Writing History Essays A Student Guide

All your written work will involve attempts to answer questions about the past. Markers are looking for answers that are as convincing and as carefully argued as they can be, given the time and evidence available to you. The skills you must mobilise are as much those of a debater as of a researcher.

General Advice

1. Relevance

Try to answer the question that is set. Quite a few essays manage to miss the main point entirely. Consider very carefully what the question or problem means, then organise your evidence as an answer.

Every point of your answer must bear directly on the subject, and you must say in so many words how it helps to answer the question. It is no good leaving it to the reader to make the connection. This is YOUR job, not the reader's.

Try giving your essay to a friend to see if he or she can work out the question simply by looking at your answer. If you have done the job properly - linking each point explicitly to the question - your friend will have no trouble.

These are the sort of questions we will ask when marking a piece of work:

  • Has the question been understood?
  • Have the terms of the question been defined? (Use a dictionary; or, even better, an encyclopaedia or a book such as Raymond Williams' Keywords. See also Appendix A – Key terms.)
  • Have the hidden assumptions of the question been winkled out? Does the question assume things that are not necessarily true
  • Has the significance of the question been understood? What other questions can be tackled once this one has been understood? Is the question important?

2. Construct your own argument:

Never simply repeat sections from books or lectures. At best, this is lazy; at worst, it is a dishonest attempt to pass off others' ideas as your own. It will also lose you marks, because we want to see how you can argue. Occasionally, you may experience the thrill of working out and defending a truly novel conclusion. More often, you will end up largely agreeing with one historian or another. This is fine, but you must support that historian with your own synthesis of the evidence.

We will ask:

  • Is the argument convincing?
  • Is the argument logically organised?
  • Have alternative answers been considered?
  • Does the conclusion follow from the premises and evidence?

3. Read as much as possible but read wisely:

Concentrate on material relevant to the question. You should normally start with a general book, to get an overview of your topic, but then you must move to more specialised works. While encyclopedias and survey textbooks can be useful for gaining a general knowledge about your topic, such reading is not citable research. The bulk of your research should be from specialised scholarly books and articles.

Try to read critically. Historians must be sceptical. History students should start weighing up the evidence used by scholars, comparing one person’s work with another’s. This is why it is always important to read several books and articles. You should understand the historical debate before deciding which viewpoint you support. Second, third and fourth opinions help to inform and enliven a debate.

4. Note-taking:

See the section ‘Study Methods’ for advice on note-taking. Always record full details of each source that you use. For books this means the author, title, place of publication, year of publication and of course the page numbers. For articles, note the author, title, name of the journal, volume number, date of the issue and page numbers. Some of these details will save you much needless effort if you wish to consult the source again; and all of them are needed when later you cite sources in footnotes or the bibliography of your essay. It is often useful to note the library’s call number for the item as well. Try to organise the material that you are collecting for your essay. This can be done by following a series of points or themes, or dividing your evidence for and against a particular argument. Try to be logical, systematic, and coherent. Phrases copied word for word from your readings should be enclosed in quotation marks in your notes; this will prevent inadvertent plagiarism.

5. Argue from evidence:

We are less interested in your conclusion than in the skill with which you support it. Avoid vague, unsupported or sweeping statements. Always argue from evidence, backing up your generalisations with relevant facts. If your statements of fact are contentious, support them with evidence too. It is best not to turn a blind eye to evidence which favours your opponents. You should devise an argument which as far as possible does justice to all the information available.

We will ask:

  • Is the argument soundly based on supporting evidence?
  • Has the evidence been evaluated critically or merely accepted at face value?
  • Have alternative answers been considered?

6. Analyse your evidence:

It is not enough to present the facts and arguments you have gathered in your research. You must evaluate the evidence. How reliable is it? Are the sources biased? Is material downplayed in some accounts because it casts doubt on the most comfortable explanation? What does the evidence actually mean? Most quotations, for example, should be followed by your interpretation: if you recount that Louis XIV said "I am the State," you should then explain that he meant that his power as the king of France was absolute. If you fail to interpret your evidence, or your analysis is unconvincing, your overall essay will be weaker.

7. Beware narrative:

As a general rule, if you find yourself telling a story, you have probably drifted from the point. Ensure your writing is relevant to the question asked. Our questions require direct answers, and they require you to construct clear arguments in favour of your answers. (See the example of Tom and Jerry.) This means that you have to arrange your material in the best logical order. This will rarely coincide with the chronological order in which events occurred.

