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How to pass history

This is on how to pass history and an history exam in general in terms of essay writing Reflect before writing – Keep in mind that an exam essay is an exercise in argumentation, not regurgitation. Yes, you absolutely must draw upon – and demonstrate a mastery of – historical evidence from the readings and lectures (see #3 below) – not as an end in itself, though, but rather as a means to the larger end of defending a thesis. Thus, do NOT jump right into writing, rushing to dump all the discrete historical details you know about the question onto the page. Instead, reflect on the question for a bit. As you do so, think of and jot down some quick notes on the thesis you want to establish, the evidence you plan to marshal to support your thesis, and the organizational structure that will best allow you to present your essay's argument.
Writing History Essays February 2014 Contents How to use this booklet 1 1. Reading 5 2. Note Taking 8 3. Planning Your Essay 10 4. Drafting 12 5. Footnotes 18 6. Bibliographies 28 7. Presentation and Style Guide 30 8. Assessment 32 1 HOW TO USE THIS BOOKLET This booklet is a guideline for history essays. It offers advice for preparing assignments and gives particular advice on referencing and presentation tec hniques. While the ideas and tips it contains may be useful for writing in other Programmes, each Programme will undoubtedly have different formatting, layout and style requirements. If in doubt, ask. This booklet is designed to be used by history stude nts at all levels. It contains information on the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and offers examples to clarify points. We suggest that students new to history at university read this guide before writing their first essay. As you become familiar with essay writing you can use this as a reference booklet, looking up the sections you need for further information by using the table of contents . We have included a One Page Summary (p.2) that contains the basic principles in Writing History Essays . This summary is not a substitute, however, for reading the whole text. Your essays will be assessed and marked on the assumption that you have read and applied the advice in this booklet. If you would like further information, talk to your tutor or lecturer. Another History guide, ‘Improving Your Writing’, is also available on the History website and contains more information about writing style and structure. Assistance with written expression is also available from Student Learning Support. 2 Summary First, ask yourself: ‘What is the question actually asking?’ Read widely , but also read critically and selectively . Consider your sources carefully. Of what are they trying to convince you? What are they trying to explain or argue? When were they written, and by whom? Take notes in your own words as you read. Note all the necessary bibliographical information from each text. Quotes should be taken sparingly and accurately. Avoid plagiarism . Plan your argument. Give your essay a logical structure that develops your argument. Write a draft , and take time to improve the final product. Your essay should be your argument based on informed reading . Your essay’s argument should answer the question, be supported with evidence, and be written clearly . An essay is a structured answer requiring an introduction , a main body and a conclusion . Your introduction should present the argument of your essay to the reader. Your conclusion should sum up the argument of your essay. Your essay requires well structured paragraphs with complete sentences . Submit your work on time . Late essays have valuable marks deducted. Correct spelling and grammar are important . Quotations should be accurate and be placed in quotation marks. Footnotes show your use of evidence. You should footnote quotes, figures, statistics, and your paraphrases of factual material or another author's argument. Your bibliography lists the sources you have used to construct your argument. Your essay should be printed in a readable typeface, 1.5 or do uble spaced, with a wide left margin, paragraphs indented, and each page numbered. Finally, read the marker’s comments. Just before you start your next essay, re -read the marked essay and the comments. Try to improve your essay technique and your under standing of history. 3 Why we write history essays History courses require you to submit written essays as part of your assignment work. Essay writing helps develop abilities that will enable you to participate in the continuing discussion about the past, including developing and stating a reasoned argument, quickly and effectively analysing and summarising texts, and presenting a scholarly, well documented final product. Such skills have wide application in many areas beyond history. What is a history essay? The word ‘essay’ is derived from the French, essayer , which means ‘to try, to attempt, to test’. An essay is an attempt to establish a case or test a hypothesis. Specifically for our purposes, an essay is a reasoned and orderly argument with proper ly acknowledged supporting evidence . The argument in your essay should be your coherent explanation for ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ events and processes happened, supported by evidence in the form of the ideas and writings of other historians, people of the