The Writing in History program is proud to announce the 2015-2016 Undergraduate Writing in History Essay Contest.
All FIU undergraduate students, who are currently enrolled in history courses are eligible to submit one essay for the contest. We are accepting entries that are works of historical scholarship (research-based and historiographical essays) and between 12 to 25 pages. Please see the attached flyer for more precise details, Writing Contest Release (2015 – 2016).
Readers of this blog should, at the very least, understand that effective writing in the history classroom requires work. Writing has many formal and informal rules that undergraduates are expected to have learned and mastered by the time they reach history courses. When students are not proficient in these rules, they are expected to learn throughout the course. However, this is not the only work that instructors require of students. Undergraduate writers of all levels will need to put work into the revision process before they submit final drafts of their work.
Proofreading, editing, and revision are essential steps in all forms of writing, whether it is a fifteen page research paper or a short identification on a test. All writers should understand that “writing is a process.” While different sources discordantly define the writing process, they all suggest that writing is more than the production of a written document. In the writing process, students must carve out time for proofreading, editing and revision. This time will inevitably vary depending on the project. In your in-class writing assignments, spending an extra five minutes looking over and revising your work will go a long way. In larger projects (essays, research papers, or reading responses), there are several strategies for improving your final project. As the blog post Early and Often suggests, starting projects early is key to finely polished writing. “Early and Often” allows students to explore a wide variety of proofreading, editing, and revision options, including the use of FIU’s History Department Writing in History tutors. Beyond the tutors, as the blog post How Historical Writing is Graded suggested, there are two important steps in revision. First, all writers should take the time to read through their own work. Spending the time to read each word, sentence, and paragraph aloud will force the writer to catch mistakes they sometimes miss when looking over the work. Second, all writers should reverse outline their work. In the process of developing an idea into a written document, ideas and arguments can often shift. Reverse outlining asks writers to try to summarize their own sentences and paragraphs to see how they fit into the larger argument within an essay. By working with these strategies, undergraduate writers will see improvement in the overall quality of their writing.
Thanks, Dr. Weimer
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
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