Essential Guide to Writing History Essays

I wrote a handbook for students on writing history, published by Oxford University Press, 2020, under the title The Essential Guide to Writing History Essays.

It is a concrete, step-by-step guide to the typical assignments of any undergraduate or master’s-level history program in the U.S., from introductory survey courses to senior theses and master’s theses: response papers, short-answer and analytical exam essays, primary source interpretations, research projects, and “imaginative” essays. Each section is short for easy reference while completing a real assignment and contains prose explanations followed by exercises and examples. It is aimed at students of any skill level, from those who struggle with basic writing to those honing advanced skills.

The book is guided by the following principles: that effective writing is a process of discovery through the continual act of making choices—what to include or exclude, how to order elements, word choice, etc.—and that these choices must be made consciously and driven by the author’s goals for that piece of writing and awareness of the intended audience.

These principles determine the structure of the book: each chapter is devoted to one assignment type and begins with the goals specific to that assignment. Each chapter then follows the process of preparing, drafting, revising, and proofreading an essay, but the specific strategies and complexity of each of these steps vary depending on the assignment type. Each assignment asks a student to demonstrate different skills and types of knowledge, and those specific goals should inform each choice a successful author makes.

This approach to writing is intended not only to help students produce an effective final product through a step-by-step series of instructions, but to teach students to understand how and why a given final product is effective, thus empowering the student to approach new writing challenges in a similarly productive way.

Now available from all the usual booksellers including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and directly from the publisher, Oxford University Press! Ask your favorite indie bookstore or library to order it!

Instructors: get a free review copy!

If you’re an editor at an appropriate venue and would like to get the book reviewed, please contact OUP! If you host a podcast or write for any interested venue and would like to talk to me about the book, by all means! I’d be happy to, and if you contact OUP they should be able to send you a free copy. Contact me if you have any difficulty with that.

If you’d like me to come to your institution to do a talk about writing (for students) or about teaching writing (for instructors) or both, click here for more details!

For updates stay tuned to the blog, like the book on Facebook, or check in on Twitter under the hashtag #EGWHE or the older #SGWH (or follow me @kpanyc) for excerpts!

Detailed Table of Contents