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How to Write an Outstanding History Essay and Score High

Want to write the best history essay to score top grades? Below are all the top history essay writing tips you need to achieve this objective.

good history essay writing tips

There are several things (dos and don’ts) constituting effective essay writing to keep in mind.

On this page-top tips for writing a good history essay:

  1. Ensure clarity
  2. Don’t try too hard to be perfect
  3. Avoid long sentences, use short ones
  4. Avoid using the first person
  5. Avoid Informal language
  6. Start with a concept draft
  7. Structure your essay effectively

Ensure clarity

The golden rule of writing a history paper: ensure clarity. Keep your reasoning as clear as possible to eliminate any doubts about the direction of the paper and your point of view.

  • Your reasoning should always be clear, and your writing should never be ambiguous.
  • As far as possible, the reader should never question what you’re trying to express.
  • Aim for a clear thesis

Don’t try too hard to be perfect

Perfection is desirable, but a rare feat. When you try too hard to be perfect you encounter situations that are likely to undermine your writing. You may resort to a writing style that is more complex than what you are comfortable with, such as attempting to utilize more difficult words in the hope of scoring a higher grade. The belief that using such words translates into higher quality papers can be misleading.

Frequently, if you employ words with which you are unfamiliar, your meaning may be misinterpreted, the phrases come across awkwardly and don’t quite flow the same way, and the writing appears a bit more ambiguous than you would prefer. These issues have negative implications for your grades. Try to write with as much clarity as you possibly can to avoid this undesirable scenario.

Avoid long sentences, use short ones

In the spirit of clarity, when it comes to sentence structure, avoid writing in sentences that are excessively lengthy. Overly long sentences muddle the clarity of your writing: occasionally, when you write a statement as perhaps six, seven, or maybe more words, it is difficult for the reader (grader) to understand what you are saying.

in order to grasp what you’re attempting to convey or to follow your argument, it is necessary to understand your argument in depth. Overly long sentences undermine this goal.

Generally, the ideal sentence structure entails short sentences as brevity contributes to readability by allowing clear statements to follow one another. This strategy guides the reader to the conclusion of your argument

Avoid using the first person

Avoid using the first person in your writing. Keep in mind that this is a formal piece of writing, it is inappropriate to use phrases such as “I, my, me” or even worse, “one”. Simply do not write them; do not write your argument “I consider this”, “one considers this”, That’s not appropriate in a formal history paper.

To communicate effectively in a formal piece of writing, use an impersonal tone and. To express your perspective, your argument should come across clearly. You can write your view in other ways without using the first person, such as saying things like, “The evidence discussed here shows that…” or “From the preceding it is evident that…”, or you can demonstrate your argument, that it’s your view, without using personal pronouns and the first person in general.

Avoid informal language

Endeavor to avoid colloquial language. This is an official piece of writing, so avoid using slang and other informal language. Explain sufficiently to the reader and walk them through your argument as plainly as you would in a social setting, being sensitive to what they are likely to know and what they don’t, and likely erring on the side of caution by explaining yourself clearly. Always consider your audience’s expected level of knowledge.

Occasionally, there are students who believe that using quotes is generally a good idea: possibly adding quotes from a popular song or a motion picture believing that it’s a clever thing to do to earn a few more points. Such use of quotes is not necessarily a good thing as it creates loopholes for using informal language.  Adding quotes like “bury them deep, Django” from a Western genre film is not just going to give you more points. it’s not impressive in a formal writing perspective. It is ineffective and the underlying motive lacks merit. Stick to the academic lines and an academic approach, keeping your eyes focused on the evidence and the core debates that you’re engaging with.

Start with a concept draft

An important goal in writing effective history essays is to ensure your arguments flow from one point to the next. A concept draft, drawing upon the outline of the paper, creates a strong foundation for achieving this goal.

The approach to avoid: Let’s imagine you’re writing a history essay in the conventional way; you’ve done two or three lines, and then there’s a factor that you’ve forgotten, a piece of evidence you just can’t follow, or a really great quote that you know you’ve read and it’s in there somewhere. You try to discern it but you can’t find it, so you break what you’re doing and go rooting through your files, perhaps you have to nip off to the library and go and find it. Finally, you do find it. Fifteen minutes later, an hour later, or whenever it may be, you sit down and you put in that bit of information, but you’ve lost the flow. You’ve lost the thread of what you were saying and you try and restart it but actually it no longer works in quite the same way. You get back into it and write another five or six lines and again, you come across another roadblock. You’ve got to go research something else, so you break and go find that something else that you need to complete your history essay.

Writing your essay in that way in some ways is the most obvious thing to do because as soon as you hit something that you don’t know about, you go to find that and you carry on writing. On the downside, ultimately, this style can end up being a little bit clunky, in the sense that one passage reads well and then it sorts of doesn’t quite flow with the next one. Don’t use that approach.