8. Quote sparingly:

Quotations should be brief and relevant. Used well, they can add colour and drive a point home. When they are over-used, they may make your essay disjointed and prevent you from developing your argument. Quotations should never dominate your essay

Locating Source Material


  1. Identify books on your topic: If key readings are suggested either in class or in course bibliographies, read these first. Books that your lecturer has placed on reserve are often major sources that should not be ignored. Refer to your textbook or assigned readings to begin to compile a list of key authors and works – check both for works referred to in the text and those in the footnotes and bibliographies. If your list of books is still thin, or you are unclear about the basic events of your topic, read encyclopedia articles on your topic. Carefully note the major people involved and the names of key events; use this list to conduct searches in the library catalogue for further books.
  2. Locate scarce or high-demand books: Books unavailable at Otago may be available from another library in New Zealand. Ask a librarian about interloaning books from another library. If a book you require is owned by Otago but is checked out to another borrower, you have two options. You can place a hold on the book which will let you be the next person to borrow it once it is returned, or you can recall a book, shortening the borrowing period for the current borrower. In general, books with due dates at the end of the semester should be recalled.
  3. Evaluate the books: When you find books, quickly assess their usefulness: does the table of contents suggest the author addresses your topic substantively? Is the writing and presentation professional, or is the book mainly a pictorial or juvenile light overview? Quickly glance through the footnotes: the more substantial the footnotes, the more likely it is that the work is credible. Review the bibliographies: the more often a work is referred to in the various bibliographies, the more likely it is a key work for investigating your topic. As you evaluate books, you may also identify further works you will want to use in your research.


History students ignore journal articles at their peril. The Central Library has multiple electronic databases online and on searchable CD-ROMs that will allow you to search for articles relevant to your topic. Search terms can be identified just as for books. Some of the databases will present the full text of articles to you electronically. Other articles can be found on the library shelves in the journals section. If the article you want is not available at Otago, you can order a copy, free, through the library.

If you are unsure how to proceed, where to locate the databases, how to use the CD-ROMs, or even how to recall a book, please ask a member of the library staff. A request for help is never regarded as an intrusion. Even if you have already had something explained, but have forgotten or are still uncertain, don’t hesitate to ask again. The library is there for you to use, and the staff are there to help you.


Materials found through searches on the World Wide Web are less reliable than books and articles – they can be posted by highly biased or ill-informed sources and contain errors and distortions. For this reason, the History Department has the following policy on the Web as a source for research:

  • 100-level refer to your individual course books.
  • 200-level up may cite from web addresses (URLs) containing the suffixes:

.gov - these are government sites (.govt in NZ)

.ac - academic institution

.edu - tertiary institution in U.S. and Australia.

  • 300-level and above may cite from any website, but the information used must be critically evaluated as any other source would be.

All levels may cite from websites listed in the syllabus or specifically approved in lecture; also websites indicated on the course’s Blackboard Courseinfo page.

Note that articles found through the library’s electronic databases are journal articles – they exist primarily in print form and have been made available electronically as a convenience. If you are unsure whether you have located an article or a webpage, ask a tutor or your lecturer.

Writing and Expression

You are marked not only on what you know but on how well you express it. You should have an introduction, development, and a conclusion. Your work should meet the word limit of the assignment. Remove unnecessary, overly complex, or unworkable arguments. In your writing you should aim at clear, concise, exact expression. Remember that dictionaries are writers’ friends, and you should get in the habit of using them frequently. Too many students misuse words because they do not understand their exact meanings.

What’s in a word? Consider the difference between wise guy and wise man. - anonymous

Carefully re-read your essay, checking that you have observed the SEVEN COMMANDMENTS:

1. Check your spelling carefully.
2. Check to see if you left any words out.
3. Punctuate appropriately, with special care in the use of full stops.
4. Avoid using unnecessary words.
5. Learn the correct use of apostrophes.
6. Keep your sentences clear. Avoid overlong sentences with many subclauses and parentheses.
7. Avoid contractions (don’t, can’t) and abbreviations (NZ).

Note that the spellcheck feature available with word processing programs will not catch mis-used words. You should always check spelling and grammar personally.

I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It clearly marks four my review
Miss steaks eye ken knot

Common Errors

1. Misplaced apostrophes

Its = possessive form, for example its meaning, its life span, its courtyard

It’s = It is; this contraction has no place in a history essay
Proper use of possessives

Peasant’s revolt = one peasant, one revolt

Peasant’s revolts = one peasant, multiple revolts

Peasants’ revolt = multiple peasants, one revolt

Peasants’ revolts = multiple peasants, multiple revolts

2. Misused commas

Instead of full stops: Students frequently use commas when full stops are called for.

