Tips on Writing History Examination Essays


Professor Zuoyue Wang


1. Place a period or comma before, not after, the closing quotation mark:

Wrong:             “This is the wrong way to place the closing quotation mark and the period or comma”.

Right:                “This is the right way.”


2. Page Numbers: Be sure to insert page numbers for every page of your paper.


3. Make sure that you distinguish between these words:

knew vs. new    know vs. now    there vs. their    where vs. were would have vs. would of (wrong!)

it’s (“It’s a great paper.”) vs. its (“Its page numbers are missing.”)

to (“To write is to re-write.”) vs. too (“You can never have too many revisions.”)


4. Make sure that you italicize book or journal/magazine titles; put “article titles” in quotes.


5. Break up a paper into sections using sections headings (bold, centered) if the paper is five pages or longer.


6. Use the following style for in-text citations in combination with a bibliography: (Brundage, 55).


7. Use the following style for bibliography—note the order of first and last names, the use of periods, and the hanging indentation (in Word, use Control t; Control q to remove it):

Brundage, Anthony.  Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing.  Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1997.

Kirby, William.  "Engineering China: Birth of the Developmental State, 1928-1937."  In Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond, edited by Wen-Hsin Yeh.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

Wang, Zuoyue.  "U.S.-China Scientific Exchange: A Case Study of State-Sponsored Scientific Internationalism during the Cold War and Beyond."  Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 30, pt. 1 (1999): 249-277.


8. Plagiarism: Avoid copying other authors’ words or ideas without citations.


9. Format of the exam essay: Be sure to address all aspects of the examination question.  You can usually give a direct answer to the question in the first paragraph or two, then develop your argument in the body of the essay by providing examples, quotations, or other types of evidence for each period or for each group of people you cover.  Be sure to relate all your specific pieces of evidence to your main argument as articulated in the first paragraph.  You should then briefly summarize your argument in the last paragraph and can usually conclude the essay by offering some personal reflections on what you have learned and what’s been most striking to you in studying this topic.