Essential Guide to Writing History Essays

I wrote a handbook on writing in history, forthcoming from Oxford University Press by the end of this year or in early 2020, hopefully in time for Spring 2020 course adoption and for browsing at AHA 2020 in NYC!

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.

The book will have an accompanying website at, with extensive notes for instructors on how to incorporate it into a course, including sample syllabi and specific examples of assignments, exercises, and workshops suitable for a variety of course types and topics.

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

Preview of the website for instructors!