Argumentative Essays In History

War Correspondent Alan Wood Typing Dispatch Outside Arnhem, Netherlands, 1944

You must complete an argumentative essay to pass the course.  The essay will be at least five paragraphs and will probably come in around 3-4 pages double-spaced with 12-pt., New York Times font (often listed as Times, New Roman).  It will address a question that informed people disagree on and you’ll show what light history sheds on the topic.  We will discuss the papers more in class, but I encourage everyone to come and discuss their research with me during office hours if you are having any problems getting started.  It must concern American history, from 1492-1877 or thereabouts for 1301 and 1877 to the present for 1302.  Check the Course Syllabus: Calendar for due dates.  I use hard deadlines because they are more similar to what many of you will encounter in the workplace.  If you feel hard deadlines are unfair, finish the paper a week ahead of time just in case.

Submission & Grade
The essay is graded on a 60-point scale based on the quality of the argument, research, historical content, writing, and grammatical cleanliness (40 for argument/research/content & 20 for writing/grammar).  Submit your essay as an attachment in Blackboard; it will run through SafeAssign to check for originality.  Plagiarism of any sort will result in an F for the course.  Submit the paper on the due date, by 11:59 pm in Blackboard.  The Essay Submission tab is in Blackboard in the upper-left hand corner, along with the other tabs.  Don’t try to paste the whole essay into the little box; just submit the WORD attachment.  If you see the Goldish-Yellow ! in your Gradebook, you’ll know that it’s submitted.


It’s a classic 5-paragraph persuasive or analytical essay that builds on the paragraph-writing skills you’ve been developing all semester, and what you’ve likely done (or are doing) in English Composition.  The opening paragraph should introduce a question you’re addressing and include a response to that question that is as succinct as possible (one or two sentences).  The question should be straightforward enough that you can use it as the title of your paper (embolden and capitalize the title).  Using the question as a title will help ensure that you’re asking a straightforward question.  The opening paragraph will start off fairly general as you frame the question by introducing some context then gradually narrow down to your thesis (response) toward the end of the opening paragraph.  Ninety percent of the time I could accurately guess an essay’s grade by the time I’m through with the opening paragraph because that’s where you “get your ducks in a row.”  Then follow through on your outline and you’re on your way toward a well-organized, coherent essay.

The next paragraphs will be the three main points of your argument, and the last paragraph will be your conclusion.  Each of the three (or more) argument paragraphs in the body of the essay will have an opening sentence or two that provides some transition from the previous paragraph while introducing a new idea.  Transition sentences should move along your discussion and crystallize main points.  Your paper should be ordered in a logical manner and not jump around all over the place.  Some well-placed direct quotes from primary sources are good but don’t waste a lot of space on direct quotes from secondary sources.  Here’s another good source with guides on effective paragraph writing and thesis statements.

Here are four important things to consider as you research your topic:

  • How does history shed light on the topic in ways that people might not otherwise consider?
  • What do partisans on either side of the issue most tend to include/emphasize or leave out of their arguments?  In other words, what are they “cherry-picking” or choosing to flush down the Memory Hole?  How are people marshaling evidence and formulating arguments concerning the question you’re writing on?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of various arguments and interpretations concerning the issue?
  • Before you hand in your essay, ask yourself: would your argument hold up in court?  Consider me a skeptical jurist or, better yet, an opposing attorney who is going to cross-examine.  Your thesis should be focused, substantive and coherent, and be followed by well-chosen points that back up your argument.  You don’t need to anticipate the other attorney’s weakest arguments; you need to anticipate that the opposition will be explaining the best counter-arguments to the same jury when you’re done speaking.  What are they?  A good place to address this is in the opening paragraph where you’re introducing the reader to the topic and why it’s controversial.  (A few of the pre-authorized topics won’t deal as much in counter-arguments because they ask “to what extent….” is something true.)
  • Take advantage of the links and asterisks I provide in Memory Hole, where appropriate.  They can help launch your research and, in some cases, give you multiple points of view to take into account.

You’ll need to start brainstorming early in the semester for a good topic.  The topic doesn’t have to be controversial, but it should be an interpretation historians might disagree on — not just descriptive.  You have a topic, now ask: what about it?  Clear the topic with me in office hours or via email, and I can help you formulate a question.  Make sure to consider topics from further along in the course, not just chapters you’ve already read.  The essay can be over anything historical, including social, political, economic, military, religious or cultural history, and isn’t limited to subjects covered in our textbook.  Twenty-first-century topics are acceptable (especially for 1302) if the focus is on their historical roots.

