When human beings first started to write, history began. The pre-historic era, accessible mainly to archaeologists, ended as people began to leave written records that their descendants could use to understand and to describe a world that no longer existed. Historians frequently extend their reach beyond written records to examine oral traditions, quantitative data, material culture, and other sources, and today they use a variety of media to present their arguments. Nevertheless, the act of writing remains essential to the historical discipline.
History classes at the University of West Georgia accordingly place enormous emphasis on writing as the central means of scholarly communication. The History Department values good writing and tries to teach and to inspire its students to write well. Students can expect a variety of writing assignments in history courses, including essay questions on examinations, primary source analyses, book reviews, and research papers. In hopes of helping students write better, the History Department offers the following five points of advice that are generally applicable to all writing:
- Be honest. Acknowledge your sources and do not plagiarize.
- Have a point. A paper should have a thesis making a claim worth arguing about.
- Use evidence persuasively. A history paper generally represents an answer to a historical question based on an objective reading of evidence from sources. A good paper shows engagement with the relevant evidence and skillfully supports its argument. The paper must focus on the evidence that best explains, illustrates, or substantiates its argument.
- Write with your reader in mind. History professors at West Georgia value clarity and precision in writing. To reach them most effectively:
- Use standard written English grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
- Write in the past tense when discussing events or documents in the past. The historical actors, their actions, and their writings existed in the past, and so use the past tense to describe them. Use the present tense only to discuss the arguments of historians about what happened in the past.
- Format citations correctly in accordance with section 5.3 of The History Student Writer's Manual, which offers a condensed version of The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Write in a voice appropriate to an undergraduate paper.
- Take constructive criticism into account. History professors comment on student writing in hopes of improving future written work. Read their comments and try to follow their advice as you write again.
The single most important and sophisticated piece of written work that a history major produces at West Georgia is the Senior Seminar paper. Those papers are evaluated according to the following rubric, which expresses criteria that are often applicable to other written work.
Does the paper adhere to the fundamental requirement of academic honesty? Pass/Fail
- Does the paper pose a significant historical question?
- Does the paper offer a clear, persuasive thesis making a claim worth arguing about?
- Does the paper position its thesis within the context of the existing historiography?
- Does the paper effectively use evidence in support of its argument?
- Does the paper demonstrate critical analysis of sources?
- Is the paper free from any failure to document sources, including omissions that appear inadvertent or otherwise not egregious?
- Does the paper demonstrate an ability to think historically?
- Is the analysis marked by particular originality or insight?
- Does the paper reflect a substantial amount of research?
- Has the paper found and engaged with the most important primary and secondary sources?
- Does the paper reflect in-depth knowledge of the subject?
- Is there a logical organization to the paper?
- Are paragraphs within the paper logically organized?
- Does the paper flow smoothly?
- Is the writing clear and precise?
- Is the writing persuasive?
- Is the writing free from grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, citation format, or other errors?
- Does the paper reflect that its author considered comments offered previously by the instructor?
- Does the paper indicate that a good deal of effort went into it?
- Does the paper give an overall impression of high quality?