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How to write a solid History essay

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Applying to Uni? Let Universities come to you. Click here to get your perfect place 20-10-2014
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    I'm doing Advanced Higher History in Scotland which mirrors A2 History. I can write 'A' grade essays for English, but I can never seem to know how really get an A in History.

    I usually use the format: PEEEEL. Point, Evidence, Explain, Evidence, Explain and Link. So I would try to use some facts/historians and say what they suggest like I would do in English, but even then I can't seem to crack it.

    Do I use loads of Historians? Say how they support my views, and what else they can add, and also use rebuttals in how they may disagree with my point?

    Should I be very, very detailed with my facts and figures and analyse them like I do usually whilst maintaining Historians' views?

    Help please!
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    If the requirements for AHH are the same as for A2, it is less important to know and quote specific historians than to convey the impression that you understand the debate and the various issues that are in contention, and how they each use the evidence. You are not being assessed on your ability to recall the views of historians, but on your ability to recall and marshall the evidence to support your argument, while taking into account alternate views and explaining why they are less persuasive, including examining the evidence that is commonly used to support them. I am pretty sure you can get top marks without mentioning a single historian by name; you just need to know the arguments which have been made--not that it hurts if you can include the name of the most prominent historian identified with that particular argument.

    I think 'PEEL' may be similar to what I learned, although I knew the latter steps by different names. For example, I was taught the name "warrant" for the third step where you explain how the evidence proves the claim.
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    look at past papers and structures for essays on exam board sites
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    I think it's more about drawing your own valid deductions and interpretations of evidence and expressing them in a logical and fluent manner. Not so much about pitching various historians against each other.
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    (Original post by AdvanceAndVanquish)
    If the requirements for AHH are the same as for A2, it is less important to know and quote specific historians than to convey the impression that you understand the debate and the various issues that are in contention, and how they each use the evidence. You are not being assessed on your ability to recall the views of historians, but on your ability to recall and marshall the evidence to support your argument, while taking into account alternate views and explaining why they are less persuasive, including examining the evidence that is commonly used to support them. I am pretty sure you can get top marks without mentioning a single historian by name; you just need to know the arguments which have been made--not that it hurts if you can include the name of the most prominent historian identified with that particular argument.

    I think 'PEEL' may be similar to what I learned, although I knew the latter steps by different names. For example, I was taught the name "warrant" for the third step where you explain how the evidence proves the claim.

    (Original post by Pitt1988)
    I think it's more about drawing your own valid deductions and interpretations of evidence and expressing them in a logical and fluent manner. Not so much about pitching various historians against each other.
    In that sense, I guess our History qualifications are a little different as we need Historiography and plenty of it.

    I try to do that like I do in English, but where I can get sold As for English, I can't do so in History, just scraping a B. In English, I argue my point with plenty of evidence regarding quotations and literary devices. However, for History I usually use facts and then analyse them by saying what they suggest and such, but even then, I still get Bs.

    Alternate views and why they are less persuasive. Should I offer firm rebuttals?
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    You don't necessarily need a historiography all the time, you can have straightforward essay type answer to questions. Historiographies are usually used in documentary exercises I think.

    Maybe you need a wider source base, if they are required; both primary and secondary. Yes, I suppose you could be presenting one point forward, express that point in your own words then go on to use the standard terms like 'whereas' and 'however' before going on to introduce contention to that, developing an argument. But go on to draw your own conclusions in sight of this.
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    (Original post by Quick-use)
    In that sense, I guess our History qualifications are a little different as we need Historiography and plenty of it.

    I try to do that like I do in English, but where I can get sold As for English, I can't do so in History, just scraping a B. In English, I argue my point with plenty of evidence regarding quotations and literary devices. However, for History I usually use facts and then analyse them by saying what they suggest and such, but even then, I still get Bs.

    Alternate views and why they are less persuasive. Should I offer firm rebuttals?
    There is a slight difference between a history and an english lit. essay which might be at the root of your problem in that English is basically a very interpretative text based discipline. So long as you can argue the point and provide quotes and reasons then you can just about justify anything you wish. Its all about your own interpretation and analysis of the text and often suits creative, responsive minds. You can't really be considered 'wrong' as such so long as you follow the process.

    History on the other hand is a little bit more like law. It is analytical. You are asked to discuss a point. You select evidence from various places to prove or disprove the point you are making. You may also be asked to show how various people/historians may have regarded the issues in their time and why (ie. because of certain historical perspectives such as marxist analysis etc) All the time you are discussing ideas and presenting facts to support them in evidence showing why they might be valid and why not and what weighting we would give them as proof in consequence. You would also need to come to some conclusion at the end of all this as to what, having considered all the available opinions and evidence, you actually make of it yourself. This carries marks so is an important part of the process.

    Unless it is a source based question you are not drawing your proof and examples from the direct analysis of text and generally, though you may come up with interesting perspectives, at this stage of things you are not creatively interpreting.