For ideas on controversial questions, you can check out the Memory Hole Link and pick a topic that’s still contested today.  Another source for ideas is Intelligence² Debates.  These hour-and-half public forums cover modern debates, which you could weigh in on by researching their historical background.  Start with their library of articles.  Three other good sites for ideas are: Origins, Real Clear History & Digital History (Controversies, Decision Making, Historiography).  You can also examine Texas Textbook Controversies.  Another source of ideas are the links at the bottom of most chapters.  Finally, another angle to consider is take something that’s going on currently and investigate the debate over its origins.

Familiarize yourself with the terminology surrounding the topic and think long and hard about the issue you’re writing on.  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the more counter-intuitive question, that runs against the grain of normal interpretation (e.g. what worked about Prohibition? rather than what didn’t, since every 8th-grader already knows that).  See the Memory Hole links for more on how partisans emphasize or omit various points and arguments.  The History Hub Library has various left- and right-leaning textbooks and magazine/periodicals.  Use their search functions to get a feel for how historians argue the issue.  Also, consult the History Hub Library’s Topical Links to see if your topic has other sites related to it.

Jonathan Buckstead, ACC-Cypress Creek Librarian Specializing In U.S History

Sources & Research
This argumentative/analytical essay will have elements of a research paper insofar as you’ll consult and cite reference materials.  It’s really a hybrid of the classic argumentative/analytical essay and research paper models.  It’s built around a question and thesis, but it includes research.  Tap into 2-3 books (without reading the entire book), scholarly articles, and websites as secondary sources.  At the very minimum (for an average grade) use at least one book for research (online, Kindle or hard copy), even if you don’t read the whole thing — that’s where the hard-core scholarship can usually be found.  Exclude our own textbook from your sources; focus on sources written especially about your topic instead.  Generally use websites ending in .org, .gov, .net or .edu, not .com.  Your first line of attack should be to tap into our own extensive ACC Library, followed by our online History Hub Library or UT, then general Google searches.   Here’s the ACC Library’s U.S. History Page.  ACC’s Cypress Creek Campus library staff includes Jonathan Buckstead, the system’s specialist in U.S. History.  Talk to him; he’s there to help you.

The UT PCL library is open to the public before 10 PM or you can check out books by getting a Tex-share card from the Public Library.  The History Hub Library can be a bit overwhelming, but if you dive into it with an idea of what you’re looking for, it’s a good tool.  Real college-level research goes past Schmoop,, History Channel, Sparknotes, etc.  Do not use online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia except for initial studies and peripheral fact-checking (not as a main source, in other words, but only as a jumping off point).  Wikipedia is a good source for bibliographies, toward the end of entries, but use real sources for the heart of your research, including scholarly books and articles, and primary sources.  Just as there is a lot of fake news out there on the Internet, also be wary of fake history (e.g. fake Jefferson quotes).  You’ll be graded on whether you spend a month rolling up your sleeves and doing some actual research or whether you just hit some cheesy websites quickly at the end.  Historian Kevin Levin suggests the following guidelines to steer students away from fake history, misinformation and distortion:

  • Is the site associated with a reputable institution like a museum, historical society or university?
  • Can you identify the individual or organization responsible for the site and are the proper credentials displayed?
  • Then, finally, you have to examine the material itself.  Is the information provided on the Website, including text and images, properly cited?  What can you discern from both the incoming and outgoing links to the site?  Only then can you approach it with the same level of trust that you would a scholarly journal or piece of archival material.

Include at least one primary source (original source) — a document, letter, diary, newspaper, telegram, speech, transcript, key photo, tape recording, film, manuscript, cartoon, etc. from the time period in question that provides evidence or firsthand testimony.  In this case, primary doesn’t mean main; it means original.  The best way to approach the primary source requirement isn’t to just go find one for its own sake, but rather to think about the question you’re addressing for your essay and how to approach it?  Where would you start if you couldn’t rely on the secondary sources of authors, journalists, etc. who have attempted to explain things for your benefit (as a reader)?  What sort of evidence would you want to have in a courtroom?  The point isn’t just to find a primary source but to use it well.  How might this firsthand testimony be biased?  How does the interpretation of this primary source impinge on your argument?  For instance, if you were investigating the atomic attacks on Japan at the end of WWII, you might look at President Truman’s diary.  What might be unreliable about Truman’s diary?  What sort of evidence are the authors writing and arguing about?  An obvious place to look for primary sources is in the discussion or notes of the main secondary sources you use.  A student asked if this source was primary or secondary.  The source is a secondary article, but footnote #1 within the article is primary (it’s a document from 1957).  Do you see the difference?  The History Hub Library is another good place to mine for primary sources, as are ACC Library’s American Decades/Gale Library and Milestone Documents pages.  Failure to utilize a primary source will result in a 5-point penalty.  For more on Primary Sources, see the video at the bottom of the page.  The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are both primary sources, and you should feel to use them, but neither count as your one required primary source.

