Just as writing assignments vary from course to course, so too does the way that writing is evaluated. However, there are general trends in the way that historical writing is graded. Instructors evaluate undergraduate historical writing on its argument and support, its understanding of sources or course material, and its professionalism (sentence clarity, grammar, style, word choice, and citation format).
The thesis is an important aspect of historical work. A thesis is the central argument of any piece of communication. Undergraduates often are asked to find the thesis in their reading assignments. In undergraduate writing, the thesis means presenting a succinct argument. The thesis should be both a response to the writing assignment and the evidence used to support an argument throughout the essay. Instructors will often ask students to present their thesis in a sentence or two that will be checked against the main arguments in the body of the essay. Instructors grade both the presentation of a clear thesis and that the paragraphs of the essay support this argument. A clear tool for checking this is to try to sum up in a word or two how each paragraph fits into the argument. If this cannot be done, it is a good time to revise to make sure the paragraph is more on point.
Analysis also is an important part of undergraduate writing, see A BASIC PRIMER TO WRITING ASSIGNMENTS IN HISTORY COURSES. Instructors look for evidence that undergraduate writers have engaged with required sources. The only way that a student’s understanding and analysis of sources can be judged is through its presentation in the essay. Therefore, it is often an important part of instructor’s grading criteria. A way to check for analysis is to proofread each sentence and paragraph to see that the argument flows logically and has all of its constituent parts in the essay.
Professionalism is another component of writing historical essays. College-level writing is formal. Formal means that instructors expect writing that is proofread for grammar, sentence clarity, style, and citations. Undergraduate writers should present their work with the least amount of these type of professionalism errors as possible. One of the simplest ways to do this is to read each word, sentence, and paragraph aloud. Audible proofreading catches things that glancing over writing often misses.
While instructors will ask for different things of undergraduate writing, the best essays always will display a strong thesis, engagement with sources, and professionalism. These themes and tips should be included throughout the undergraduate’s revision process prior to submitting essays in history classes.
Thanks, Dr. Weimer