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
- Use 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 restated
(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
- 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 of 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 previous 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
Common Grammar and
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
Use the past tense when writing about
the past. 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
not use contractions in formal writing (didn't, couldn't,
etc.). Contractions are fine for informal speaking or
writing, but an essay or paper for a college class is formal
3. Do not use slang or
profanity in formal writing. 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 used interchangeably.
5. Do not use first person pronouns
in scholarly writing (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.
not use second person pronouns in scholarly writing (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").
correctly to designate possession. Do not use an
apostrophe to designate a plural (for example, the
plural of Nazi is "Nazis" not "Nazi's").
8. Pronouns and their antecedent
nouns should agree in terms of both gender and number. (The
recent trend toward the use of the plural pronoun "they" as
gender-neutral singular pronoun is an acceptable exception to
9. Subjects and verbs
in your paper should always agree.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Do not use the
verb "feel" when you really mean "think" or "believe." A
person feels emotions. Ideas or opinions are thought or
13. Avoid awkwardly
phrased 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 spoken aloud.
14. Always refer to an
author or historical figure by his or her last name. Using
first names is only appropriate with people you know, and even
then, only in an informal setting.
15. Use complete
sentences, rather than sentence fragments.
16. Format your
footnotes correctly. See the links on the course syllabus
under the heading "citations" for more information on footnote
17. Include a separate
bibliography page listing all of your sources. You always
should provide formal citations for all of your sources of
18. You should include
a thesis statement which sets out your main arguments as
clearly and specifically as possible.