time, an d other historical sources. The material you find and read on the question will constrain your argument and its supporting evidence. What is the question? Every research essay has a question (or topic), and your task is to respond in a series of logical p aragraphs. It sounds simple, yet one of the most common essay problems is not answering the set question. Often essays do not answer the question posed and so do not get the desired grade. Essay questions use specific language, and so understanding the question before you start is the first step in the essay writing process. Identify the key concepts in a question. Questions will ask you to examine , account for , evaluate , assess , discuss , compare , contrast , or consider the relative importance of, etc. etc. You will not be asked to describe a sequence of events or simply write down everything you can find out on a topic. For example , you will not be assigned a question such as, ‘What happened in the Industrial Revolution?’ Rather, the question will foc us on an area of debate, so that you can contribute to that debate. So, for example , a more likely question would be, ‘The Industrial Revolution was not at all revolutionary. Discuss.’ In response you could find many sources that argue against the premi se and many that support it. Your task would be to present both sides, assessing their strengths and weaknesses and come to your own conclusion regarding the debate. Stay focused on the question. Do not wander far away from your essay -writing task. For example , when answering the question ‘Assess the impact of the Reform Bill of 1832 on the working class in Britain’, devoting half your essay to the French working class is not a good idea. Be sure you cover the topic. Answer the entire question, not just a section of it. Topics may be very broad. For example , if you are answering the same question ‘Assess the impact of the Reform Bill of 1832 on the working class in Britain’, then an essay that discusses only English children in poverty is not answering the whole question. What about men and women? What about workers living in other parts of Britain? You might be given a seemingly simple question or statement, yet under the surface may lie 4 complex issues that need to be explored. For example , take the question ‘Did the state simply ignore Māori health before 1936?’ There appears to be an obvious single word answer: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. However, the question requires a more considered response. Within the given question there are more questions to be explored and answered. For instance, ‘Did th e state devote adequate attention to Māori health before 1936?’ ‘Did the state have a policy (official or unofficial) regarding Māori health before 1936?’ ‘What efforts, if any, were made to bring the issues of Māori health to the state before 1936?’ ‘W hy did the state ‘suddenly’ devise a policy in 1936?’ ‘Why is 1936 an important date for Māori health?’ These and other questions need to be answered in any essay that tackles what — at first glance — seems to be a straightforward question. The key words in the question are ‘simply ignore’. What does this phrase mean? Another common problem is the ‘blind’ selection of familiar or ‘cool sounding’ topics, questions that seem to be about something in which you may be interested. For example , First World War q uestions are very popular, and you may have studied this broad topic in high school. An essay answering the question ‘What was the demographic impact of the First World War on European societies?’ should not contain a summary of the major battles or a disc ussion of who won the war. Rather, it should comment on population movements and trends, comparing pre -war and post -war European societies. If you do not understand the nature of the question, the chances are that you will not answer the question adequa tely. Think about what you are being asked to do, and if you want clarification ask your tutor. History questions are not ‘true’ or ‘false’ tests. There is no one right way of answering a history question. Rather, a history essay is an opportunity to en ter an ongoing debate, to read and think about questions that may never — indeed often cannot — be finally resolved. There are always new ways of looking at material, new methods to apply, and new ideas to incorporate. 5 1) READING 1.1 — Before You Start Readi ng for a history essay is not the same as reading for leisure. The first difference is that you should take notes as you read (see section ( 2) Note Taking below). The second difference is that you should read with discrimination. Read extensively, but read wisely . Concentrate on material that is relevant to the question. You should normally start with a general book or website, to gain an overview of your topic, and then move to more specialised books and articles. Use tables of contents and indexes to find the sections that apply to your topic. Often books and articles have abstracts, prefaces , introductions and conclusions , which summarise the argument. Read these first, and use them to guide you to the key parts of the text. The third difference is that you should read with specific questions in mind. It is important to read critically . Weigh the evidence each author uses, compare texts, think about what each author is trying to argue and why. Historians try to convince you of why particular ch anges occurred in the past, and they also suggest ways for us to think about the past. Reading a historical text is always a challenge; you should try to see the assumptions behind the argument. Who made the source? Why? When? Is it supported by other sources? 