History Essay Structure

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Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

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Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

Created with CAST's UDL Book Builder

5 Steps to Writing an Historical Essay

Written by Liz Cooksey

High School Social Studies Teacher

     The purpose of this guide is to walk a high school student through an easy step-by-step process of writing an historical essay.

     Writing an essay for history is not necessarily the same as it may be for an English class.

    Through the next few pages we will cover a basic overview of the process while also pointing out some "do's and don'ts" of writing an historical essay.


Step 1: Brainstorm

 Once you have read the question or prompt, you must determine the key points you will need to address and then brainstorm ideas that will support your points.


Step 2: Create a Thesis Statement

The purpose of a thesis is to summarize the key arguements of your essay into one firm statement. Strong thesis statements usually need to include about 3 points that you intend to prove through the essay.

When coming up with your thesis for a historical essay there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to include specific examples that you will later discuss in detail
  • Do not use 1st person
  • Do not write refer to "this essay"


Step 3: Create an Introduction Paragraph

Creating an introduction paragraph becomes more easy once the thesis has been determined. The purpose of this paragraph is only to introduce your ideas, not describe in detail or length.  

When writing your introduction there are a few ideas you need to keep in mind:

  • Open with a broad statement
  • Each sentence should get a little more specific and detailed, but not actually discussing the content of the essay.
  • The introduction paragraph should conclude with the thesis you have already constructed.


  Some people may prefer to write their thesis first as we have done here, or some may choose to begin writing their introduction paragraph and then figure out the thesis as they get there. Neither way is wrong!

Step 4: Write the Body

The majority of your work will appear here, in the body of the essay. This will usually be a minimum of 3 paragraphs (more or less depending on how many points included in you thesis).

Between each major idea you need to use creatively phrased transition statements that allow the flow of the essay to not be disrupted.

The key to a good body portion of your essay is to remember to only discuss 1 major idea per paragraph. Make districtions between you major ideas in order to help support your thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion

The conclusion is the easiest part of your essay. Here you should wrap up you main ideas that you have thoroughly discussed and argued throughout your body paragraphs.

Make sure not to introduce any new points here. this is simply to close out your final thoughts. You should, however, restate the ideas from  your thesis within the conclusion paragraph.

Here is a visual representation of what your essay should look like:

Several pointers for writing your essay:


  • DON’T use 1st person
    • No “I” “me” “we” “us"


  • Don’t use definitive's…
    • “never” “always”


  • Don’t say it unless you are SURE!!!
    • If you aren’t, then phrase is as “likely”


Here are a few phrases that may help you out as you begin to write:

What do you do now???




Follow these 5 steps and you'll be sure to impress your history teacher with your historical writing skills!

The essay writing criteria

First things first! Let us have a look at the criteria that the examiners will use to determine the mark out of 20 that your essay will receive. The 20 marks available are broken down into three components:

  1. 4 marks for structure
  2. 10 marks for argument
  3. 6 marks for knowledge

1. The structure of the essay

The marks for structure are awarded for the way you have introduced, developed and concluded your essay. To attain full marks for structure your introduction, development and conclusion must include a number of things.

The introduction should:

  • Set the question in its wider context by giving background information on the event, issue or development and/or explain some of the terms of the question.
  • Indicate the relevant factors or the main ideas that you are going to use to explain the event, issue or development.
  • Have a clear line of argument. This means that even at this stage you should be indicating what you believe to be the most important factors in explaining the event development or issue.

The development should be clearly focused on the question and should not just be a story or narrative of what happened.

The conclusion should:

  • Summarise the argument (the points you have made to explain the event, development or issue)
  • Have balance by showing that some things are more important than others and that there may be differing views.
  • Come to an overall judgment directly related to the question

2. Argument within the essay

The marks for argument are given for the way you have used the evidence you present to explain an event, development or cause. When you create an argument you have to be careful that you are not telling a story of what happened in the past.

You must make the argument that you believe X happened in some part because of Y. Present the evidence that shows Y was important. Then explain why you believe the evidence you have presented in relation to Y explains X. This will ensure that you are using the evidence to support an argument and not just to tell a ripping historical yarn!

The argument should be:

  • Focused directly on the question
  • Supported by evidence
  • Constant and balanced throughout the essay
  • Aware of alternative interpretations and debate (views of historians)

3. Knowledge

The marks available for knowledge are for evidence that you present that is both relevant to the argument and accurate. These marks are given for points of evidence and points which are developed further.

Before we go any further we are going to introduce a question that should be familiar to most people who have studied Standard Grade History. You will have had practice writing this as an 8 mark essay and now we are going to show how you would plan and write this as a 20 mark Higher History.

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