How to Write a History Paper

A Few Tips to Writing a Better Paper

A woman studying in the library.
(Photo by ML Harris / Getty Images)

At some point in their lives, most students are asked to sit down and write a history paper. This may seem a daunting task for the uninitiated. It may also seem like a lengthy task depending on the page-number requirements.

This guide is meant to help ease your mind and give you a path to follow. Researching and writing  history papers, when done properly, should not feel like a heavy burden; instead, it should feel like you are opening a door to the past and meeting those that lived before you.


Tips to Writing a Better History Paper

  1. Start early. Don't wait until the last minute and pull an all-nighter. 
  2. Choose a topic. If you have a teacher-assigned topic, then head directly to step 3. If you are given a plethora of choices, take a few moments to think about which topic is going to really interest you. Do one of the choices offer you a question that you'd like to answer?
  3. Research, research, research. You won't have anything to say if you haven't already done your research. You should nearly always have at least three sources, but perhaps a lot more depending on your topic. (Psst...this means that you should go to the library.)
  4. Take copious notes while researching. Make sure to note the book and page number of each fact's source so that you can go back for easy reference. If you find a fact that you feel must go in your paper, either put a star next to it or note it at the top of your notes.
  1. When you feel that your research is done, it's time to jot down a list of some of the important points you would like to make. These don't have to be in any order; just brainstorm topics or arguments you would like to cover in your paper.
  2. Make an outline. It's hard to start a paper if you don't know where you're going. By planning ahead, you'll known when you're almost done. Seriously, this is very important.
  1. Never use the word 'I.' History papers are supposed to be about the past, not about you.
  2. The first paragraph is the most important one. This introduces the reader to your paper. In it, you should tell the reader the subject of the paper, the topics or arguments you will cover, as well as include a one to two sentence summary of your conclusion.
  3. Don't be afraid to create paragraphs. Each paragraph should be about a different topic or argument.
  4. You aren't paying for punctuation! Avoid run-on sentences. Read your sentences out-loud. If you have to take a breath and there is no comma, your sentence needs to be shorter. (Hint: A sentence should never take up more than three lines.)
  5. Write a conclusion. You've written most of your paper - did you come to the same conclusion as the one you wrote in the first paragraph? No new information should be introduced here; it should summarize the main points of your paper.
  6. Make sure you create accurate footnotes or endnotes. These are a common thing for which to get marked down. Though many students think them superfluous, they really are an important research tool.
  7. Don't forget to spell-check your paper. Most teachers and professors will automatically mark you down an entire grade for bad spelling. All you have to do is click on a button.
  1. Once you are done, read your paper out-loud using the punctuation. This means take a breath at a comma and pause at periods. Though this may seem "corny," listen to the way your paper sounds.
  2. Have a friend read your paper. Sometimes we aren't as clever as we think we are.
  3. Print it out and turn it in. Hope you get a good grade!