A Basic Primer to Writing Assignments in History Courses

While writing assignments can vary from history course to history course, instructors generally expect all undergraduate students to be able to analyze historical concepts, themes, and works and to present this analysis in an essay with a clear argument and compelling support.

The ability to breakdown different concepts, themes, and works into their constituent parts is one of the most important skills for historical study.  This type of analysis is not only central to undergraduate work but also fundamental to the academic research of scholars.  At its most basic level, analysis is the retention, comprehension, and scrutiny of concepts, themes, and works.  Analysis most commonly comes in the form of analyzing documents produced during or on a historical period in the history classroom.  One of the best ways to think about this type of analysis is to “STAMP It”, as Patrick Rael suggests on the Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students website.  For Rael, “STAMP” breaks analysis into several different parts: Structure or how the author builds the work; Thesis or the main point that the author is making; Argument or how the author supports the thesis; Motives or why the author has written the work; and Primaries or the works that author uses to back the argument.  When reading documents, thinking about these larger concepts will allow for a deeper understanding. However, analysis alone does not translate to strong historical writing.  Analysis is the foundation for articulate arguments in different writing assignments.

In most history courses, instructors expect students to present their own ideas or analysis in an essay with a clear argument and compelling support.  To show instructors that students have analyzed their topics, it is important for undergraduate writers to organize their thoughts around a prominent thesis.  The thesis should succinctly capture the essay’s answer to instructor’s prompt.  The reader should not have to make assumptions about the student’s argument.  Therefore, it is important to make the thesis prominent and straightforward.  This thesis should also provide the reader indications of how the argument will be supported.  Within the body of the essay, the undergraduate writer should explain how the supports and advances the thesis.  A clear way for writers to hit this mark is to proofread the writing and ask how each paragraph and sentence impacts the thesis.

By thinking more critically about analysis and argumentation, all writers can improve how they research and write.

Thanks, Dr. Weimer


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