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Essay Writing Guidelines for History Essays.docx

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York University
HIST 3850
Patrick J Connor

Essay Writing Guidelines for History Essays Dr. Joseph Tohill In writing your essays, you will earn marks for following these guidelines. I. Thesis and Organization A good essay has one main argument, called a thesis, and a solid organization to support the argument. Make sure every essay you write makes a clear argument on a point that is debatable. a) Formulating the thesis The thesis is the organizing argument for your paper. As you research your topic, you will come up with a number of tentative ideas about your subject. At first, your ideas and assertions may seem random and unconnected. But eventually they will point toward a larger conclusion. This broad, encompassing idea is your composition's central argument. It links up all the smaller ideas and unifies the essay. All paragraphs and sentences in your paper must help advance this message. It is important to remember that a statement of the paper’s purpose is not the same as a thesis. A paper’s purpose is to examine a particular topic or issue, but the paper’s thesis/argument is the specific position of the writer on that issue. Your thesis will often follow directly after your statement of purpose. A well-constructed thesis should satisfy all four criteria below. This checklist will help you formulate and test your organizing statement. 1. The thesis should be a single sentence. If your message consists of two or more sentences, than your essay will be fragmented. Your arguments will point to several different directions. 2. The words in your thesis should be clear and precise. Ambiguous language will make your argument hard to follow. Be certain that every word in your thesis is needed. 3. The thesis should be grammatical. Grammar is the architecture of a sentence. It shows the reader how the different parts relate to each other. Errors in sentence structure will make your message confusing. 4. The thesis should be on topic. Double-check the assignment. Make sure that your argument is properly focused and relates to the question or topic at hand. Example: Let’s say you were answering the question, “Which makes better pets, dogs or cats?” Statement of Purpose: “This paper will examine the reasons why dogs make better pets than cats.” Thesis Statement: “Dogs make better pets than cats because they are easier to train, bond better with children and adults, and are less likely to cause allergic reactions in people.” b) Placing the thesis Your argument will appear twice in the essay. Place it at the end of your introduction (i.e. first paragraph), and reiterate it using different words at the beginning of your conclusion (i.e. last paragraph). If you examine scholarly writing, you will see that most authors follow these guidelines in a general way. II. Structural Statements/Organization a) Main division statements Your essay should also have a structure, organized around main division statements. These are the main points of the paper. The first main division statement appears immediately after the thesis. The next main division statement begins the group of paragraphs that form the next points in your paper. Using the above example, your first main division statement that would begin the section after your intro and thesis might be something like this: “The main reason that dogs are better than cats is that they are easier to train.” This section of your paper would then elaborate on this idea in a number of paragraphs. Your next main division statement should provide a smooth transition from one point to the next and introduce your next major point. For example, you might write, “In addition to being easier to train, dogs are also better companions because they bond well with humans.” And so on… The best way to draft your structural statements is to create an outline using sentences, not just points. An outline allows you to arrange your essay’s points in a logical order before you begin writing. b) Topic Sentences In addition to main division statements, every paragraph should have its own point, called a topic sentence, which is normally the first sentence in a paragraph— except when the paragraph opens with a main division statement, in which case it follows the main division statement. Again using the above example, you might write something along these lines: “The main reason that dogs are better than cats is that they are easier to train. Dogs are easier to train because of their superior intelligence.” Then your paragraph would elaborate on this point. The next paragraph might start with a topic sentence that read, “A dog’s eagerness to please its people also makes a dog easy to train.” And so on… When writing a paragraph you should continue to think structurally. Keep in mind that every paragraph is a miniature composition. Begin with your topic sentence, which states the point the paragraph is making, followed by the evidence that proves or substantiates that point. III. Citing Evidence In your paragraphs, you should use the evidence you have gathered to prove your thesis. You can quote directly from books or articles (but not the lecture tapes, which provide you with the basic course information). More often, however, you should paraphrase other people’s work, as long as you always cite using proper footnotes or endnotes. It is essential that you cite sources, otherwise this constitutes plagiarism. Introduce direct quotations so that they are integrated smoothly into your paragraphs. (e.g. As historian John Smith argues, “the sky is definitely blue.”) You must provide a footnote or endnote for any item that is not your own. This includes not only direct quotations, but also any factual information that is not common knowledge, and any the ideas or arguments that you take from someone else. A footnote should be placed at the end of the passage to which it refers. If several sentences or an entire paragraph use information or points from a source, the footnote should come at the end of the passage or paragraph (i.e. it is not necessary to put a footnote at the end of every sentence). Other than your introduction and conclusion, where you introduce and summarize your arguments, you should generally have at least one footnote per paragraph. Be very meticulous about documentation. When in doubt, always cite. If all the information in the paragraph comes from one source, you can just a) Footnote and Bibliographical style: This course is a humanities course, so you are required to use the referencing style used in the humanities: Chicago style. This means that you provide references in footnotes (which appear at the bottom of a page) or endnotes (which appear at the end of a document). Footnotes are numbered sequentially (i.e. each footnote has its own number). Place your note at the end of the sentence, passage, or paragraph in which you have used the ideas, arguments, or quotations of another author. A footnote or endnote 1 number in the text of your paper looks like this. You can easily insert footnotes or endnotes into your essay if you are using word-processing software. You can used either footnotes or endnotes. You can NOT use the parenthetical style of referencing. At the end of your essay you must also provide a bibliography, which is an alphabetical listing of sources used. Alphabetize your bibliography by the author's last name
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