For tips on analyzing a document, letter, photograph, cartoon, video, or sound recording, use this Document Analysis Worksheet tutorial from the National Archives (use the secondary student column).

This video was originally aimed mostly at teachers, but it’s worth watching to better understand primary sources and the type of questions historians (and students) must ask when analyzing primary source evidence.  These include considering issues like multiple claims, sourcing, context and evidence-based claims:

You should ask yourself where the primary sources (evidence) come from in your secondary source article, who generated them, and why.  How might they differ from other perspectives?

Here’s a SAMPLE by a former student.  She didn’t pick a particularly controversial issue, but I use this example because she lays out a clear question and formulates an answer toward the end of the first paragraph.  Then the body of the essay supports her thesis, and she wraps up with a conclusion that does more than just regurgitate what she’s already said — it elaborates on and refines the original thesis by explaining what we’ve learned in the preceding paragraphs.  You’ll be posing a more controversial question.  Remember to include both sides by including what proponents of either side emphasize or leave out of their arguments.

For Citations, you can use either the MLA or University of Chicago (Turabian) style.  For the MLA version, include a brief WORKS CITED page at the end.  The Chicago Method doesn’t need a WORKS CITED or BIBLIOGRAPHY page since the footnotes include full references.  Anyone planning to take upper-division history courses later on should use the Chicago Method.  For help formatting in the Chicago style, see eTurabian.  You can consult the ACC History Department’s Guide, or an excellent online guide, NoodleTools.

Online Writing Guide: Purdue Owl

Recipe for Success
1. Give Yourself Time To Consider A Topic. Use Your Imagination. Take An Hour Staring Into Space Thinking About It.
2. Do Real Research in Libraries/Books/Articles, Not Cheap Quick-Stop Shopping @ Encyclopedias.
3. Pick A Question You Can Sink Your Teeth Into — Something There’s Some Interpretive Disagreement About Among Reasonable People.
4. Consider Whether Your Thesis Really Matches Your Evidence and Conclusion.  Would Your Argument Hold Up In Court?
5. Take Time To Proof Your Paper.  Use Grammar-Check and ACC’s Learning Lab.
6. Organize Your Time Well. Follow the Suggested Work Schedule. Don’t Be Fooled By The Relatively Short Length Of Essay.
7. Have Some Fun. This Isn’t Torture. Take The Time To Find A Subject That Interests You, Start Early, Get The Draft Up And Running And Take Your Time Proofing And Refining.
8. Read About Common Fallacies Of Historical Thinking In The Rear Defogger (top bar).  When I Grade Your Paper I May Write Something Like “RD-4” In The Textual Comments.  That Means Look At Item #4 In The Rear Defogger.

Suggested Work Schedule:
Weeks 1-2: Pick Your Topic
After 1st Exam: You’ll Write On Your Topic For 6-pt. CAP
Weeks 3-6: Research; Dig Hard in the History Hub Library
After 2nd Exam: You’ll Write On A Primary Source & How It Impacts Argument For 6-pt. CAP
Weeks 7-8: Write Essay; Learn to Cite Sources & Format
Week 9: Revise, Proof (Grammar-Check & Learning Lab), Squeeze the Fat (Lean & Clean); Your Prose Should Be Clear & Concise. Read Over Grammar Tips in History Hub Menu (Under Syllabi)
Week 10: More Proofing & Ask Yourself: Does the Thesis Line Up With the Argument & Conclusion?
Week 10: Paper Due

Rubric for Grading That You’ll See In Blackboard (60 Pts.):
Content: X/40
— Strength of Main Argument: X/25
— Use of Good Sources: X/10
— Discussion of Strongest Counter-Argument: X/5
Writing: X/20

