A Student’s Guide to Writing History

I am currently writing a handbook on writing in history, under contract to Oxford University Press.

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 an iterative process of discovery, based on the act of continually 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, with further resources and links for students, but also extensive notes for instructors on how to incorporate this book into a course, including sample syllabi and specific examples of assignments, exercises, workshops, and suggested content themes and readings.


Stay tuned to the blog for updates! The manuscript should be complete by spring, 2017, with publication no more than a year later.