1.2 ------ Ty p es of Sou rces You will encounter a wide variety of sources in the course of studying history: books, periodicals (or journals); book reviews; newspapers; photographs; interviews; microfilms; CD -ROMs; videos; databases; websites; and a r ange of digitised material available through the internet. Historians classify these sources into two broad categories: primary and secondary material. Primary sources are the documents, papers, articles, books, personal recollections, archaeological and visual remains produced by people at, or very near, the time of the historical actions in question. They are first -hand evidence, sources immediate to the historical actors and actions. Often they are personal materials, such as diaries, letters and mem os; however, they can be more public documents, such as newspapers, magazines, television programmes and songs. For example , Captain James Cook’s journals (written during or shortly after the actual events) are considered primary sources of information for study of Cook or his times. Secondary materials are documents written or created at some time removed from the events they discuss. They are sources subsequent to the historical actors and actions. A secondary text uses a mixture of primary and second ary material to create a new interpretation of the source material. Any essay you may write on a historical subject is a secondary piece. For example , Richard Hough’s biography of Cook, Captain James Cook , written in 1994 (well after the events, and drawi ng on many sources including Cook’s personal journals), is a secondary source. You should examine sources critically ( 1.1 ). There are some extra questions you can ask of a primary source. Why has it survived? Is the source authentic? Has it been edit ed or corrupted? What have other historians written about the source? 6 Be wary of older secondary texts. History is not a fixed interpretation of events: it is an ongoing debate on the ‘whys’ of past events. Debates move on and scholarly opinions change . At least consider the most recent secondary sources you can find. Be wary of what are sometimes called ‘tertiary’ sources, or school textbooks. These are very general works written from secondary sources and usually contain limited scholarly value. Of ten they are little more than a source of dates and names, with little interpretation of events. While encyclopaedias (including Te Ara and Wikipedia ) are very important reference tools — they can give you important definitions, ‘facts’ and dates — they do no t usually contain in -depth historical analysis. 1.3 — Where to Find Sources Most courses require you to purchase a Book of Readings (or use a set of electronic readings) which will contain selections of books, articles and documents carefully compiled by y our lecturers as well as recommended reading lists. A wide variety of sources is available in the Victoria University Library : books, periodicals (or journals), newspapers, microfilms, CD -ROMs, slides, DVDs and electronic databases. Take advantage of the library tours and on -line tutorials to introduce yourself to the computer catalogue and to the variety and location of the materials. The university library provides reading areas and study rooms. It also has photocopying facilities that can be useful if you need only a few relevant pages in a text. Remember: when photocopying material, ensure you take down all the relevant bibliographical details ( 2.2 and 7). Wellington has the distinct advantage of being the location of the National Library of New Zea land — Te Puna M ātauranga o Aotearoa and the Alexander Turnbull Library . Sources housed here include Photographic and Portrait collections, the Oral History Archive, Newspaper archive, the New Zealand Manuscript Collection, and vast microfilm sources, inclu ding all books printed in Britain from 1475 to the eighteenth century. Wellington also has Archives New Zealand — Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga , which contains government records, The Treaty of Waitangi, business records, personal documents, and more. You also should consider the Wellington Public Library as a further source, especially if the University Library shelves empty out before you find all you need. Especially useful is the New Zealand reference collection located on the second floor. While the internet contains a vast array of historical information, care is needed in utilizing material from the web. There are a number of strange, eccentric sites that pose as academic but are not necessarily reliable. Articles in scholary journals and books hav e been reviewed before publication by experts in the field. They meet academic standards of evidence and argument. In contrast, anyone can create a website. Think carefully about the reliability of a site by asking:  Is the author of the material named?  Are his/her credentials given?  Is the owner of the website named? Does it appear to be promoting a particular agenda?  Are the views presented on the site consistent with what you have read in books and 7 articles? Remember, authoritative information is able t o be verified . It is more than a personal opinion.  