Late Papers, Backing Up & Grammar-Check
Each successive weekday the essay is late counts as another five points off the score, regardless of your excuse, up to 15 points off max. The smartest thing is to finish it before the deadline and work on polishing it – after all, you have plenty of time (2+ months), so what’s the use in finishing right at the deadline?  Or, worse yet, starting around the deadline?  Cover (or title) pages are unnecessary, but have a title that you embolden and capitalize that describes what your paper is about.  You should use the question you’re addressing as your title or some variation on it.  If you do not submit the paper by the last day of class, you will flunk rather than receive an incomplete.  Back Up!  Keep an electronic version of your paper; always save or email it to yourself, or keep a copy “in the clouds.”  For comments, don’t just look at the comment box, but also the text itself for inline commentary.  We can go over grammar in person with a hard copy if you have questions on that portion of the grade.  Go under WORD > PREFERENCES to set Grammar & Spell-checking at Standard.  Then after you’ve written the paper, go under TOOLS and run it through Grammar & Spelling check.  It’s an imperfect program, but it helps.  There’s no excuse that I can see for failing to use it (since the technology is free) other than simple laziness.  Also, check out the Grammar Tips in History Hub in the drop-down menu under Syllabi.

Some Helpful Websites on Writing Papers & Essays
Purdue Owl
Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
Dartmouth Guide
Univ. of Toronto Essay Writing Guide
Univ. of North Carolina Guide
ACC Writing Guide
ACC Library Study Skills Workshops (Including Effective Paragraph Writing & Effective Thesis Statements)


Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates

The following document was prepared by Professors Matt Matsuda and John Gillis. The authors gratefully acknowledge the following for their aid:

  • Ziva Galili, Rutgers University Department of History
  • Mark Wasserman, Rutgers University Department of History
  • Professor Kurt Spellmeyer and the Rutgers Writing Center Program
  • Professor Scott Waugh and the UCLA Department of History for their Guide to Writing Historical Essays
  • Professors Ronald R. Butters and George D. Gopen at Duke University for their GUIDELINES for the Use of Students Submitting Papers for University Writing Courses and Other Classes in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Department of English, 1992).


The purpose of this guide is to provide you with the basics for writing undergraduate history essays and papers. It is a guide only, and its step by step approach is only one possible model; it does not replace consultation with your professor, TA, or instructor about writing questions and getting feedback, nor the excellent tutoring services provided by the Rutgers Writing Center program (room 304, Murray Hall, College Avenue Campus) and the Douglass Writing Center (room 101, Speech and Hearing Building, Douglass Campus).

Writing is a craft. All serious writing is done in drafts with many hesitations, revisions, and new inspirations. Remember always that there is nothing natural about being able to write (we all have to be taught—over many years), and writing well is a matter of application, discipline, and effort. You may already write well. Just remember that our subject here—critical, scholarly writing—has special requirements.

In what follows we will briefly discuss the nature of historical writing, lay out a step by step model for constructing an essay, and provide a set of useful observations from our experience as instructors regarding problems that most frequently crop up in student writing.

Section 1: What Is Historical Writing?


The basic elements of academic essay writing are two: a thesis and evidence, divided into three parts: an introduction, the systematic development of an argument, and a conclusion. All scholarly writing, from the most concise paper to the longest book, follows these basic guidlines.


Historical essay writing is based upon the thesis. A thesis is a statement, an argument which will be presented by the writer. The thesis is in effect, your position, your particular interpretation, your way of seeing a problem. Resist the temptation, which many students have, to think of a thesis as simply "restating" an instructor's question. The writer should demonstrate originality and critical thinking by showing what the question is asking, and why it is important rather than merely repeating it. Your own informed perspective is what matters. Many first-year students ask whether the "thesis" is not just their "opinion" of a historical question. A thesis is indeed a "point of view," or "perspective," but of a particular sort: it is based not only on belief, but on a logical and systematic argument supported by evidence. The truism that we each have "our own" opinions misses the point. A good critical essay acknowledges that many perspectives are possible on any question, yet demonstrates the validity or correctness of the writer's own view.

Thesis and Evidence

To make a good argument you must have both a strong central thesis and plausible evidence; the two are interdependent and support each other. Some historians have compared the historian's craft to assembling and presenting a case before a jury. A strong statement of thesis needs evidence or it will convince no one. Equally, quotes, dates, and lists of details mean nothing by themselves. Your task is both to select the important "facts" and to present them in a reasonable, persuasive, and systematic manner which defends your position. To support your argument, you should also be competent in using footnotes and creating bibliographies for your work; neither is difficult, and both are requirements for truly professional scholarship. The footnote is a way of demonstrating the author's thesis against the evidence. In effect, it is a way of saying: "If you don't accept my thesis, you can check the evidence yourself." If your instructor is unclear about your argument, he or she may very well go back and check how you are using your original sources. By keeping your notes accurate your argument will always be rooted in concrete evidence of the past which the reader can verify. See below for standard footnote forms.