    So the chances are you may be missing something out somewhere or not using the right example or enough of them or discussing them fully enough etc. or not articulating a conclusion fully enough or drawing conclusions that don't stand up to the analysis. It is very difficult without seeing an actual essay to know what it might be so I would definitely be asking for much better feedback from my teacher along the lines of 'what should I have included in order to raise the level of this essay to an A'. It might be something really simple in the end. Alternatively look for your exam board on line and the mark scheme guidance for teachers. It should show exactly what needs to be seen in an essay in order to achieve each grade. If you read the B and A criteria you might spot what you are missing.

    Good luck.
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    (Original post by Pitt1988)
    You don't necessarily need a historiography all the time, you can have straightforward essay type answer to questions. Historiographies are usually used in documentary exercises I think.

    Maybe you need a wider source base, if they are required; both primary and secondary. Yes, I suppose you could be presenting one point forward, express that point in your own words then go on to use the standard terms like 'whereas' and 'however' before going on to introduce contention to that, developing an argument. But go on to draw your own conclusions in sight of this.

    (Original post by catoswyn)
    There is a slight difference between a history and an english lit. essay which might be at the root of your problem in that English is basically a very interpretative text based discipline. So long as you can argue the point and provide quotes and reasons then you can just about justify anything you wish. Its all about your own interpretation and analysis of the text and often suits creative minds.

    History on the other hand is a little bit more like law. You are asked to discuss a point. You select evidence from various places to prove or disprove the point you are making. You may also be asked to show how various people/historians may have regarded the issues in their time and why (ie. because of certain historical perspectives such as marxist analysis etc) All the time you are discussing ideas and presenting facts to support them in evidence showing why they might be valid and why not and what weighting we would give them as proof in consequence. You would also need to come to some conclusion at the end of all this as to what, having considered all the available opinions and evidence, you actually make of it yourself. This carries marks so is an important part of the process.

    Unless it is a source based question you are not drawing your proof and examples from the direct analysis of text and generally, though you may come up with interesting perspectives, at this stage of things you are not creatively interpreting.

    So the chances are you may be missing something out somewhere or not using the right example or enough of them or discussing them fully enough etc. or not articulating a conclusion fully enough. It is very difficult without seeing an actual essay to know what it might be so I would definitely be asking for much better feedback from my teacher along the lines of 'what should I have included in order to raise the level of this essay to an A'. It might be something really simple in the end. Alternatively look for your exam board on line and the mark scheme guidance for teachers. It should show exactly what needs to be seen in an essay in order to achieve each grade. If you read the B and A criteria you might spot what you are missing.

    Good luck.
    Gracias, it makes a bit more sense now. :fluffy:

    I have to strongly argue all my points rather than be suggestive all the time. Sounds great!
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    (Original post by Quick-use)
    for History I usually use facts and then analyse them by saying what they suggest and such
    If this accurately portrays how your essays are structured, that may be the problem. You should first make your claim, then bring in a piece of evidence to support it, then explain how this evidence proves the claim, then bring in another piece of evidence, etc. You will analyse the facts and what they suggest in the process of explaining how they prove the claim. It will also be a part of considering and discarding opposing views. For example, you might write, "Some historians, most prominantly A. Generic Scholar, have argued that this is not the case. They have cited [evidence] in particular, but also [evidence] and [evidence]. However..." and then you go on to examine that evidence and what it suggests and why you do not believe it is strong enough to support the argument of those historians. Of course, if you did believe that it was strong enough, you would have chosen that side to argue. For a history essay, you must also remember that sources are not always reliable, and it is a key job of the historian to seek to assess the reliablity of sources. Some sources which are not reliable on the face of it can still provide evidence. So, to take an example from my own A-level days, you might conclude that Oliver Cromwell is not reliable when he claims in a speech that he has only ever striven selflessly to serve England. Yet you can still draw conclusions from it, one key one being that if he felt the need to assert that, someone else (or a lot of someones) must have been denying it. To write a top-class history essay, you will need to address all these points. Many of them can be integrated together and addressed in the same breath, and indeed, that is part of writing a good essay.
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    Historiography is a big part of the A2 specification too, but it's more the fact that you have to be aware that there are different arguments and ways of interpreting an event/person rather than directly citing a specific school of thought (unless it's the coursework, but I'm guessing we're talking exam essays). It's far more important that you construct your own argument, it probably isn't going to be original, but the only way I think you can get into the A boundary is to do that. It basically means using "It's debatable whether..." or "it could be argued that...".

    In terms of structure, make sure you're actually answer the question. Are you familiar with sign post sentences? Using the words from the question and creating a sentence that sums up the paragraph (do the same at the end of paragraphs too). I've got a history essay on the go right now, so I'll just nick one of mine as an example. "Although the dominance of the Conservative party between 1918 and 1951 is largely explained by their relative strength, the weaknesses of opposition parties - such as the Liberals, the BUF and the CPGBs - also contributed to their political domination." Admittedly it isn't amazing, but it does the job (words from the question are Conservatives, 1918-51, domination, opposition parties, weaknesses, strength).

    In your introduction define any vague terms, using "in this context ____ refers to ____" works well, just so whoever is marking it knows you've understood. Also means you can slightly manipulate questions to talk about what you want to write about. If you're asked about the success or failure of an individual create a criteria for determining success - ability to cope with crises, popularity etc. Your conclusion should sum up everything too, and constantly refer back to the question.

