Overview of a History Essay

Essays are some of the most common genres of writing in history.

For this reason, skills on how to write a history essay come in handy for all history students.

Note that such essays seek to assess and evaluate the student’s progress in history.

The essay therefore tests different skills, including:

1. Historical understanding,

2. Historical interpretation and analysis,

3. Planning,

4. Researching for an essay, and

5. Writing an essay.


The basic rule of thumb to follow when writing the essay is to ensure that you answer the question asked.

This requires you to understand the actual question and avoid answering your own question.

The process starts with brainstorming to identify potential loopholes in your intended answer and consequently come up with the appropriate central thrust of the answer.


History Essay Template

From the general essay format, you can develop a history essay template.

Such a template could be as illustrated below.



This is often the most important paragraph in a history essay.

Rightly, the essay should create a good first impression to the reader right from the beginning.

This makes how to write a history essay introduction one of the key areas to pay adequate attention to during the writing process.

Accordingly, the introduction paragraph should do the following.

  1. Recap the issue or event( should look at who, what, when, and where)


Example: On August, 6 1945, Enola Gay, the American bomber dropped the five-ton atomic bomb over Hiroshima that is sometimes accredited for bringing the war to an end.


2. Include an explanation of the historical question (one or a few sentences)

Example: As the bomb annihilated four squares miles of the city into ruins and instantly killed 80,000 people, historians have disagreed on whether the bombing was justified.

3. Include an explanation on the disagreement on the event or dilemma

Example: Although it is argued that the bombing was necessary to quickly end the war and consequently prevent more American deaths …

4. Provide an answer to the historical question (state your position)

Example: Credible and persuasive evidence shows that Japan was by then militarily finished as demonstrated by the invasion of Manchuria by Soviet Union that August, indicating that Japan could have surrendered in the next_ months.


Contextualizing paragraph

This is another of the important paragraphs key to demonstrating your skills on how to write a history essay.

In this paragraph you should:

1. Explain the historical question’s historical context (what is transpiring that makes the question important).

2. Provide a brief account of the issue or event in question.


Supporting paragraph

This is where you begin to provide evidence supporting your argument.

In this paragraph you should:

1. Give the strongest reason supporting your argument.

2. Use a quotation or other form of evidence (e.g. data) to make the argument convincing. Note that you should cite the source.

3. Explain how the evidence or quotation supports the argument.

4. Provide your judgment on a) context’s influence, b) reliability of the author, c) quality of the examples and facts by the author.


Other supporting paragraphs

These are also very important when it comes to how to write a history essay.

These paragraphs should:

1. Include 2 or more reasons supporting your argument.

2. Repeat the steps in the supporting paragraph illustrated above.


Rebuttal paragraph

Although sometimes overlooked, this is a key paragraph in a history essay.

In this paragraph you should:

1. Select the strongest reason going against your argument.

2. Use evidence or quotation explaining the perspective found in the reason against your argument.

3. Rebut, or invalidate the evidence using an explanation of your judgment on a) context’s influence, b) reliability of the author, c) quality of the examples and fact by the author.



This is the final paragraph.

It plays a very important role in summing up your work.

Skills on how to write a history essay conclusion quite instrumental in writing a superior history essay.

In this paragraph you should:

1. Recap the event/ issue.

2. Explain to the readers why they should adopt your perspective instead of the other.

3. Connect the answer to the events within the historical context.


Steps on how to Write a History Essay

Steps on how to write a history essay are generally the same as the ones used when writing other essays.

These steps are:


1. Studying the Question

This is the first step on how to write a history essay.

It requires you to give adequate thought to the question being asked. In this, you have to clearly identify the task or challenge being set by the essay question.

Some of the tasks a history essay may present include:

1. Explaining the causes and/ or effects of a certain situation or event.

2. Agreeing or disagreeing with a particular statement.

3. Describing and analyzing the causes and/ or effects of a certain event or action.

4. Evaluating the relative significance of an event, group, or person.


To ensure a clear understanding of the task, it is important to severally read the essay question.


2. Brainstorming

This entails developing the initial plan on your thoughts concerning the essay question.

It is one of the most important steps on how to write a history essay and it should be done immediately the essay question has been received.

You should write down all your ideas and thoughts.

Key questions to ask include:

1. What are your preliminary thoughts and responses to the question?

2. What events, issues, topics, and people are connected to the question?

3. Are there any additional issues or questions flowing from the question?

4. What events or topics might you be required to learn more about?

5. What sources or historians could be useful?


3. Conducting Research

As an important step on how to write a history essay, researching requires you to gather relevant information and evidence.

You can start this by reading to acquire the issue or topic overview from reliable secondary sources.

This is important in helping generate a good understanding of the issue or topic in order to form a solid foundation for further investigation and questions.

Researching should be guided by the essay question and planning generated from the brainstorming.

In this, you should identify the unfamiliar concepts and terms and find their meaning.

You should go ahead and evaluate the relevancy of information gathered.

It is advisable to look for information from different sources.


4. Developing the Thesis

As another important step on how to write a history essay, it entails generating a contention.

It is notable that a good history essay must have a well-defined and strong contention.

This is usually the essay’s main argument or idea.

The contention should serve two key functions:

1. It should be the answer to the essay question.

2. It should be the focal of your essay writing.


It is advisable to construct the thesis in one sentence.


Why did the US drop the atomic bomb in Hiroshima close to the end of the war?


ContentionDropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima by the US was meant to demonstrate the country’s military superiority among potential future enemies such as Russia, Japan, and Germany and act as a deterrence measure against future potential attacks.

The essay would then go ahead and support this contention/ thesis.


5. Developing an Outline

Developing the outline accounts for a major step on how to write a history essay.

In this, skills on how to write an essay outline are essential.

It entails developing a potential essay structure.

This structure should be:

1. Simple

2. Be in lines or points form


The structure should be guided by the usual history essay format that includes the 1) introduction, 2) body, and 3) conclusion.

It is prudent to effectively organize the paragraphs either in:

1. Chronological order: This is in the order the topics or events occurred.

2. Thematic order:  This is in way the topics or events are relevant or significant.


Among the points in each paragraph, there should be a topic sentence.


6. Writing the Essay

This is equally an important step on how to write a history essay and it entails coming up with essay’s draft.

While writing this draft, you should start with the introduction.

Excellent approach on how to write a history essay introduction demands that you make the introduction as compelling as possible.

For the introduction, you should go straight to the point. This demands that you provide a brief context and then articulate your contention by indicating your direction in the essay.

In the body, you should develop full paragraphs, usually ranging between 100 and 200 words.

Each paragraph should be on a single issue or topic.

This should be cupped with an effective conclusion.

You are required to demonstrate good skills on how to write a history essay conclusion.


7. Citation

This entails compiling a list of the sources used as evidence in advancing the history essay’s arguments.

It is important to ensure that you assume an appropriate referencing style, whether it is APA, MLA, Harvard, etc.

You should confirm whether the essay instructions require you to use a particular style.


8. Proofreading

This is the last step when it comes to how to write a history essay.

It requires you to:

1. Evaluate whether the essay question has been adequately and effectively answered.

2. Look at whether the history essay arguments are coherent.

3. Ensure that the essay is devoid of grammatical mistakes.

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