Historical Writing

Be aware also that "historical" writing is not exactly the same as writing in other social sciences, in literature, or in the natural sciences. Though all follow the general thesis and evidence model, historical writing also depends a great deal on situating evidence and arguments correctly in time and space in narratives about the past. Historians are particularly sensitive to errors of anachronism—that is, putting events in an "incorrect" order, or having historical characters speak, think, and act in ways inappropriate for the time in which they were living. Reading the past principally in terms of your own present experience can also create problems in your arguments. Avoid grand statements about humanity in general, and be careful of theories which fit all cases. Make a point of using evidence with attention to specificity of time and place, i.e. "context."

Section 2: Steps in Preparing an Historical Essay

1. Understand the question being asked.

Pay attention to the way it is worded and presented. Be aware, for example, that "evaluate" does not mean the same thing as "describe," and neither is the same as "compare/contrast," or "analyze." What are the key words? Can you properly define them? What sort of evidence is required to respond effectively? If you are developing your own topic, what are the important issues and what questions can you pose yourself?

2. Prepare the material.

Begin reading (or re-reading) your texts or documents. Students often ask: "How can I give you a thesis (or write an introduction) before I have done all the reading?" Obviously, you cannot write a good paper if you haven't done the readings, so be sure to keep up. Remember however that merely "reading everything" doesn't guarantee you'll do good writing. Some students rush through assignments, others highlight every line, both thinking that by counting pages or words they are doing well. As you read the important point is to identify critical arguments in the texts. Don't just read for "information." Do a "strong reading" of your materials—critically examine or reexamine your sources with questions in mind. What is the author saying? What are his or her stated and unstated assumptions? What kind of evidence supports the arguments and how is it used? What do particular documents or texts tell you about the time in which they were written? Your questions will be the beginning of your own thesis.

3. First Draft

As noted above, all serious writing is done in drafts, and not the night before. Even if you are pressed for time (as, of course, you will be) give yourself enough time to review and revise your own writing. Students will sometimes turn in papers they have never actually read themselves; this is a mistake which shows. Think of the first or "preliminary" draft as a detailed outline. Establish your thesis and see how it looks in writing. Is it too general or specific? Does it address the questions asked by the instructor? Because the thesis is so critical, small changes in it will have a big impact. Don't be afraid to refine it as often as necessary as you continue reading and writing.

As you write, pay attention to the following points:

  • Organize your ideas on paper. Order your arguments and connect them to the relevant supporting evidence. If the evidence contradicts your thesis, you will have to rethink your thesis. Obviously you must not alter the evidence, but always look for some citation or text which makes your point better, clearer, more precise, more persuasive. Avoid needlessly long quotes which only fill up space, and be sure what you select actually makes the point you think it does. All citations must be integrated logically and systematically into your argument. Remember that no quote "speaks for itself." Your job is not only to select evidence, but to explain and analyze what you cite, to demonstrate the meaning and importance of what you choose.
  • Be attentive to paragraph construction and order. Paragraphs should have strong topic sentences and be several sentences long. Try to show development in your argument. Point one should lead logically to point two in paragraph after paragraph, section after section. Avoid simply listing and detailing your arguments in the order which they occur to you. Though there may be no absolutely correct sequence in presenting an argument, a thoughtful ordering and systematic development of points is more convincing than ideas randomly thrown together.
  • Pay attention to transitions: when you switch to a new argument, let the reader know with a new topic sentence. Resist the temptation of thinking, "they'll know what I mean." Don't make your reader guess where you are going or what you are trying to say; the purpose of an essay is to communicate and to convince.
  • Take time with your conclusion, which should close and summarize your arguments. Remember that conclusions can have a big impact on the reader, as closing statements do to a jury. You are of course not being judged, but—as part of the scholarly process—your work is being evaluated, so try to make the best presentation possible.