    In terms of detail, use as much as you can remember, but it has to be strictly relevant to the question. And don't start telling a story (which is easy to slip into). Explain why it's important, to what extent it's important, and more importantly, the exact role that it played. High marks for that.

    And then there's the usual stuff of extra reading, slipping in the odd bit controversy...I'm running out of things now.
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    (Original post by twinlensreflex)
    Historiography is a big part of the A2 specification too, but it's more the fact that you have to be aware that there are different arguments and ways of interpreting an event/person rather than directly citing a specific school of thought (unless it's the coursework, but I'm guessing we're talking exam essays). It's far more important that you construct your own argument, it probably isn't going to be original, but the only way I think you can get into the A boundary is to do that. It basically means using "It's debatable whether..." or "it could be argued that...".

    In terms of structure, make sure you're actually answer the question. Are you familiar with sign post sentences? Using the words from the question and creating a sentence that sums up the paragraph (do the same at the end of paragraphs too). I've got a history essay on the go right now, so I'll just nick one of mine as an example. "Although the dominance of the Conservative party between 1918 and 1951 is largely explained by their relative strength, the weaknesses of opposition parties - such as the Liberals, the BUF and the CPGBs - also contributed to their political domination." Admittedly it isn't amazing, but it does the job (words from the question are Conservatives, 1918-51, domination, opposition parties, weaknesses, strength).

    In your introduction define any vague terms, using "in this context ____ refers to ____" works well, just so whoever is marking it knows you've understood. Also means you can slightly manipulate questions to talk about what you want to write about. If you're asked about the success or failure of an individual create a criteria for determining success - ability to cope with crises, popularity etc. Your conclusion should sum up everything too, and constantly refer back to the question.

    In terms of detail, use as much as you can remember, but it has to be strictly relevant to the question. And don't start telling a story (which is easy to slip into). Explain why it's important, to what extent it's important, and more importantly, the exact role that it played. High marks for that.

    And then there's the usual stuff of extra reading, slipping in the odd bit controversy...I'm running out of things now.
    Hello, I found your post really helpful. I am currently studying a2 history as well as an external student and I'm having difficulties structuring my Unit4 100 year essay. Do you have any exemplar material you think'll be useful. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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    (Original post by Space'n'Time)
    Hello, I found your post really helpful. I am currently studying a2 history as well as an external student and I'm having difficulties structuring my Unit4 100 year essay. Do you have any exemplar material you think'll be useful. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
    Hey, I'm afraid I've pretty much thrown out all of my stuff about the coursework/100yr essay, so I'll see what I can remember What's your topic?

    In terms of structure I'd recommend doing pretty much everything I said above, although you obviously have access to books and articles whilst you're writing it, (sign post sentences, referring to the question throughout etc) so you have to be far more specific in citing specific historians and their views on specific events. You also get a lot more marks if you kind of play historians off against each other - for example, "[historian A] advocates that [insert event] was a turning point as [insert explanation/stats], however, [historian B] opposes this view, stating that [insert same event] was not a turning point".

    In terms of covering the total 100 year period, I found economic statistics really useful. I had one that went from 1881-1981! If it's relevant, population stats are good too (for comparing start of the period to the end) or even electoral turn out for elections during the period. I wouldn't recommend going through things chronologically, it's much better to go by theme. I did mine on the role of women throughout German history, so I had paragraphs on women as labour, women as homemakers, women in the wars etc. That way you can include several decades in one go (= synoptic links = good marks) and it's far more interesting to read as well...

    Ehm, if you've got any other questions I'll try and answer.
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    (Original post by twinlensreflex)
    Hey, I'm afraid I've pretty much thrown out all of my stuff about the coursework/100yr essay, so I'll see what I can remember What's your topic?

    In terms of structure I'd recommend doing pretty much everything I said above, although you obviously have access to books and articles whilst you're writing it, (sign post sentences, referring to the question throughout etc) so you have to be far more specific in citing specific historians and their views on specific events. You also get a lot more marks if you kind of play historians off against each other - for example, "[historian A] advocates that [insert event] was a turning point as [insert explanation/stats], however, [historian B] opposes this view, stating that [insert same event] was not a turning point".

    In terms of covering the total 100 year period, I found economic statistics really useful. I had one that went from 1881-1981! If it's relevant, population stats are good too (for comparing start of the period to the end) or even electoral turn out for elections during the period. I wouldn't recommend going through things chronologically, it's much better to go by theme. I did mine on the role of women throughout German history, so I had paragraphs on women as labour, women as homemakers, women in the wars etc. That way you can include several decades in one go (= synoptic links = good marks) and it's far more interesting to read as well...

    Ehm, if you've got any other questions I'll try and answer.
    Thanks for the help, unfortunately I hadn't logged on to TSR since I posted the question but I'm sure once again your advice'll be useful to other history students. I did mine on the Spanish Inquisition and it was very interesting even though it was one of the most challenging pieces of writing I've had to do. Anyway it's over now and I hope I've done enough.

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