Good Introduction History Essay

Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”

Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.

Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.

  1. Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay.Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
  2. Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it? True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
  3. Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else.
  4. Provide only helpful, relevant information. Anecdotes can be an interesting opener to your essay, but only if the anecdote in question is truly relevant to your topic. Are you writing an essay about Maya Angelou? An anecdote about her childhood might be relevant, and even charming. Are you writing an essay about safety regulations in roller coasters? Go ahead and add an anecdote about a person who was injured while riding a roller coaster. Are you writing an essay about Moby Dick? Perhaps an anecdote about that time your friend read Moby Dick and hated it is not the best way to go. The same is true for statistics, quotes, and other types of information about your topic.
  5. Try to avoid clichés. Some types of introductions may have once been successful, but have been used so often that they have become tired and clichéd. Starting your essay with a definition is a good example of one of these conventions. At this point, starting with a definition is a bit boring, and will cause your reader to tune out.
  6. Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information is relevant to your introduction until you’ve written the piece itself. Personally, I find that my writer’s block is always strongest when writing the introduction. If you are having trouble with your intro, feel free to write some, or all, of your body paragraphs, and then come back to it. You might find it a bit easier to write your introduction once you’re more comfortable with the essay as a whole.
  7. Convince the reader that your essay is worth reading. Your reader should finish the introduction thinking that the essay is interesting or has some sort of relevance to their lives. A good introduction is engaging; it gets the audience thinking about the topic at hand and wondering how you will be proving your argument. Good ways to convince your reader that your essay is worthwhile is to provide information that the reader might question or disagree with. Once they are thinking about the topic, and wondering why you hold your position, they are more likely to be engaged in the rest of the essay.

Basically, a good introduction provides the reader with a brief overview of your topic and an explanation of your thesis. A good introduction is fresh, engaging, and interesting. Successful introductions don’t rely on clichés or irrelevant information to demonstrate their point. Be brief, be concise, be engaging. Good luck.

Related

Thesis Statement[edit]

A thesis statement is generally a single sentence (The last sentence of Intro) within the introductory paragraph of the history (or thesis) essay, which makes a claim or tells the reader exactly what to expect from the rest of the text. It may be the writer's interpretation of what the author or teacher is saying or implying about the topic. It may also be a hypothesis statement (educated guess) which the writer intends to develop and prove in the course of the essay.

The thesis statement, which is in some cases underlined, is the heart of a history or thesis essay and is the most vital part of the introduction. The assignment may not ask for a thesis statement because it may be assumed that the writer will include one. If the history assignment asks for the student to take a position, to show the cause and effect, to interpret or to compare and contrast, then the student should develop and include a good thesis statement.

Following the introductory paragraph and its statement, the body of the essay presents the reader with organized evidence directly relating to the thesis and must support it.

Characteristics of a good thesis statement

  • Is a strong statement or fact which ends with a period, not a question.
  • Is not a cliché[1] such as “fit as a fiddle”, “time after time”, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, “all in due time” or “what goes around comes around”.
  • Is not a dictionary definition.
  • Is not a generalization.
  • Is not vague, narrow or broad.
  • States an analytic argument or claim, not a personal opinion or emotion.
  • Uses clear and meaningful words.

The History Essay Format[edit]

Essay is an old French word which means to “attempt”. An essay is the testing of an idea or hypothesis (theory). A history essay (sometimes referred to as a thesis essay) will describe an argument or claim about one or more historical events and will support that claim with evidence, arguments and references. The text must make it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.

Introduction

Unlike a persuasive essay where the writer captures the reader's attention with a leading question, quotation or story related to the topic, the introduction in a history essay announces a clear thesis statement and explains what to expect in the coming paragraphs. The Introduction includes the key facts that are going to be presented in each paragraph.

The following phrases are considered to be poor and are normally avoided in the introduction: “I will talk about”, “You will discover that”, “In this essay”, “You will learn” or other such statements.

Body (Supporting Paragraphs)

The paragraphs which make up the body of a history essay offers historical evidence to support the thesis statement. Typically, in a high school history essay, there will be as many supporting paragraphs as there are events or topics. The history teacher or assignment outline may ask for a specific number of paragraphs. Evidence such as dates, names, events and terms are provided to support the key thesis.

The topic sentence tells the reader exactly what the paragraph is about. Typically, the following phrases are never part of a topic sentence: “I will talk about”, “I will write about” or “You will see”. Instead, clear statements which reflect the content of the paragraph are written.

The last sentence of a supporting paragraph can either be a closing or linking sentence. A closing sentence summarizes the key elements that were presented. A linking sentence efficiently links the current paragraph to the next. Linking can also be done by using a transitional word or phrase at the beginning of the next paragraph.

Conclusion

In the closing paragraph, the claim or argument from the introduction is restated differently. The best evidence and facts are summarized without the use of any new information. This paragraph mainly reviews what has already been written. Writers don't use exactly the same words as in their introduction since this shows laziness. This is the author's last chance to present the reader with the facts which support their thesis statement.

Quotes, Footnotes and Bibliography[edit]

Quotes

Quotations in a history essay are used in moderation and to address particulars of a given historical event. Students who tend to use too many quotes normally lose marks for doing so. The author of a history essay normally will read the text from a selected source, understand it, close the source (book for web site for example) and then condense it using their own words. Simply paraphrasing someone else’s work is still considered to be plagiarism. History essays may contain many short quotes.

Quotations of three or fewer lines are placed between double quotation marks. For longer quotes, the left and right margins are indented by an additional 0.5” or 1 cm, the text is single-spaced and no quotation marks are used. Footnotes are used to cite the source.

Single quotation marks are used for quotations within a quotation. Three ellipsis points (...) are used when leaving part of the quotation out. Ellipsis cannot be used at the start of a quotation.

