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Guidelines for Writing History Papers

Date published: | Lisa Barlow

Posted in: Blog | Writing Online
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Brief Guide for Writing the History Paper

The historic subject matter is irretrievable. No scholar can recreate past events in a laboratory setting. Thus, historians have to examine the fragmentary records, which address just part of the story.

In historical writing, you should come up with significant subjective decisions such as topic selection, sources interpretation, and meaningful argumentation. This is where you can think of history writing as a continuous discussion of selection and interpretation. You as a writer will be challenged to find a way to join this conversation.

Types of History Papers

History papers can be of different forms and lengths. Some of them take the form of a story, and some are organized as an essay. The academic papers can address general history or focus on narrower topics from social, cultural, political, military, intellectual, and economic history.

Whether you write a review essay and research paper, it requires different amounts of research, analysis, and interpretation. Regardless of all possible variations, there is a common format for writing an academic paper. Thus, you need to decide on a workable argument indicated in the opening paragraph.

Reasonable Arguments in Review Essays

  • Case #1: Your paper will explain one part of the discussion is more convincing than the others.
  • Case #2: Your paper will demonstrate why the whole discussion should be led in a more meaningful way.
  • Case #3: Your paper debate about different, better, or more nuanced interpretations.

Reasonable Arguments in Research Papers

  • Case #1: Your topic is unexplored and requires a provisional interpretation of new information.
  • Case #2: Your topic is badly explored and analyzes new or different evidence to correct the shortcomings.
  • Case #3: Your topic is well-explored so that your paper will reassess the existing knowledge based on new findings, progressive methodologies, or initial questions.

Before getting started

To start the conversation, you should decide on how to position yourself. Here are some well-known tactics you might employ:

  • Unscramble your assignment by building off the initial grounds as you create an original argument.
  • Ask the interpretative question to make up the ground for further exploration.
  • Start small by indicating your hypothesis.
  • Start big by making a meaty statement or question.
  • Think about change or continuity by considering your statements in a timely perspective.
  • Think differently by supporting the arguments and critically analyzing them.

Sources for Historical Research

Any type of historical paper depends on the selection of the right sources. As soon as you make it clear with the topic and create historical questions, you should think of the sources to use. There are two categories of sources:

  • Primary sources are created in the time period of study writing. They address the immediate concerns and perspectives of all involved parties in the historical event. These can be diaries, print media, speeches, economic data, literature, art, and film.
  • Secondary sources are produced after the time period of study writing. They address the historical subject matter by selecting, analyzing, and incorporating evidence to generate an argument. The sources of this category are mainly represented by works of scholarship.

By the way, some materials can function both as primary and secondary sources. This depends on the subject matter of your study and the selected frame of reference.

Use of Evidence

To avoid any confusion, sources should provide raw materials transformed into evidence on the way to formulating a historical argument. This evidence is usually collected by exploring the sources and asking critical questions:

  • Who created this source?
  • When was this source issued?
  • Why was this source written?
  • How can be this source compared to other sources used for the analysis?

You have to provide a persuasive thesis statement, which will be judged in the process of the collection, organization, and introduction of its evidence. At this point, the selection process is crucial. Due to space and time aspects, you won’t be able to marshal an exhaustive body of evidence. Thus, you can conduct a critical analysis of the evidence by choosing what to involve, what to eliminate, and how to structure your analysis. The issues of selection and interpretation take place in the center of most historical disagreements so that you should think of reasonable counterarguments to your thesis. Successful academic papers address the reader’s responses and analyze contradictory pieces of evidence.

Conventions of History Papers

History is full of controversies, which make up the subject for never-ending discussions. Each historian writes a paper according to his or her own criteria. Historians follow on a number of conventions or practices, which differentiate between history writing and writing in other academic disciplines. Keep in mind these guidelines while creating or revising your history paper:

  • Due to the fact that all historical events took place at some point in the past, write about them in the past tense. Writing in the present tense encourages poor historical thinking.
  • Skip any generalizations, because a historical study requires specificity, not general phrases like in a fairy tale.
  • Eliminate presentism or anachronisms by exploring the past events on their own terms. Follow the chronological order without mixing all historical events.
  • Examine your subject matter with respect without negative judging of the past. Don’t forget that the past values are considerably different from those we are having today.
  • Paraphrase the information taken from primary and secondary materials. Occasionally, you can use some quotations if it is reasonable, but don’t overwhelm your paper with them. After all, your academic assignment is about demonstrating your critical thinking skills but not copy-pasting already expressed ideas.
  • Build up the required context by involving active commentary and rigorous engagement with the material. While writing a historical paper, you are expected to interrogate sources, reveal evidence, and specify your findings of the interrelations between text and context.
  • Apply a responsible and consistent citation style by indicating references or supplemental information in footnotes or endnotes. In some cases, assignments are equipped with parenthetical citations.
  • Lead the narration in a formal, academic format. Minimize the use of the first or second person, as well as passive voice constructions. Phrases such as “I guess” or “in my opinion” are needless in expository writing.
  • Edit your paper before introducing it to your readers.