Writing Papers for
History- Tips on Proper Style
You must follow
the following guidelines for all papers for this class. Your
failure to do so will result in a lower grade, so please read this page
12 point size Times New Roman font with standard size
margins, headers, and footers. Make sure that your pages are
numbered. You should also include a bibliography page which
lists the bibliographic information for the book, as well as any other
sources you have consulted.
Your paper should provide a clear, concise (usually one sentence long) thesis statement which introduces
your argument(s) in the first paragraph. The thesis also should be
(not necessarily verbatim) in the concluding paragraph as well.
Obviously, your paper must answer the questions posed by the
assignment, but you should still have an over-arching thesis which
unifies your entire paper.
- Make your thesis statement as specific as possible. Do not merely
say that the evidence reveals something important about the topic.
Rather, tell the reader specifically what the evidence reveals. Simply repeating the questions posed by the assignment is not the same thing as making an actual argument.
- Your paper should be written using correct essay form. That means
that it should have a clear introduction and conclusion, with body
paragraphs that provide evidence to support your thesis. All of
your material should be relevant to your paper's argument.
A paper is NOT a "book report," so you should not
simply summarize the book or document. Instead, you should use evidence
from it in order to support your analysis.
- In supporting your thesis or major
argument, you should refer to evidence from the document or book in
question. Any time you refer to or quote a specific part of the
book, you MUST provide a formal citation to back up your claim.
The required method for citing sources in this class is the Chigago Manual of Style
format, which is the standard for the discipline of history.
According to this format, at the end
any sentence or paragraph drawn from a specific part of a source, you
insert a footnote at the bottom of the page with the appropriate
bibliographic information. Consult the
web link for more detailed information on citations in this format.
You may of course quote your source in order to support your
arguments, but make sure not to use too many quotations. Most of
the time in your paper you should be using your own words. If you
include frequent, lengthy quotations, I'll assume that you are just
using those quotes as filler to extend your papers length.
Common Grammar and Style MistakesAnd now a few common grammatica and stylistic problems that oftern appear in student writing; as you
proofread your paper make sure to avoid the following common
grammatical or stylistic errors:
1. Use the past
tense for all of your writing for this class. This is a history
course, which means you are writing about the past and must use the
appropriate verb tense. In some of your English or writing
classes you might have been told to use the "literary present" tense
when writing about a book or story in order to give your writing more
immediacy. For a HISTORICAL ANALYSIS of a piece of writing, however,
you should always use verbs in the past tense.
2. Do not use contractions (didn't, couldn't,
etc.). Contractions are fine for informal speaking or writing,
but an essay or paper for a college class is FORMAL WRITING.
3. Do not use slang or profanity. Again, an essay or paper for a college class is FORMAL WRITING.
4. Do not confuse there/their/they're or
your/you're. Those words all mean different things and cannot be
5. Do not use first person pronouns (I, me,
etc.). The focus of your paper should be on the document or topic in question, rather than
on your own reaction to it.
6. Do not use second person pronouns (you,
your, etc.) either. In informal spoken English, "you" is sometimes used as
a general third person pronoun (for example, "You don't want to let down your
guard around a zombie.") In formal written English, however, you
should use an actual noun or third person pronoun (for example, "One should not
let down one's guard around a zombie").
apostrophes correctly to designate possession. Do not use an
apostrophe to designate a plural (for example, the plural of Nazi is
"Nazis" not "Nazi's").
and antecendents should always agree. "They" is a plural pronoun,
and should not be used as a singular pronoun-- instead use he or she,
appropriate (recently, some have proposed the use of "they" as a gender
neutral singular pronoun. Such usage, however, is not yet widely
accepted, and is not really appropriate in the first place for
scholarly discussions of the past when people were identified solely as
either males or females).
9. Subjects and verbs in your paper should always agree.
Avoid indefinite pronoun reference. Your writing should always make
absolutely clear to what your pronouns refer. For example, "This is a
bad idea" makes use of indefinite pronoun reference-- the reader cannot
tell to what "this" refers. Instead your sentence might read "This
unclear use of pronouns is a bad idea," which is far easier for the
reader to understand.
Avoid excessive use of the passive voice, which can make your writing
weak and unclear. For example, "This zombie was killed by her"
makes use of passive voice. "She killed the zombie" is far
stronger and more clear.
Do not use the verb "feel" when you really mean "think" or "believe."
A person feels emotions. Ideas or opinions are thought or
awkward sentences. Sometimes there is not necessarily something
grammatically wrong with a sentence, yet it still can be an unclear,
convoluted mess. One way to avoid awkward sentence structure is
to proofread your paper by reading it out loud. Sometimes a
sentence which seems fine on the page is revealed to be a problem when
refer to a historical figure by his or her last name. Using first names
is only appropriate with people you know, and even then, only in an
your footnotes correctly. See the links on the course syllabus
under the heading "citations" for more information on footnote
16. Include a separate bibliography page listing all of your sources.