Poor: King Henry VIII smelled terrible, this was because he never bathed.

Better: King Henry VIII smelled terrible. This was because he never bathed.

Even better: King Henry VIII smelled terrible because he never bathed.

Excess: Students also sometimes sprinkle extra commas through their writing.

Poor: The treaty, which was signed by Jackson’s government and the Cherokee Indians, was not, in fact, rigorously, upheld by the U.S.

Better: The treaty which was signed by Jackson’s government and the Cherokee Indians was not, in fact, rigorously upheld by the U.S.

3. Wrong word

Sight refers to vision; you cite a reference; a site is a place.

Sight - cite - site.

You can have too much, or go to a place, or have two of something.

Too - to - two.

The populace are the people; a populous place has many people

Populace - populous.

4. Punctuating quotations

In general the punctuation at the end of the quote goes inside the quotation mark (sometimes called inverted comma). The footnote mark goes outside the quote mark. Thus Norman Kirk’s saying:

‘Let us have a sense of pride in being New Zealanders. Let us recognise the value of the unique way of life we have built here – a humane, non-violent society, free from the social and economic injustices that plague so many societies.’1

If you cut short a quotation, put in three dots – an ellipsis – to indicate the change:

‘Let us have a sense of pride in being New Zealanders. Let us recognise the value of the unique way of life we have built here…’2

Long quotes, such as the first quote above, are called block quotes and should be indented on both the right and left margins. Use block quotes only sparingly: readers tend to skip over them. Shorter quotes – those of two lines or less – go in the text. Very short quotes, usually three words or less, can have punctuation outside the quote marks.

If you add anything to a quote, enclose it in square brackets:

‘We have stood on Maungakawa [the hill of bitterness] and we have looked down on Horotiu [the land fallen to pieces at the blow of a weapon] and shed tears, and now the pain is constantly gnawing in our hearts.’3

If a quote contains an error and you want to clarify that the error is in the original, insert the word sic in brackets:

‘Cortez conquered the Naïve [sic] Americans.’

Referencing & Bibliography

A guide to the Department's referencing & bibliography requirements can be downloaded here.

Presentation of Essays

  1. Essays must be typed or written legibly on one side of the paper only. It will be a great advantage to you if you learn how to wordprocess. A wordprocessor makes it much easier to rewrite and improve your essay, and will also make it much easier for markers to read. Wordprocessing is also a valuable job skill you can learn for next to nothing at the university computer labs.
  2. Number your pages, and write your name and course number on every page in case the pages are separated.
  3. You should leave a wide margin on the left for the marker's comments. Double space your text (leave a blank line between each line of text).
  4. Separate paragraphs either with a blank line OR by indenting the first line of each new paragraph.
  5. Pages must be fastened together securely, preferably stapled at the top left corner.
  6. Ensure your name, course, and tutor's name is written on the front page.
  7. Essays must be placed in the assignment boxes in the corridor. Do not give essays to lecturers or to tutors directly.
  8. 8. It is your responsibility to keep a copy of your essay as a precaution against loss or theft.

Remember that the easier it is to mark your essay, the more likely you are to get full credit for your ideas and your work. If we have difficulty reading your work, either because of poor writing or poor presentation, it is easy to miss some of your points.


Many students may be unsure of what plagiarism is, or why it is penalised heavily. Here is an explanation (and a warning!).

1. Definition:

Plagiarism means copying or paraphrasing someone else’s work and presenting it as one’s own. Plagiarism is a form of cheating. It may involve copying or paraphrasing without sufficient acknowledgment another student’s work, a tutor’s comments, or published works or websites.

Copying from textbooks, articles, or the internet is plagiarism. Paraphrasing a textbook or other work without sufficient acknowledgment is plagiarism. Even if sufficient attribution is given, i.e. acknowledgment through footnotes, the proportion of paraphrased text in work presented as one’s own may be so great as to attract a charge of plagiarism.

Students are encouraged to discuss course work and assignments but any assignment or research paper you present must be your own work.

