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Department-by-Department Reference Guide

Writing in History Courses

A Sampling of Advice from Faculty

Click here for the History Department's
most recent stylesheet/guidelines.

These tips are meant to give you representative ideas of what to expect from departmental writing assignments.


1.  What kinds of writing assignments can I expect in History classes?

  • Biographical sketch term papers (12–20 pages)
  • Document analyses, e.g., papers analyzing and comparing primary sources
  • Essays for and against an assertion
  • Formal essays on assigned books (such as monographs and novels)
  • Term/research papers (ranging from 8–20 pages). Note: some faculty members insist upon “traditional” sources (e.g., books) as well as electronic sources
  • Historiographical surveys
  • Take-home final exam essay
  • Book reviews
  • Autobiographical/familial papers concerning historical event/period
  • Written reports
  • Essays which feature contemporary accounts (e.g., newspapers) of events/periods

2.  What qualities of writing are especially valued in History papers?

  • Comprehensive coverage, coherence, logical consistency, clarity
  • Creativity, imagination, originality regarding research and analysis
  • Diligent, resourceful research
  • Purposefulness—staying focused on the issue
  • Thematic approach
  • Framed, focused interpretation and argumentation
  • Evidence of well-organized research
  • Proper pacing
  • Conciseness
  • Impressive integration of research and interpretation
  • Critical analysis of sources, i.e., evidence that writer understands the source’s assumptions
  • Sensitivity to biases and nuances
  • Familiarity with historiography
  • Mastery of both factual material and the “bigger picture” of history, i.e., general trends
  • Historical accuracy
  • Proper documentation/citation format (showing that the writer knows not only how to cite but when)
  • Correct grammar, spelling, syntax
  • Engaging and polished style


3.  What kinds of evidence are recognized as valid in History papers?

     Your papers should present convincing and critically analyzed historical explanation that is based on primary and secondary research and that illustrates, for example, comprehension of social structures, economics, politics, religion, values, culture, and historical memory in the development of human society over time.


4.  What citation conventions will I be expected to use in History papers?

     Citation conventions will depend on the nature of the paper, but across the department, the footnote/bibliography format presented in the Chicago Manual of Style is preferred. Check with your professor about whether you should use footnotes or endnotes. Computers make both methods equally easy, so it’s a matter of the reader’s preference. This format is also referred to as “Turabian,” after an author who wrote a popular handbook for undergraduates based on it.

     History professors strongly urge students to follow the examples in the booklet Research Papers in History by Francis Paul Prucha, S.J. It includes numerous sample citations, including models for citing electronic sources. To access a PDF file of the fifth edition (2004) to download or print—click here.

5.  Special observations about writing History papers:

     History professors voiced particular concern about the dangers of plagiarism, which can result in heavy penalties. Take care to quote and cite all your sources with precision. For additional tips, consult the advice about avoiding plagiarism on this site. Confer with your professor concerning any questions or uncertainties.


     Quotations are important sources of evidence in History papers. Usually, short quotes are better than long block quotations. You, not the quotations, should control the structure of the paper. Don't use quotations to make your points; instead, use quotations to add substance and zing to your paper.

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Page Last Modified: October 18, 2018

  For suggestions and corrections, please email
Dr. Rebecca Nowacek, Associate Professor of English
Director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center, 240 Raynor Library (414.288.5542)
© 2005 Marquette University.
P.O. Box 1881 · Milwaukee, Wis. USA · 53201-1881