How to write an outstanding history essay?

Use the following approach: Once you know what you want to say broadly, write larger chunks. If you come across a piece of evidence that you don’t know about, a factor that you can’t quite remember, or a quote that you can’t quite put your hand on, don’t stop writing: write…write…write…write, come across a roadblock, but don’t stop there – what you should do is put in an “@” symbol (or some other symbol that you may prefer), and put a brief description of what it is that you’re missing: (“@” symbol, input quote here from a given historian) then I carry on writing. Try to write your entire essay in just a few sittings, but it may be full of @ symbols, gaps that you couldn’t quite remember, a piece of evidence about or wanted to go and check something. The point of this is that you’ve written the whole thing and stylistically it flows quite well, but neither have you forgotten those places where you need to go and do a bit of extra research. Put simply, you haven’t been breaking your flow of consciousness, or your words, you’ve written the whole thing, it does work stylistically, but all you have to do is do CTRL-F, find all those @ symbols where you have all those gaps in your history essay. Then you can take a sort of shopping list to the library, your notes, or whatever it is, and then find out those bits of information I need without breaking my flow of consciousness.

How to structure a history essay effectively

An important goal of essay writing is to convince the reader. The structure of the essay, similar to the arguments, have a bearing on this goal. Strive to achieve an effective structure that is easy to follow and clearly depicts your argument.

What is a well-structured essay?

An essay is well-structured if it strings a coherent set of ideas into an argument (that is convincing), and, classically, has three connected parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. By the end of the piece, the reader should be able to know exactly your argument and why you’ve argued that particular perspective; even better, they should be convinced by the argument.

The classic essay structure is a three-part model: it starts off with an introduction, then the main substantive paragraphs where you work through your main argument, and then the concluding section.

This structure achieves several objectives:

The introduction attempts to get the reader comfortable. Assuming you’re explaining your argument on a history question, such as “why did the Roman Empire fall?”, and you want to explain your take on this so that your friend, who doesn’t know much about the subject, understands clearly and is convinced by the end. The purpose of the introduction is to get the audience comfortable with your subject area and how you intend to address the essay question. It might start off with a few lines of the background to lay out the basics so your reader knows where you’re going and what topic you’re talking about. You might define any key terms in the title. Crucially you should signpost the direction that your argument is taking and thesis: “this essay is going to discuss this issue by touching on the following themes…”, which ultimately will give your reason why the Empire fell.

Read our guide on how to write a history essay introduction for additional tips.

The main body of the essay and the vast majority of the word count, are taken up with the main paragraphs, which go through the major argumentative blocks that prove the thesis.

How to structure a history essay effectively?

Broadly speaking, this is how an essay is structured: ease your reader in, with a clear thesis in your introduction, work through your substantive paragraphs, showing how they link together to form an overall argument, and then you tie it together in the conclusion.

Example on how to structure a history essay

Let’s say you’re writing about the fall of the Roman Empire and you want to communicate the idea that as far as you’re concerned the Roman Empire fell through a mixture of interrelated factors with varying degrees of influence: the inability of the Roman Garrisons on the frontier to protect themselves, population decline because of the bubonic plague, a growing super-rich class who managed to get themselves exempt from taxation and therefore not paying into the Roman Empire’s coffers, a failing economy (this is was the overarching cause as far as you’re concerned). You believe that leading to the collapse, the Roman Empire is simply not producing enough money in the economy to generate adequate tax necessary to keep all its institutions going.

That view is a complex argument with multiple factors you need to discuss and there are links between them, because not only do you think that many of these factors are linked to the failing economy, but also the failing economy means that the Roman Empire is unable to pay for its troops, creating problems. You need to think of a structure that serves that purpose and serves you, but you realize there’s no preset template to work with. So you could go about this limitation by saying “Ultimately the Roman Empire fell because of the frontier collapse, but…” You might start with that as factor one paragraph one, but to explain why the frontier collapsed, then you might have to explain “well actually part of the reason for that is because the Empire couldn’t afford its soldiers in the same way that it had previously” and so you’d bring in an economic factor as factor two, but to explain the failures in the Roman economy. Then you go down to the rising super-rich, the impact of the bubonic plague, to explain why the tax base is actually shrinking. This approach arranges the factors so that as you walk the reader through them, they make logical sense; there is a progression to them. Yes, the frontier collapsed, but that’s because the tax base collapsed; yes, the tax base collapsed, but that’s because of these other factors. There is a logical progression to this way of walking through the paragraphs and each of those paragraphs then forms the main body of the history essay.

All this can then be tied together in the conclusion, where essentially you capitulate what’s said above and remind the reader once again of how these factors cumulatively work together to create your model, hopefully persuasive, about why the Roman Empire fell.

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