Is the website up -to-date?  Is the website maintained by a university — and hence the URL ends in ‘’ or ‘’ or ‘edu’? 8 2) NOTE TAKING 2.1 — Why we Take Notes Notes are necessary to ensure that you have the information you require from the text, when you want it. You need to take notes from the texts you read so that you can use the information from these sources clearly, accurately, and in a scholarly manner. Remember that a history essay is a reas oned and orderly argument with properly acknowledged supporting evidence. The notes you take as you read will be the source of evidence for your argument and will allow you to create footnotes (5) and your bibliography (2.2 and 6). Clear and precise note s also will help you avoid plagiarism (4.6, 4.8 ). You will read many texts in a trimester of study, and remembering all the arguments, strengths, faults, and specific page references, is not practical. If you take good notes, you may only need to read a text once. However, do not hesitate to re -read a text, especially one that is important to your topic. 2.2 — Starting your Bibliography A bibliography lists the sources you use in the essay. Before taking notes from any source, it is most important to rec ord all the information about the source required for your footnotes and bibliography. Bibliography format For books: Author last name, author first name, Title (Place of publication: Publisher, year of publication). For journal articles: Author last name, author first name, 'Title of Article', Title of Journal , Vol. X , no. X , year of publication, pp.XXX -YYY [full page range]. For chapters in edited collections: Author last name, author first name, 'Title of Chapter', in Editor1 first name last name, Edit or2 first name last name, and Editor3 first name last name (ed. or eds.), Title of Collection, X ed. (Place of publication: Publisher, year of publication), pp.XXX -YYY [full page range]. See section 5.3 (the style of footnotes) and 6 (bibliographies) on the styles to use and examples. Now is the time to format the required information correctly. Paying attention now to citation style will free time at the crunch stage to focus on your writing and ideas. 2.3 — How to Take Notes There are many ways of taking notes, and you may have developed your own style that works for you. Some guidelines are offered below. Organisation is the key to note taking. Nothing is worse than spending valuable time searching for a lost scrap of paper containing vital info rmation. Use a ring binder, a laptop, a bound exercise book, or a card index rather than random, loose (easily misplaced) pages. 9 Your notes should enable you to construct footnotes ( 5) and bibliographical entries, so it is important to record the details of each text ( 2.2 ). You must note from which page or pages the information came. Arrange notes by subtopics . A single text may have widely different ideas and arguments. Several different texts may all comment on the same aspect of your topic. By kee ping all the notes from separate books on the same subtopic together you can see where authors agree and disagree with each other. Tip to avoid plagiarism: Quote now, paraphrase later. Be sure to use quotation marks. Keep the question in mind. Only tak e notes that relate to the question you are answering. Photocopying is no substitute for good notetaking. Be sure to include page numbers of your sources ( 5.4). Page numbers enable you and your readers to quickly relocate any material you cite, and are i mportant in constructing your footnotes. 10 3) Planning your Essay 3.1 — Remembering the Question It is all too easy to lose sight of the question during your reading and note taking. Remind yourself of the exact question you are answering before you start p lanning your essay. One of the keys to essay writing is staying focused. There are many interesting tangents to the topics you will study, and you must be careful not to stray from the question. 3.2 — Why write an Essay Plan or Outline? In order to answer a question effectively an essay needs to be structured carefully. An essay must persuade and convince the reader (and marker). Every sentence ( 4.3 ) and every paragraph ( 4.4 ) should be relevant to the question, and provide a step by step link in the deve lopment of the argument. Without planning, an essay will not stay coherent and focused. A history essay should have a definite structure, with an introduction (3.3 , 4.2 , 4.1 0), a main body (3.4 ) containing your argument and evidence, and a conclusion (4.2, 4.9). You should sketch out these components and make sure they will add up to a comprehensive answer to the question. 3.3 — Planning your Introduction An introduction is a clear one -paragraph roadmap of your essay. It tells the reader what you will pro ve in the essay (the destination) and the subtopics you will cover (the route to the destination — the stops along the way). After reading your introduction the marker should know exactly what you intend to argue. Your plan need not be complete, as during the drafting of your essay you may refine your ideas. However, it is useful to note down what you think you are going to prove, and you can use your introduction plan to ensure that you do not forget to include important points as you go. Your reading (1) and note taking (2) should give you a sufficient number of ideas with which to start. For example , an introduction plan to a question such as ‘Discuss the assumptions of the first English arrivals to Virginia’, might contain the following sketchy ideas: Introduction plan: What did the first English arrivals to Virginia assume about: what they would find (what sources of information did they have?)