4. Drafts and Final Draft

Now you have completed your draft. Return to your introduction. Is the thesis clearly stated? Have you established the argument and evidence you will present? Rephrase your thesis if necessary. You may not even be clear about the final thesis until you have written much of the paper itself and seen how the argument holds together. Add examples or delete non-relevant materials and make sure paragraphs connect with transitions and topic sentences. Proofread the work: set it aside for some time and come back to it, or try reading it aloud to yourself (if your roommates are tolerant). Some classes, such as the History Seminar, have students critique each others' research drafts, often several times. Such exercises are invaluable opportunities to learn how other people read you, and how to be fair, judicious, and helpful in your own critiques. Whenever possible try to have someone else read your work and comment on it. Finally, check for sense, grammar, spelling, and mechanical and typographical errors. Common mistakes can be avoided by consulting such aids as the Writing Program Proofreading Guide available for $1 in the English section of the University Bookstore. Show respect for your reader by not making him or her wade through a sloppy manuscript. Details may not make or break a work, but they make a definite impression about how much you care.

Section 3: Grading, Originality & General Observations

A Note on Grading

Every professor or instructor has his or her own standards for excellent, good, average, and unacceptable work. "Standards" means that some papers will receive higher marks than others. A common grading misunderstanding arises from a student belief that answering a question "correctly" in essay form means an automatic "A." From an instructor's point of view, you do not get credit for excellence by doing what you are supposed to be able to do: write coherently and intelligently with a thesis, introduction, argument, and conclusion. This is only "competent" work. How well you write is what makes the difference. Do you detail your arguments, define terms, make logical connections, expand points, develop ideas, read sources in original and imaginative ways? The difference between competent and excellent work is difficult to define. Read your own work critically. Are you making the easy points most students would make? Are you really citing and examining the texts? Have you developed original interpretations? Have you given careful thought to argument and presentation, and the logic of your conclusions? Excellent work begins when you challenge yourself.

Originality and Plagiarism

Students are sometimes overwhelmed when asked to produce original, critical work. What could they say which has not already been said by an expert? No one asks you to be an expert. Your originality lies in your talent as a critical reader and a thoughtful writer. Whether you are studying many sources for a research paper or a few passages from one text for a book review, what matters is how you select, present, and interpret materials. "Originality" is this ability to communicate fresh perspectives and new insights. "Originality" also means speaking in your own words. You must at all costs avoid plagiarism, which is a crime and means automatic failure. Plagiarism means taking credit for work which is not your own, and can involve: 1) copying directly or paraphrasing without acknowledgment from published sources; 2) purchasing essays and term papers; 3) having someone else do the assignment for you; 4) turning in a paper previously submitted for another (or the same) class. Pay attention to point 1: changing the wording of a passage is still plagiarism if you don't credit the author for the ideas you are borrowing. Points 2-4 are obvious cases of cheating. A strict definition of plagiarism is as follows:

"The appropriation of ideas, language, or work of another without sufficient acknowledgment that the material is not one's own. Although it is generally recognized that everything an individual has thought has probably been influenced to some degree by the previously expressed thoughts and actions of others, such influences are general. Plagiarism involves the deliberate taking of specific words and ideas of others without proper acknowledgment." (Ronald R. Butters and George D. Gopen, GUIDELINES for the use of students submitting papers for University Writing Courses and other classes in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Department of English, 1992, p. 15]).

Avoid plagiarism by preparing well, relying on your own words and judgments, and—when citing evidence—using proper bibliographic and footnote forms. Attention to plagiarism should not discourage you from using sources to the fullest; on the contrary it should challenge you to think critically about how you make ideas your own, what debts you owe to others, and how you put the two together to do intellectually honest and original writing.

Practical Notes

When turning in papers, always keep a copy for yourself; papers do on occasion disappear. Standard format is double-spaced with wide enough margins for reader's comments. Don't forget to put your name, the class name, and the title of the paper on the first page. Always number the pages for easy reference.

For questions on the stylistic, grammatical, or technical points of preparation, familiarize yourself with the standard reference guides used by all professional writers, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (now in a 14th edition), or Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, available at the library. There you will find information on such topics as proper footnote style. We have included some of the standard forms below:

For a book: Jack Horner, The History of Corners in the Modern Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 36-9.
For an article: Mary Contrary, "How Gardens Grow: Things in a Row," The Journal of Earthly Delights, vol. 26, nr. 3 (1995), p. 123.


As noted in the introduction, this guide is a very general formula for writing essays. The goal—and the goal of university education in general—is for you to develop your own methods, strategies, and style. In writing, follow the guidelines, but do not be formulaic. Originality, creativity, and personal style are not crimes if done well. Make use of this guide, but remember that your greatest resources will be your teachers, fellow students, and the other academic programs of the university.

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