Answering History Questions

It is very important that you organize your thoughts before you write your paper. Below are some hints to help you do well in this class. 

When sitting down to write your essay, break the question down into parts. If the question is several sentences long, analyze one sentence at a time. Before you write your essay, make an outline. Questions in history courses tend to fall into three categories: 1) change over time, 2) compare-and-contrast, and 3) agree or disagree. Of course, there can be other sorts of questions.

Change over time questions ask you to trace a process over time. Sometimes you will be looking at two or more things (as in compare-and-contrast) that change over time. You will want to explain WHAT is occurring (summary) and WHY it is occurring (analysis). Make sure you can cover the entire period as fully as possible. In other words, describe how things were at the beginning of the period, how and why they changed, and then describe how things were at the end of the period. A sample thesis statement for this type of question might be: “In year x, the relationship of the individual to the state was characterized by _____, _____, and _____. Over the next 150 years, it changed because of _____, _____, and _____. By the year y this relationship came to be characterized by _____, _____, and _____.” In your essay, you will need to include information to support each of the blanks.

Compare-and Contrast questions ask you to look at the similarities between two things (political ideologies, religions, philosophies, etc.). Not only must you describe these similarities and differences, but you must account for HOW and WHY they exist. Usually differences are more significant than similarities, so you will want to spend more time discussing differences in your essay. A good thesis may look as follows: “Thing A and Thing B are similar in regard to _____ because both have _____ and _____. They are different because Thing A has _____, since it is _____, while Thing B has _____, because it is _____.” Your essay should include information on the similarities and differences and why they exist.

Agree / Disagree questions involve a statement or a quotation that you have to evaluate. Usually the statement tends toward the extreme, lending itself to an answer in which you BOTH agree AND disagree. For example, “Political revolutions do not change anything.” With this type of question, you will need to consider evidence both to agree with and to disagree with the statement. Carefully think about both sides of the issue before writing. A good thesis statement should explain the position that you are taking and why: “Political revolutions do change things because _____, _____, and _____. However, because of _____, _____, and _____ there is also a sense of continuity.”

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