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Department of History

Writing a History Paper

The challenge facing all writers is to get the good ideas out of their heads and into the heads of their readers. To achieve this, effective writers keep in mind three primary rules: be clear; be clear; be clear.

To help you achieve clarity, apply the following suggestions:

  • Ask yourself, “Does this information relate to my thesis?” If you’re not sure, delete it and see if its omission affects the essential “meat” of your sentence. If not, leave it out!
  • Throw out all “empty” subjects (There is... There are... The fact that… It is..., etc.), then begin the sentence with the REAL subject.
  • Check your writing for redundancies created by unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.
  • Delete intensifiers such as “very,” “really,” “totally,” and “so.”
  • Change passive voice to active voice. Who’s doing what in your sentence? If you can’t tell, or if the “doer” is not the subject of the sentence, it’s written in the passive voice.
  • Eliminate jargon and replace it with plain language.
  • Never use a long word when a short one will do.
  • Never use several words when a single, well-chosen word will do.
  • Look for ambiguity. Ambiguous words and phrases leave more than one meaning.
  • Use concrete, specific language.
  • Add transitional words or phrases to guide your reader through your ideas especially as you move between paragraphs or between ideas.

A history paper is not a blog. It is a formal piece of writing and should be constructed as such.
  • Take out clichés. Clichés are figures of speech that you are accustomed to hearing or seeing in print.
  • Do not use slang.
  • Write your papers in the past tense—this is history, after all.
  • Remove contractions such as “can’t,” “didn’t,” and “wasn’t.”
  • Do not use the first person—singular (I) or plural (we). Your readers will assume that the entire paper represents your opinion.

Errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling distract your reader from your good ideas. While writing, set Word to indicate grammatical and spelling errors; when it catches errors, address and correct these immediately. The writing center can help you if necessary.

Paper must:
  • Be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Use a regular font (Times New Roman, Tahoma, Ariel) and twelve-point type.
  • Have all the pages numbered.
  • Set the alignment as ragged right.
  • Have every paragraph indented, with no extra lines between paragraphs.
  • Stapled in the top left corner. (Your professors do not carry staples or staplers with them.)
  • Be completely ready before coming to class. All history papers are due at the beginning of the class period or, for courses that require electronic copies, at the time specified in the assignment.
  • In .doc or .docx format, when the course specifies electronic copies.