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Writing an essay for a history course requires constructing an argument. Even a paper that seems straightforward, such as comparing colonial New England to Virginia, is actually driven by an argument.

A good topic is one that challenges historians’ current debates and received opinion on the subject. The topic should also allow you to develop your own historical and historiographical point of view.

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a short promise that you make to your reader about what your paper will argue. You will spend the rest of the paper-each body paragraph-fulfilling that promise. A strong thesis statement expresses your argument succinctly, and it is the guide that you will follow as you develop your paper.

A strong thesis statement shows your ability to think historically. It provides an overview of the topic and its history, outlines the major trends in research on the subject, and locates your own research within those trends. It also indicates that you understand the complexity of your topic and can analyze it from multiple perspectives.

POOR: The USS Monitor was a symbol of American technological superiority but the writer, Herman Melville, understood it to be a metaphor for dehumanizing warfare.

STRONG: The Revolution had a negative impact on women because the prevailing view was that women lacked the rational faculties of men.

Thesis statements should be arguable, not just factual. Statements of fact are easy to write about, but they do not show your instructor that you can engage with an issue or debate a point of view. A good thesis takes a stand and justifies further discussion. A bad thesis statement is a statement of fact that is void of discussion. It is dull and uninteresting to readers.


Unlike many other types of writing, history papers must have a clear claim or argument. Historians use evidence to support that argument. In general, the more evidence they have, the stronger their argument will be. Historians must also be consistent in their tense. They must remain consistently in the past tense for events that have already happened (“Truman defeated Dewey in 1948”). However, when they are describing or commenting on a book, document, or piece of evidence that still exists, they may shift into the present tense, but graceful writers avoid this practice whenever possible.

A good historian’s goal is to understand the world in which we live. This means that a historian must be careful not to confuse his or her own point of view with the viewpoints of those who lived in the time period being studied. In addition, a historian must be careful not to create false or misleading claims. Historians should always cite their sources when interpreting and using historical documents. This will help ensure that they are not infringing on the copyrights of other people. This also helps protect the reputations of scholars. It prevents them from being taken advantage of or misrepresented. It can also prevent other people from creating and publishing work that is based on the same source material.


Writing a thesis on history is all about understanding an argument. Every historical paper has a “big idea” that serves as an umbrella for all of the evidence included in the essay. It is important to decide how best to present this argument, whether chronologically or thematically. Always remember, however, that history is about people. Abstract nouns like capitalism or war may be important, but a thesis without people is lifeless. Use the past tense when discussing events that have already occurred (“Truman caught Dewey by surprise”).”

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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