The University of Akron
History Department Pages
UA World Civilizations Resource Pages:
Africa, China, Japan, India, Latin America, Middle East, Southeast Asia
This brief guide contains instructions on how to write the two kinds of questions that will appear on the examinations and a book review for this course:
I. The Analytical Essay
This form of writing is the "work horse" for students of history as well as other disciplines. Its function is to answer a question by making and documenting key points and to close with a powerful interpretive summary. From the student's point of view, the interpretive essay is an enormously risky business because it often requires that you take on, in mortal combat, the authors of your text book and your professors, to assert your own analysis of historical reality. If you work over your material thoroughly and organize your points logically, you'll succeed!
The essay is composed of three main parts:
A. The Introduction identifies the problem or main issues and lays out clearly for the reader how you are going to deal with them. One paragraph.
B. The Body presents an analysis of your main points, along with enough supporting detail, examples, and explanations for each point to make your argument clear and convincing. The body contains from four to six paragraphs, each one devoted to a main point. Therefore, the number of paragraphs is determined by the number of main points.
C. The Conclusion sums up your main points and restates their validity and significance. One paragraph.
The following are Primary Writing Traits used for judging undergraduate essays:
Does the essay:
II. Identification Question
The answer to an identification question is at least four or five sentences long. Certain terms may require longer responses. You should define the term with enough detail that a stranger on the street would know what you are talking about. You may wish to consider who, what, where, and when. The when need not be a specific date, but a rough approximation that will show how the item being identified relates to other events. The last sentence should begin, "This is historically significant because. . ." It probably will include how and why. The significance statement must be included if your answer is to receive full credit.
III. Critical Book Review
You may be required to write a book review in your discussion section. At the top of the first page, give the author (last name first), book title (underlined), place of publication, publisher and year of publication.
Example: Cohen, Paul A. 1997. History in Three Keys:
The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth.
NY: Columbia University Press.
In the first paragraph, you should state the author's purpose and thesis. (The purpose: What the author is doing and why. The thesis: The author's conclusions about or interpretation of the topic of the work.) The thesis is the main idea that the author is trying to convey to the readers. In order to ascertain the thesis, ask yourself such questions as: What does the author want me to think about the subject? Of what is he/she trying to convince me? What is the point or interpretation he/she proposes? If a book has an introduction or conclusion, these are often helpful in determining the thesis.
After you have stated the thesis in a clear, succinct opening paragraph, you will explain how the author goes about trying to prove this thesis. What material does he/she emphasize to support the argument? Use specific examples from the book to support your case. Put page number(s) in parentheses after each statement of supporting information. This may take several pages to develop.
Next, you will evaluate whether or not the author succeeded in proving his/her thesis. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. But, you must give the reasons why you feel that the author succeeds or fails to accomplish what he/she set out to do. If you see both positive and negative aspects, point them out. Very few books are total successes or complete failures in supporting their theses.
In the final paragraph(s), you will give an overall evaluation of the book. Consider such things as: was the book well organized? Well written? East to follow? Did it hold my interest ? why or why not? You should also make any other comments on the book that you feel are appropriate in this (these) concluding paragraph(s).