Once you have a thesis, you may find that you need to do more research targeted to your specific argument. Revisit some of the tips from Step 3. Now that you have a working thesis, look back over your sources and identify which ones are most critical to you--the ones you will be grappling with most directly in order to make your argument.
Then, annotate them. Annotating sources means writing a paragraph that summarizes the main idea of the source as well as shows how you will use the source in your paper. Think about what the source does for you. Does it provide evidence in support of your argument? Does it offer a counterpoint that you can then refute, based on your research?
Does it provide critical historical background that you need in order to make a point? For more information about annotating sources, visit our section on annotated bibliographies.
While it might seem like this step creates more work for you by having to do more writing, it in fact serves two critical purposes: it helps you refine your working thesis by distilling exactly what your sources are saying, and it helps smooth your writing process. Having dissected your sources and articulated your ideas about them, you can more easily draw upon them when constructing your paper. Even if you do not have to do outside research and are limited to working with the readings you have done in class, annotating sources is still very useful.
Write down exactly how a particular section in the textbook or in a primary source reader will contribute to your paper. An outline is helpful in giving you a sense of the overall structure of your paper and how best to organize your ideas. You need to decide how to arrange your argument in a way that will make the most sense to your reader. Perhaps you decide that your argument is most clear when presented chronologically, or perhaps you find that it works best with a thematic approach. There is no one right way to organize a history paper; it depends entirely on the prompt, on your sources, and on what you think would be most clear to someone reading it.
An effective outline includes the following components: the research question from the prompt that you wrote down in Step 1 , your working thesis, the main idea of each body paragraph, and the evidence from both primary and secondary sources you will use to support each body paragraph. Be as detailed as you can when putting together your outline. This step can feel overwhelming, but remember that you have already done a lot of work and--armed with your working thesis, source annotations, and outline--have all the tools needed.
Do not feel that you have to work through your outline from beginning to end.
Parts of a historiographic essay
Some writers find it helpful to begin with the section in which they feel most confident. Look at your outline and see if there is one part that is particularly fleshed out; you may want to begin there. Your goal in the draft is to articulate your argument as clearly as you can, and to marshal your evidence in support of your argument. Do not get too caught up in grammar or stylistic issues at this point, as you are more concerned now with the big-picture task of expressing your ideas in writing.
If you have trouble getting started or are feeling overwhelmed, try free writing. Free writing is a low-stakes writing exercise to help you get past the blank page. Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write down everything you know about your paper: your argument, your sources, counterarguments, everything.
Do not edit or judge what you are writing as you write; just keep writing until the timer goes off. You may be surprised to find out how much you knew about your topic. Of course, this writing will not be polished, so do not be tempted to leave it as it is. Remember that this draft is your first one, and you will be revising it. When you are writing up the evidence in your draft, you need to appropriately cite all of your sources.
Appropriate citation has two components. You must both follow the proper citation style in your footnotes and bibliography, and document always but only when such documentation is required.
Remember that you need to cite not just direct quotations, but any ideas that are not your own. Inappropriate citation is considered plagiarism. For more information about how and when to cite, visit our section on citations.
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After you have completed an entire first draft, move on to the revision stage. Think about revising on two levels: the global and the local. The global level refers to the argument and evidence in your paper, while the local level refers to the individual sentences. Your first priority should be revising at the global level, because you need to make sure you are making a compelling and well-supported argument.
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A particularly helpful exercise for global-level revision is to make a reverse outline, which will help you look at your paper as a whole and strengthen the way you have organized and substantiated your argument. Print out your draft and number each of the paragraphs. Then, on a separate piece of paper, write down each paragraph number and, next to it, summarize in a phrase or a sentence the main idea of that paragraph.
As you produce this list, notice if any paragraphs attempt to make more than one point: mark those for revision. Once you have compiled the list, read it over carefully. Study the order in which you have sequenced your ideas. Notice if there are ideas that seem out of order or repetitive.
Look for any gaps in your logic. Does the argument flow and make sense? When revising at the local level, check that you are using strong topic sentences and transitions, that you have adequately integrated and analyzed quotations, and that your paper is free from grammar and spelling errors that might distract the reader or even impede your ability to communicate your point.
One helpful exercise for revising on the local level is to read your paper out loud.
Hearing your paper will help you catch grammatical errors and awkward sentences. Here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself while revising on both the global and local levels:. Remember, start revising at the global level. Once you are satisfied with your argument, move onto the local level. After you have finished revising and have created a strong draft, set your paper aside for a few hours or overnight. When you revisit it, go over the checklist in Step 8 one more time.
Read your paper out loud again too, catching any errors you might have missed before.
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At this stage in the process, you need to make sure you have taken care of all the details. Your paper needs to have a title that does not just announce the topic of the paper, but gives some indication of your argument.
Reread the paper assignment and make sure you have met all of the professor's requirements: Do you need page numbers? A separate title page? Will you submit your paper electronically or in hard copy? Have you followed all of the stated formatting guidelines such as font-size and margins? Is your bibliography appropriately formatted? Skip to main content. Undergraduate Newsletter Archives.