2. How to avoid the charge of plagiarism:

  • If you take a fact or idea directly from someone else, you must give a footnote reference. Use your common sense about this. You do not footnote everything. The basic rule is to give a footnote for any information which is not easily available, or is contentious, or is particularly important for your argument. An insight that is explained by another author should be cited. In each case, the purpose of the footnote is to allow the reader to assess the validity and originality of your argument.
  • If you also use the exact words of your source, that is, you quote from your source, then you must enclose the whole quotation in inverted commas. Key phrases or even single words may require quotation, e.g. "bowling alone," Robert Putnam’s shorthand term for loss of a sense of community. More commonly, if you use three or more words in a row from a source, it is considered a quotation.

3. Why not plagiarise?

  • Plagiarism of facts. If you do not explain where your information comes from, your reader can have no idea of how trustworthy your information is, and will, quite rightly, refuse to take your conclusions seriously.
  • Plagiarism of words and ideas. This is dishonest. But, equally important, plagiarism stunts your own intellectual development by encouraging habits of mechanical, imitative thinking. Finding the right language is an essential part of the construction of a historical argument. Relying on the language or ideas of others prevents you from developing a creative, independent approach to intellectual problems. If you continually rely on the ideas and arguments of others, and even on their way of expressing those ideas, you will never develop the capacity to think things through independently, and to express the results of your own thinking in the only appropriate language, which is your own.
  • Intellectual property is an increasingly litigious category of knowledge. It is essential you develop the ability to recognise and respect intellectual property now, while still a student, so you can avoid potentially expensive and very damaging consequences of infractions in future.

Further information is available here:

Academic Integrity and Academic Misconduct Information for Students


Writing Historical Essays: A Guide for Undergraduates

The following document was prepared by Professors Matt Matsuda and John Gillis. The authors gratefully acknowledge the following for their aid:

  • Ziva Galili, Rutgers University Department of History
  • Mark Wasserman, Rutgers University Department of History
  • Professor Kurt Spellmeyer and the Rutgers Writing Center Program
  • Professor Scott Waugh and the UCLA Department of History for their Guide to Writing Historical Essays
  • Professors Ronald R. Butters and George D. Gopen at Duke University for their GUIDELINES for the Use of Students Submitting Papers for University Writing Courses and Other Classes in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Department of English, 1992).


The purpose of this guide is to provide you with the basics for writing undergraduate history essays and papers. It is a guide only, and its step by step approach is only one possible model; it does not replace consultation with your professor, TA, or instructor about writing questions and getting feedback, nor the excellent tutoring services provided by the Rutgers Writing Center program (room 304, Murray Hall, College Avenue Campus) and the Douglass Writing Center (room 101, Speech and Hearing Building, Douglass Campus).

Writing is a craft. All serious writing is done in drafts with many hesitations, revisions, and new inspirations. Remember always that there is nothing natural about being able to write (we all have to be taught—over many years), and writing well is a matter of application, discipline, and effort. You may already write well. Just remember that our subject here—critical, scholarly writing—has special requirements.

In what follows we will briefly discuss the nature of historical writing, lay out a step by step model for constructing an essay, and provide a set of useful observations from our experience as instructors regarding problems that most frequently crop up in student writing.

Section 1: What Is Historical Writing?


The basic elements of academic essay writing are two: a thesis and evidence, divided into three parts: an introduction, the systematic development of an argument, and a conclusion. All scholarly writing, from the most concise paper to the longest book, follows these basic guidlines.


Historical essay writing is based upon the thesis. A thesis is a statement, an argument which will be presented by the writer. The thesis is in effect, your position, your particular interpretation, your way of seeing a problem. Resist the temptation, which many students have, to think of a thesis as simply "restating" an instructor's question. The writer should demonstrate originality and critical thinking by showing what the question is asking, and why it is important rather than merely repeating it. Your own informed perspective is what matters. Many first-year students ask whether the "thesis" is not just their "opinion" of a historical question. A thesis is indeed a "point of view," or "perspective," but of a particular sort: it is based not only on belief, but on a logical and systematic argument supported by evidence. The truism that we each have "our own" opinions misses the point. A good critical essay acknowledges that many perspectives are possible on any question, yet demonstrates the validity or correctness of the writer's own view.

Thesis and Evidence

To make a good argument you must have both a strong central thesis and plausible evidence; the two are interdependent and support each other. Some historians have compared the historian's craft to assembling and presenting a case before a jury. A strong statement of thesis needs evidence or it will convince no one. Equally, quotes, dates, and lists of details mean nothing by themselves. Your task is both to select the important "facts" and to present them in a reasonable, persuasive, and systematic manner which defends your position. To support your argument, you should also be competent in using footnotes and creating bibliographies for your work; neither is difficult, and both are requirements for truly professional scholarship. The footnote is a way of demonstrating the author's thesis against the evidence. In effect, it is a way of saying: "If you don't accept my thesis, you can check the evidence yourself." If your instructor is unclear about your argument, he or she may very well go back and check how you are using your original sources. By keeping your notes accurate your argument will always be rooted in concrete evidence of the past which the reader can verify. See below for standard footnote forms.

