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How To Write A Successful History Essay For Highschoolers

Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

Here are tips for high schoolers to consider when writing a history essay.

Here are tips for high schoolers to consider when writing a history essay.

What Does An Essay Include?

An essay is a formal piece of writing focusing on a topic. History essays primarily on past events and make a judgement based on the topic or question you are responding to. The basic formula for an essay includes an introduction, three to five body paragraphs and a conclusion.

How To Write An Introduction

An essay must have an introductory paragraph that lets your reader know what your thesis is and what the main points of your argument will be. The first sentence should be a direct response to the question that is presented or what you're trying to argue.

For example, if a question is: 'What was the role of women in World War One?'

A thesis response could be: 'World War One revolutionised the value of women in Brittan’s workforce and society.'

This is an effective response because it makes a judgement on how World War One impacted women, so it gives additional information as well as a response to the question.

This should end with a link sentence.

How To Respond To An Essay Question

When it comes to a question you should examine the verb (what the question is asking you to do) and the topic, then address it.

For example, the question can be:

'Examine the role of women in World War One?'

In this case, the verb is 'examine.' The question is asking you to provide an examination of the topic, which in this case is 'the role of women in World War One.'

A linking sentence coherently connects two other sentences together in an essay. It is placed between the two sentences in order to provide them with more context, allowing the paragraph to proceed in a logical fashion.

How to Write a Body Paragraph

Body paragraphs are paragraphs that contain your response to a certain question or to your thesis. The paragraphs are tools to carry and support your judgement using evidence, facts and persuasive language.


Formula of a Body Paragraph

1. Opening link sentence that supports your thesis.

2. If needed, a link sentence that shows what are you going to explain specifically within your body paragraph and how it relates to your thesis.

3. Include an example that relates to your argument.

4. Evidence supporting your example. This can include archaeological evidence ex. coins, a historian's quote, written evidence ex. an ancient tablet, statistics and facts, etc.

5. Explain how your evidence and example relate to your thesis. Your links to your thesis MUST be shown consistently throughout your essay.

6. Repeat steps 3-5 if needed.

7. Have a link sentence that wraps up your paragraph and links to your thesis or links to the next body paragraph.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources are sources that were created during the time of the event you are writing about. For ancient history, this would span about 100 or so years from when the event happened. Secondary sources are sources created after the time period.

For example, the Iliad by Homer would be considered as a primary source when writing about The Trojan War.

A secondary source would the movie 'Troy' when talking about The Trojan War.


Tips For Body Paragraphs

How Much Evidence Should You Use?

Generally, for year 12 essays for High School Certificates, the marker expects about 2-3 pieces of evidence, which should be a mix of secondary and primary sources.

How Many Words Should You Use?

Generally, markers expect a span of about 150- 250 words within body paragraphs.


When it comes to quotes you don't need to write down the entire quote. In fact, it is advised that you paraphrase a quote into your own words to show your level of understanding based on a historian's position.

For example:

'Only the dead have seen the end of war.'

— Plato


Instead of quoting him word from word you can say;

'Plato believed that war would always be a recurring element throughout history as he believed the only way to escape it is through death.'

Which you can follow with something that the quote reveals;

'The pessimism through his tone revealed the result of wars on the psyche of citizens that lived throughout that period that can also be exhibited within citizens today.'

Long quotes that exceed three lines should not be used within the paragraph. If it's necessary, it should be used as an indented quote. In an MLA format you should start the quotation on a new line, with the entire quote indented ½ inch from the left margin; maintain double-spacing.

Using Indecisive Language

Most when unsure about their own judgement would be tempted to use the word 'may' or 'perhaps.'

For example: 'The war may have never have happened if it wasn't for...' or 'Perhaps the outcome would have been different if...'

Using indecisive language indicates to the reader and/or marker of the work that you are undecided on what you are trying to say or haven't studied the content, which normally results in having points deducted.

Using Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns include: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, and them

The use of 'you' within a history essay can detract from your argument and result in marks being deducted from your essay. This is because formal language is normally used to within academic essays. This is because history essays are meant to be written with an objective stance since academic essays are analytical rather than descriptive. It is not enough to describe what happened or to write a narrative of past events. You must argue a position. Using 'I' can create a subjective atmosphere since it implies that the entire essay is being driven by your opinions rather than the facts that you provide. This detracts from the reliability of the essay.

Convoluted Language

As tempting as it might be to include sophisticated language in your body paragraphs if they end up making your argument just plain confusing, it isn't worth it. It is advised to understand the words you use as to avoid misusing a word, which can result in a convoluted sentence.

Many students would be tempted to look at a word and decide to go to a thesaurus to find a more sophisticated version of that word or add more words just to reach the word limit (we've all been there.) The issue with this is that it would be likely that they meaning or the context you are meant to use that specific word just doesn't fit in the type of essay you are writing. It is better that you have simple language and has your point come across clearly than have a sentence jammed packed with words that would only confuse the reader.

The issue with this is that it would be likely that they meaning or the context you are meant to use that specific word just doesn't fit in the type of essay you are writing. It is better that you have simple language and has your point come across clearly than have a sentence jammed packed with words that would only confuse the reader.

A convoluted example of a sentence:

'It is conspicuous fact that Cleopatra's artificial representation in currency was meticulously fictated by Roman propaganda to make her appear insipid.'

A simpler version of the sentence:

'Roman propaganda was used to represent Cleopatra as dull and unattractive.'

The risk of having convoluted language is also that you can end up becoming redundant, which can bore the reader. It is better that you have simple, language to communicate your argument clearly than have unnecessary words that doesn't make sense.

Using Present Tense

Within history essays, it is mostly expected that you would use past tense. The exception to this is to use present tense only when speaking of other historians, or (rarely) when your subject is a text itself.

How to Write a Conclusion

Conclusions act as summaries of your essays without providing any additional information. The first sentence should include a link to the thesis. The following sentences should be sentences summarising what you said in each paragraph. An easier way of writing this is rewording a link sentence within a body paragraph just with including a piece of evidence you provided. The last sentence should be a sentence that leaves the audience thinking.

For example, in an essay I wrote about the differing perspectives about the Salem Witch Trials I ended it with:

'Conceptually, the Salem Witch Hunt never ended. The word ‘witches’ has been simply replaced and has become synonymous to scapegoating. This is the inevitable reality of human nature since where there is a difference, prosecution will follow.'

This deduction while it differs from the main premise of the essay, it creates an open-ended statement that leaves the audience thinking.

Writing a Bibliography and Footnotes

Most essays (if it's not a sit in exam) it is expected that you have to include a bibliography. The bibliography varies on what style of bibliography that is expected.

For example, the most common bibliography styles are MLA and APA style. It is advised that you look up the format that's expected and cite every source that you used.

Footnotes are links showing the origins of a source and reference to a source that was used within the essay. This is should be found at the bottom of the page. This is formatted depending on the style that you are meant to be using.


Simran Singh (author) from Australia on June 26, 2018:


Roman on June 26, 2018:

Nice post.

townsendz12 on April 17, 2018:

Historical essay. Writing an essay for history is not necessarily ... The key to a good body portion of your essay is to remember to only discuss 1 major idea per paragraph. Make distractions’ between you major ideas. High school education continues to move away from tests with one word answers and towards students having to come up with paragraph or even full essay answers. I read your astounding post. Thank ,you for sharing this .Read More :