This does not mean Time Magazine, Encyclopedia Britanica, or Internet web sites. For this paper, the MLA format will be followed. You will find an example of this format attached. You must cite your sources in accordance with WTCC's Academic Integrity Policy. This includes in-text documentation and a works cited page.
Do not fill your paper with quotations. I would rather read your own words. But if you use someone else's idea, even if in your own words, it should be documented to the proper sources. If you do quote, do so at a minimum (maybe once or twice, but no more than three), and make them effective.
If you fail to cite your sources, it is possible that you may be accused of plagiarism. WTCC has specific policies against plagiarism as you well know. If you have any questions concerning citations please see me.

MLA Example
The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style is widely used for identifying research sources. In MLA style you briefly credit sources with parenthetical citations in the text of your paper, and give the complete description of each source in your Works Cited list. The Works Cited list, or Bibliography, is a list of all the sources used in your paper, arranged alphabetically by author's last name, or when there is no author, by the first word of the title (except A, An or The).
For example:
In the text of your paper:
Results of studies done by Hawaii's Ocean Mammal Institute indicated that humpback whales were affected by the noise of marine engines (Calvez 41).
According to Leigh Calvez, studies by the Ocean Mammal Institute indicated that Hawaiian humpback whales were affected by the noise of marine engines (41).
In your Works Cited list:
Calvez, Leigh. "By the Time We Have Proof." Ocean Realm Spring 2000: 41-

Author. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year

Author. "Title of Article." Name of Newspaper Date, edition: Page(s).

Author. "Title of Article." Title of Journal volume number (Year): Pages.

Person Interviewed. Type of interview (personal or telephone). Date.

Online Service: INFOTRAC
Author's name (if given). "Title of Article." Name of Magazine Date
of Publication: Pages. Name of Database. InfoTrac. Library Name.
Date of Access


1.     Typed/MLA format
2.     12 inch font
3.     Dark Print
4.     5-8 Pages Double Spaced
5.     1 inch margins
6.     Name and Page Number 1/2 inch from top right
7.     Title Centered
8.     5 Sources (No textbooks or Encyclopedias)
9.     Parenthetical Referencing
10.     All quotes documented/ quote sparingly
11.     Works Cited Page MLA format
12.     All headings 1 inch from top
13.     Title Page

Instructor's Name

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