Historical Writing

Be aware also that "historical" writing is not exactly the same as writing in other social sciences, in literature, or in the natural sciences. Though all follow the general thesis and evidence model, historical writing also depends a great deal on situating evidence and arguments correctly in time and space in narratives about the past. Historians are particularly sensitive to errors of anachronism—that is, putting events in an "incorrect" order, or having historical characters speak, think, and act in ways inappropriate for the time in which they were living. Reading the past principally in terms of your own present experience can also create problems in your arguments. Avoid grand statements about humanity in general, and be careful of theories which fit all cases. Make a point of using evidence with attention to specificity of time and place, i.e. "context."

Section 2: Steps in Preparing an Historical Essay

1. Understand the question being asked.

Pay attention to the way it is worded and presented. Be aware, for example, that "evaluate" does not mean the same thing as "describe," and neither is the same as "compare/contrast," or "analyze." What are the key words? Can you properly define them? What sort of evidence is required to respond effectively? If you are developing your own topic, what are the important issues and what questions can you pose yourself?

2. Prepare the material.

Begin reading (or re-reading) your texts or documents. Students often ask: "How can I give you a thesis (or write an introduction) before I have done all the reading?" Obviously, you cannot write a good paper if you haven't done the readings, so be sure to keep up. Remember however that merely "reading everything" doesn't guarantee you'll do good writing. Some students rush through assignments, others highlight every line, both thinking that by counting pages or words they are doing well. As you read the important point is to identify critical arguments in the texts. Don't just read for "information." Do a "strong reading" of your materials—critically examine or reexamine your sources with questions in mind. What is the author saying? What are his or her stated and unstated assumptions? What kind of evidence supports the arguments and how is it used? What do particular documents or texts tell you about the time in which they were written? Your questions will be the beginning of your own thesis.

3. First Draft

As noted above, all serious writing is done in drafts, and not the night before. Even if you are pressed for time (as, of course, you will be) give yourself enough time to review and revise your own writing. Students will sometimes turn in papers they have never actually read themselves; this is a mistake which shows. Think of the first or "preliminary" draft as a detailed outline. Establish your thesis and see how it looks in writing. Is it too general or specific? Does it address the questions asked by the instructor? Because the thesis is so critical, small changes in it will have a big impact. Don't be afraid to refine it as often as necessary as you continue reading and writing.

As you write, pay attention to the following points:

  • Organize your ideas on paper. Order your arguments and connect them to the relevant supporting evidence. If the evidence contradicts your thesis, you will have to rethink your thesis. Obviously you must not alter the evidence, but always look for some citation or text which makes your point better, clearer, more precise, more persuasive. Avoid needlessly long quotes which only fill up space, and be sure what you select actually makes the point you think it does. All citations must be integrated logically and systematically into your argument. Remember that no quote "speaks for itself." Your job is not only to select evidence, but to explain and analyze what you cite, to demonstrate the meaning and importance of what you choose.
  • Be attentive to paragraph construction and order. Paragraphs should have strong topic sentences and be several sentences long. Try to show development in your argument. Point one should lead logically to point two in paragraph after paragraph, section after section. Avoid simply listing and detailing your arguments in the order which they occur to you. Though there may be no absolutely correct sequence in presenting an argument, a thoughtful ordering and systematic development of points is more convincing than ideas randomly thrown together.
  • Pay attention to transitions: when you switch to a new argument, let the reader know with a new topic sentence. Resist the temptation of thinking, "they'll know what I mean." Don't make your reader guess where you are going or what you are trying to say; the purpose of an essay is to communicate and to convince.
  • Take time with your conclusion, which should close and summarize your arguments. Remember that conclusions can have a big impact on the reader, as closing statements do to a jury. You are of course not being judged, but—as part of the scholarly process—your work is being evaluated, so try to make the best presentation possible.