Footnotes

Footnotes are used to cite quotation sources or to provide additional tidbits of information such as short comments.

Internet sources are treated in the same way printed sources are. Footnotes or endnotes are used in a history essay to document all quotations. Footnotes normally provide the author's name, the title of the work, the full title of the site (if the work is part of a larger site), the date of publication, and the full URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the document being quoted. The date on which the web site was consulted is normally included in a footnote since websites are often short-lived.[2]

Bibliography

Unless otherwise specified by the history teacher or assignment outline, a bibliography should always be included on a separate page which lists the sources used in preparing the essay.

The list is always sorted alphabetically according to the authors’ last name. The second and subsequent line of each entry of a bibliography is indented by about 1 inch, 2.5 cm or 10 spaces.

A bibliography is normally formatted according to the “Chicago Manual of Style” or “The MLA Style Manual”.

Plagiarism[edit]

History and thesis essay writers are very careful to avoid plagiarism since it is considered to be a form of cheating in which part or all of someone else’s work is passed as one’s own. Useful guidelines to help avoid plagiarism can be found in the University of Ottawa document "Beware of Plagiarism".[3]

Formatting Requirements[edit]

  • Letter-sized 8.5”x11” or A4 plain white paper
  • Double-spaced text
  • 1.5” (3 cm) left and right margins, 1” (2.5 cm) top and bottom margins
  • Regular 12-point font such as Arial, Century Gothic, Helvetica, Times New Roman and Verdana
  • A cover page with the course name, course number, group number, essay title, the teacher’s name, the author's name, the due date and optionally, the name of the author's school, its location and logo
  • Page numbers (with the exception of the cover page)
  • No underlined text with the exeception of the thesis statement
  • No italicized text with the exception of foreign words
  • No bolded characters
  • No headings
  • No bullets, numbered lists or point form
  • No use of the these words: “Firstly”, “Secondly”, “Thirdly”, etc.
  • Paragraph indentation of approximately 0.5 inch, 1 cm or 5 spaces
  • Formatting according to the “Chicago Manual of Style”[4] or the “MLA Style”.[5]

Basic Essay Conventions[edit]

  • Dates: a full date is formatted as August 20, 2009 or August 20, 2009. The comma and the “th” separate the day from the year.
  • Dates: a span of years within the same century is written as 1939-45 (not 1939-1945).
  • Dates: no apostrophe is used for 1600s, 1700s, etc.
  • Diction: a formal tone (sophisticated language) is used to address an academic audience.
  • Numbers: for essays written in countries where the metric system is used (e.g., Europe, Canada), no commas are used to separate groups of three digits (thousands). For example, ten thousand is written as 10 000 as opposed to 10,000.
  • Numbers: numbers less than and equal to 100 are spelled out (e.g., fifteen).
  • Numbers: round numbers are spelled out (e.g., 10 thousand, 5 million).
  • Numbers: for successive numbers, digits are used (e.g., 11 women and 96 men).
  • Percentages: the word “percent” is used instead of its symbol % unless listing successive figures. When listing many figures, the % symbol is also used.
  • Pronouns: the pronoun “I” is not used since the writer does not need to refer to him/herself unless writing about “taking a position” or making a “citizenship” statement.
  • Pronouns: the pronoun “you” is not used since the writer does not need to address the reader directly.
  • Tone: in a history or thesis essay, the writer does not nag, preach or give advice.

Use of Capital Letters[edit]

A history or thesis essay will make use of capital letters where necessary.

  • Brand names, trademarks or product names
  • First word of a direct quotation
  • First word of a sentence
  • Name or title of a book, disc, movie or other literary works
  • Names of distinctive historical periods (e.g., Middle Ages)
  • Names of festivals and holidays
  • Names of languages (e.g., English, French)
  • Names of school subjects, disciplines or specialties are not capitalized unless they happen to be the names of languages
  • Names of the days of the week and of the months of the year (e.g., Monday, January)
  • Pronoun I (e.g., “Yesterday, I was very happy.”)
  • Proper names (e.g., John Smith, Jacques Cartier)
  • Religious terms (e.g., God, Sikhs)
  • Roman numerals (e.g., XIV)
  • Words that create a connection with a specific place (e.g., French is capitalized when it is used in the context of having to do with France)
  • Words that identify nationalities, ethnic groups or social groups (e.g., Americans, Canadians, Loyalists)

Miscellaneous Characteristics[edit]

  • A word processor such as Microsoft Word[6] or a free downloadable processor such as Open Office[7] could be used to format and spell-check the text.
  • An essay plan or a graphic organizer could be used to collect important facts before attempting to write the essay.
  • Correct use of punctuation; periods, commas, semicolons and colons are used to break down or separate sentences.
  • Paragraphs are not lengthy in nature.
  • Street or Internet messaging jargon such as “a lot”, “:)”, “lol” or “bc” is not used.
  • Text that remains consistent with the thesis statement.
  • The essay has been verified by a peer and/or with the word processor's spell-check tool.
  • The same verb tense is used throughout the essay.

References[edit]

Example of a bibliography
  1. ↑A cliché is an expression or saying which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning; something repeated so often that has become stale or commonplace; "ready-made phrases".
  2. ↑“History and Classics: Essay Writing Guide” (on-line). Edmonton, Alberta: Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta. uofaweb.ualbert.ca (January 2009).
  3. ↑Uottawa.ca
  4. ↑More information on the “Chicago Manual of Style” can be found at chicagomanualofstyle.org
  5. ↑More information on the “MLA Style Manual” and “Guide to Scholarly Publishing” can be found on the Modern Language Association web site at mla.org Guides can be ordered online.
  6. ↑Office.microsoft.com
  7. ↑Openoffice.org
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