? inhabitants? climate? plants/animals? what they could accomplish (things possible in Virginia, not in Eng land?)? how Virginia would differ from England? the obstacles they might face in Virginia? 3.4 — Using Notes: Planning the Main Body The body of your essay provides the in -depth argument and analysis that you have outlined in your introduction plan. The pl an of the body of your essay needs to offer a coherent structure for your evidence and argument. Develop your argument in clear steps. The most effective way to construct an answer is to support each major step in your argument by reference to supporting evidence and/or examples. 11 Taking the ideas from your introductory plan ( 3.3 ), add in the notes ( 2.3 ) that you have taken and any of your own ideas and deductions . Your notes should help you plan your essay, and your plan should help you see any gaps in your notes. For example , using the same question as ( 3.3 ) above, ‘Discuss the assumptions of the first English arrivals to Virginia’, you could expand the introduction plan into an outline of the entire essay. Here is a small sample, which could become a partial or whole paragraph in your final copy. Assumptions about animals (IDEA OR PARAGRAPH TOPIC FROM INTRO PLAN) They thought food alone limited how (OWN IDEAS ON SUBJECT well familiar animals would thrive. BASED ON READING) Barber, Jamestown Voyag es, p.161, in (NOTES THAT RELATE Anderson, 'Animals ,' p. 379 DIRECTLY TO THE TOPIC; Francis Perkins noted 'an abundance of fresh fodder, EVIDENCE) for any kind of livestock . . . even if there were a million of them'. Anderson, 'Animals', p. 379 Go vernor Francis Wyatt asserted that livestock would flourish in Virginia, and so the colony (MORE EVIDENCE) would succeed . Anderson, 'Animals', p.379 (MORE EVIDENCE) By 1609, the colony already supported 500 pigs, 500 chickens, and 7 horses, as well as g oats and sheep. When taking notes you may start thinking of useful sentences to include in your essay. Thus consider the note -taking process and the writing process as often going hand -in-hand. Taking notes and writing topic sentences Topic sentences app ear in sentence one of the paragraph, and, to help your reader, they should state the main point of the paragraph. These topic sentences are thus important points that you want to make in your essay, and each topic sentences tells your reader what you will prove in that paragraph. For example, in researching the English colonists’ animal husbandry in colonial Maryland and Virginia, you may find primary source evidence from settlers or indigenous peoples about the cold winters in the Chesapeake Bay region. You might think to yourself: ‘English settlers were unprepared for the cold winters in the Chesapeake’. If you wrote down such a thought in a complete sentence, you may find that your thought/sentence becomes a topic sentence to a paragraph discussing colo nialism and the environment. 12 4) DRAFTING 4.1 — Why Write a Draft? Effective essay writing is much more than knowing what you need to say, sitting down, and writing it all in one go. Even with a good set of notes ( 2) and an effective plan ( 3) you can neve r be sure how your argument will evolve. You may discover a logical inconsistency in your structure, come across new information, or have a blinding insight in the middle of the night. Thus drafting is important. Drafting is a process of discovering wha t you really need to say. Writing a rough draft is an essential step towards producing a coherent, logical and complete essay. Start your draft as soon as possible. Do not delay beginning a draft because you are not completely sure of your arguments. D rafting — actually writing your ideas down and trying arguments out — is the best way to make progress. 4.2 — What to Consider While Drafting When drafting it is important to keep the end product — your final submitted essay — clear in your mind. You will need f ootnotes ( 5) and a bibliography ( 6) in your final copy, so ensure you include all the necessary information for these as you go. Introduction as Road Map (see 3.3) Body See 4.3 –4.8 . Conclusion The conclusion briefly summarises your whole argument and p osition in one paragraph. It relates closely to your introduction, although it should not be exactly the same. Rather a conclusion should express similar information in a more developed form and bring the essay to an end. In general, no new evidence shou ld appear in a conclusion. If you can, allow yourself a break in your essay writing between the draft and the final copy to let your mind absorb what you have done and what needs to be added. Let the essay have time to ripen. Most essays have a word lim it, plus or minus ten per cent. Keep the word count in mind while drafting. If you find yourself below the word count, you may need to do some more research and thinking about the topic. If you find yourself well over the limit, then edit your draft dow n by summarising or shortening your text. Rewrite rather than randomly deleting or adding sections. 4.3 — Coherent Paragraphs A paragraph is a coherent
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