Good ways to start history essays
Education The former editor of History Review Robert Pearce gives his personal view. First of all we ought to ask, What constitutes a good history essay? Probably no two people will completely agree, if only for the very good reason that quality is in the eye — and reflects the intellectual state — of the reader. What follows, therefore, skips philosophical issues and instead offers practical advice on how to write an essay that will get top marks.
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Relevance Witnesses in court promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. All history students should swear check this out similar oath: This is the number one rule. You can write brilliantly and argue a case with a wealth of convincing evidence, but if you are not being relevant then you might as well be tinkling a cymbal.
In other words, you have to think very carefully about the question you are asked to answer.
But your main priority should be to discover an argument. Evaluate the text by placing it into a broader intellectual context. For example, limit your use of words like: You will need this information when it comes to footnoting your essay. The fullness of your idea will not emerge until your conclusion, but your beginning must clearly indicate the direction your idea will take, must set your essay on that road. A snappy quotation that doesn't help establish the context for your essay or that later plays no part in your thinking will only mislead readers and blur your focus. Writing the First Draft Having revised you argument and planit's time to write your essay. Supplying the necessary information to orient your readers may be as simple as answering the journalist's questions of wasy, what, where, when, how, and why.
Take your time, look carefully at the wording of the question, and be certain in your own mind that you have thoroughly understood all its terms. If, for instance, you are asked why Hitler came to power, you must define what this process of coming to power consisted of. Is there any specific event that marks his achievement of power? If you immediately seize on his appointment as Chancellor, think carefully and ask yourself what actual powers this position conferred on him.
Was the passing of the Enabling Act more important? And when did the rise to power actually start? If you can establish which years are relevant — and consequently which are irrelevant — you will have made a very good start. Then you can decide on the different factors that explain his rise. Or if you are asked to explain the successes of a particular individual, again avoid writing the first thing that comes into your head. Think about possible successes. What does it really mean?
Is it objective a matter of fact or subjective a matter of opinion? Do we have to consider short-term and long-term successes? If the person benefits from extraordinary good luck, is that still a success?
- Few writers are completely sure of their final conclusions before they begin drafting:
- We are both five.
- Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people.
This grappling with the problem of definition will help you compile how yourself introduction to about an write annotated list of successes, and you can then proceed to explain them, tracing their origins and pinpointing how and why they occurred. Is there a key common factor in the successes?
If so, this could constitute the central thrust of your answer. This should be distinguished from remembering, daydreaming and idly speculating. Thinking is rarely a pleasant undertaking, and most of us contrive to avoid it most of the time. So think as hard as you can about the meaning of the question, about the issues it raises and the ways you can answer it. You have to think and think hard — and then you should think again, trying to find loopholes in your reasoning. Eventually you will almost certainly become confused.
If you get totally confused, take a break.
Why waste good ways to start history essays Landing pages
When you return to the question, it may be that the problems have resolved themselves. If not, give yourself more time. You may well find that decent ideas simply pop into your conscious mind at unexpected times.
You can of course follow the herd and repeat the interpretation given in your textbook. But there are good ways to start history essays here. First, what is to see more your work from that of everybody else? The advice above is relevant to coursework essays. But even here, you should take time out to do some thinking.
- Abbreviation principles It is now common practice to use full stops only where the abbreviation of the word does not contain the last letter of the word.
- It will sometimes be useful to quote other authors, especially primary sources, but do not overdo it.
- You need to get this clear in the early stages so you can prepare your essay in the best way.
Examiners look for quality rather than quantity, and brevity makes relevance doubly important. The Vital First Paragraph Every part of an good ways to start history essays is important, but the first paragraph is vital. This is the first chance you have to impress — or depress — an examiner, and first impressions are often decisive. You might therefore try to write an eye-catching first sentence.
More important is that you demonstrate your understanding of the question set. Here you give your carefully thought out definitions of the key terms, and here you establish the relevant time-frame and issues — in other words, the parameters of the question. Also, you divide the overall question into more manageable sub-divisions, or smaller questions, on each of which you will subsequently write a paragraph.
You formulate an argument, or perhaps voice alternative lines of argument, that you will substantiate later in the essay. Hence the first paragraph — or perhaps you might spread this opening section over two paragraphs — is the key to a good essay. On reading a good first paragraph, examiners will be profoundly reassured that its author is on the right lines, being relevant, analytical and rigorous.
They will probably breathe a sign of relief that here is one student at least who is avoiding the two common pitfalls. The first is to ignore the question altogether. The second is to write a narrative of events — often beginning with the birth of an individual — with a half-hearted attempt at answering the question in the final paragraph. Middle Paragraphs Philip Larkin once said that the modern novel consists of a beginning, a muddle and an end.
Your teachers, of course, will trudge on. You may find that some of your points are irrelevant: What I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this fact before we return to our separate houses, next door to each other. When you begin writing up your essay, a strong introduction can set the scene, create interest in the reader, and provide an outline histor what is to come in your essay. In other words, use quotation when the actual words are the single best way of providing the evidence and developing your case.
The same is, alas, all too true of many history essays. It should be obvious, from your middle paragraphs, what question you are answering. So consider starting each middle paragraph will a generalisation relevant to the question. Then you can develop this idea and substantiate it with evidence. You must give a judicious selection of evidence i. You only have a limited amount of space or time, so think about how much detail to give. Relatively unimportant background issues can be summarised with a broad brush; your most important areas need greater embellishment.
The regulations often specify that, in the A2 year, students should be familiar with the main interpretations of historians. Do not ignore this advice. On the other hand, do not take historiography to extremes, so that the past itself is virtually ignored. Quite often in essays students give a generalisation and back it up with the opinion of an historian — and since they have formulated the generalisation from the opinion, the argument is entirely circular, and therefore meaningless and unconvincing.
It also fatuously presupposes that historians are infallible and omniscient gods. Unless you give real evidence to back up your view — as historians do — a generalisation is simply an assertion. Middle paragraphs are the place for the real substance of an essay, and you neglect this at your peril. In the middle paragraph you are akin to a barrister arguing a case.
Now, in the final paragraph, you are the judge summing up and pronouncing the verdict. Do not introduce lots of fresh evidence at this stage, though you can certainly introduce the odd extra fact that clinches your case. If your question is about Hitler coming to power, you should not end by giving a summary of what he did once in power. Such an irrelevant ending will fail to win marks.
On the other read article, it may be that some of the things Hitler did after coming to power shed valuable light on why he came to power in the first place. Examiners are not expected to think; you must make your material explicitly relevant. Final Thoughts A good essay, especially one that seems to have been effortlessly composed, has often been revised several times; and the best students are those who are most selfcritical.
Get into the habit of criticising your own first drafts, and never be satisfied with second-best efforts. Also, take account of the feedback you get from teachers. Relevance is vital in a good essay, and so is evidence marshalled in such a way that it produces a convincing argument. But nothing else really matters. The paragraph structure recommended above is just a guide, nothing more, and you can write a fine essay using a very different arrangement of material. Similarly, though it would be excellent if you wrote in expressive, witty and sparklingly provocative prose, you can still get top marks even if your essay is serious, ponderous and even downright dull.
There are an infinite number of ways to write an essay because any form of writing is a means of self-expression. Your essay will be unique because you are unique: Robert Pearce is the editor of History Review.