4. Drafts and Final Draft

Now you have completed your draft. Return to your introduction. Is the thesis clearly stated? Have you established the argument and evidence you will present? Rephrase your thesis if necessary. You may not even be clear about the final thesis until you have written much of the paper itself and seen how the argument holds together. Add examples or delete non-relevant materials and make sure paragraphs connect with transitions and topic sentences. Proofread the work: set it aside for some time and come back to it, or try reading it aloud to yourself (if your roommates are tolerant). Some classes, such as the History Seminar, have students critique each others' research drafts, often several times. Such exercises are invaluable opportunities to learn how other people read you, and how to be fair, judicious, and helpful in your own critiques. Whenever possible try to have someone else read your work and comment on it. Finally, check for sense, grammar, spelling, and mechanical and typographical errors. Common mistakes can be avoided by consulting such aids as the Writing Program Proofreading Guide available for $1 in the English section of the University Bookstore. Show respect for your reader by not making him or her wade through a sloppy manuscript. Details may not make or break a work, but they make a definite impression about how much you care.

Section 3: Grading, Originality & General Observations

A Note on Grading

Every professor or instructor has his or her own standards for excellent, good, average, and unacceptable work. "Standards" means that some papers will receive higher marks than others. A common grading misunderstanding arises from a student belief that answering a question "correctly" in essay form means an automatic "A." From an instructor's point of view, you do not get credit for excellence by doing what you are supposed to be able to do: write coherently and intelligently with a thesis, introduction, argument, and conclusion. This is only "competent" work. How well you write is what makes the difference. Do you detail your arguments, define terms, make logical connections, expand points, develop ideas, read sources in original and imaginative ways? The difference between competent and excellent work is difficult to define. Read your own work critically. Are you making the easy points most students would make? Are you really citing and examining the texts? Have you developed original interpretations? Have you given careful thought to argument and presentation, and the logic of your conclusions? Excellent work begins when you challenge yourself.

Originality and Plagiarism

Students are sometimes overwhelmed when asked to produce original, critical work. What could they say which has not already been said by an expert? No one asks you to be an expert. Your originality lies in your talent as a critical reader and a thoughtful writer. Whether you are studying many sources for a research paper or a few passages from one text for a book review, what matters is how you select, present, and interpret materials. "Originality" is this ability to communicate fresh perspectives and new insights. "Originality" also means speaking in your own words. You must at all costs avoid plagiarism, which is a crime and means automatic failure. Plagiarism means taking credit for work which is not your own, and can involve: 1) copying directly or paraphrasing without acknowledgment from published sources; 2) purchasing essays and term papers; 3) having someone else do the assignment for you; 4) turning in a paper previously submitted for another (or the same) class. Pay attention to point 1: changing the wording of a passage is still plagiarism if you don't credit the author for the ideas you are borrowing. Points 2-4 are obvious cases of cheating. A strict definition of plagiarism is as follows:

"The appropriation of ideas, language, or work of another without sufficient acknowledgment that the material is not one's own. Although it is generally recognized that everything an individual has thought has probably been influenced to some degree by the previously expressed thoughts and actions of others, such influences are general. Plagiarism involves the deliberate taking of specific words and ideas of others without proper acknowledgment." (Ronald R. Butters and George D. Gopen, GUIDELINES for the use of students submitting papers for University Writing Courses and other classes in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Department of English, 1992, p. 15]).

Avoid plagiarism by preparing well, relying on your own words and judgments, and—when citing evidence—using proper bibliographic and footnote forms. Attention to plagiarism should not discourage you from using sources to the fullest; on the contrary it should challenge you to think critically about how you make ideas your own, what debts you owe to others, and how you put the two together to do intellectually honest and original writing.

Practical Notes

When turning in papers, always keep a copy for yourself; papers do on occasion disappear. Standard format is double-spaced with wide enough margins for reader's comments. Don't forget to put your name, the class name, and the title of the paper on the first page. Always number the pages for easy reference.

For questions on the stylistic, grammatical, or technical points of preparation, familiarize yourself with the standard reference guides used by all professional writers, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (now in a 14th edition), or Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, available at the library. There you will find information on such topics as proper footnote style. We have included some of the standard forms below:

For a book: Jack Horner, The History of Corners in the Modern Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 36-9.
For an article: Mary Contrary, "How Gardens Grow: Things in a Row," The Journal of Earthly Delights, vol. 26, nr. 3 (1995), p. 123.


As noted in the introduction, this guide is a very general formula for writing essays. The goal—and the goal of university education in general—is for you to develop your own methods, strategies, and style. In writing, follow the guidelines, but do not be formulaic. Originality, creativity, and personal style are not crimes if done well. Make use of this guide, but remember that your greatest resources will be your teachers, fellow students, and the other academic programs of the university.

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