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Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

- Helpful Information for Students -
Essay Writing:
Essay Format, Writing Skills, and Sample Papers


General Rules for Writing an Essay

1. Essays should consist of a minimum of 5 to 7 paragraphs:
1 introduction with thesis statement
3 to 5 text paragraphs
1 conclusion / summary

2. Paragraphs must be well-developed with strong topic and supporting sentences. Make sure to use complete sentences, good grammar, and correct spelling.


Steps for Writing an Effective Essay

I. Question Analysis
Be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Without a clear understanding of the questions you cannot write an adequate answer.
Be sure you understand key terms within the topic such as assess, explain, compare describe, etc.
Make sure you identify any subdivisions within the main topic question and address each of them in your essay.

II. Developing the Thesis
The thesis statement is the position you will take on the subject of the essay.
Your thesis should be stated in the introduction to your essay. Therefore, after reading your introduction, the reader should know both the subject of the essay and your position on the question.

III. Writing the Introduction
Introduce the general subject of the essay and paraphrase the topic question.
Express your thesis as an affirmative statement (take a positive position).
Indicate the major points that will be discussed in text of your essay.

IV. Writing the Text of the Essay
Each paragraph must have a strong topic sentence clearly identifying the point under consideration.
Text paragraphs must use factual information to support your thesis.
All information should be organized in logical sequence.
Each subdivision of the topic should be considered in a separate paragraph.

V. Writing the Conclusion
The conclusion or summary should bring the reader back to your thesis and the topic question, bringing the essay to a clear and definite end.
Do not introduce new information.

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Essay Writing Skills

1. Spelling. I assume that if you are unsure about a word's spelling on take-home essays, you can look it up in the dictionary. Remember - spell check is your friend.

2. Capitalization. Historical eras are capitalized e.g. the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Europe, the Age of Enlightenment. If you have questions about capitalization, look up the word in Palmer, noting if he capitalizes the word or phrase.

3. Always use past tense. The only exception to this is when you are using a person's quote; if his/her quote is in present tense, obviously you accurately record it as stated. But notice how this works: The Austrian Prime Minister Metternich stated, "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold."

4. Underline books, place artistic and musical works in quotation.

5. Avoid the verb "To Be" e.g. was, were. This verb is passive, bringing the flow of your essay to a halt. One technique in avoiding this problem is to condense your writing when possible. For example, "Shakespeare was a playwright. In his play, Romeo and Juliet, he stated..." Change to this, "Shakespeare, in his play, Romeo and Juliet, stated..."

6. Factual Density. In your essay body paragraphs, pack your writing with facts (e.g. names, dates, places, artistic works, quotes, etc.). To cite a good example, look at Palmer's paragraph on Florence on page 54 of your text.

7. Underline esoteric foreign words (words not frequently used in our language) e.g. sfumato, condotierri, Zurrisenheit, Ubermensch, fin de siecle, etc.

8. Never refer to today, never, never, NEVER.

9. Do NOT use contractions e.g. Don't, wasn't, can't, didn't, etc.

10. Avoid making absolute statements e.g. "The Renaissance totally transformed European culture." "Lenin and the Bolsheviks completely abolished the czarist traditions." Such comments are not accurate, hence find close synonyms, words such as "significantly, decisively, irrevocably," etc.

11. Avoid abstract nouns e.g. mankind, the world, man, humanity. Find more concrete nouns. Instead of constantly writing Renaissance man, be more specific, such as "Renaissance culture, Italian culture, Renaissance painters, artists, sculptors, princes, despots, etc. Let the context of the sentence shape the specific noun to be used.

12. Avoid making evaluation comments e.g. "tremendous, beautiful, wonderful," etc. Do not state, "The Renaissance witnessed the most wonderful achievements in..." Let the reader make up his / her own mind.

13. Avoid poetic phrases e.g. "A bright new dawn burst upon the earth spreading golden rays of sunlight to nurture the gardens of man's greatest ambition..." (I took this quote from an actual student's essay ) Historians are boring people, they pretend they are "Scientific" by writing in a flat, social science style. This is different from what is asked of you in English writing assignments. Always be as clear and concise as you can. Work on condensing your style.

14. Avoid repeating the same word (noun or verb) in close succession, find synonyms.

15. When citing quotes, use the following rules:
No footnotes in an essay.
Use only short quotes never more than one sentence.
Most of your quotes will come from contemporaries of the era discussed in that particular essay e.g. Luther, Calvin, Erasmus in the Reformation essay; Galileo, Newton, Voltaire in the Scientific Revolution/Enlightenment essay.
When quoting a modern historian (e.g. Palmer) only cite those large, evaluative comments, those comments commonly found at the beginning and end of chapters.
Never start or finish your essay with a quote.

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16. Introduction Paragraphs. Use the following rules:
No longer than 4-5 sentences, at the most.
Whenever possible, the first sentence should be dramatic, capturing the reader's attention.
The time span of the essay should be mentioned.
This paragraph should refer to the central themes/causes/subject of the essay, but only briefly.

Sample essay introduction: "On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, initiating a religious conflict which ultimately engulfed Europe for 150 years. Possibly Luther's cloistered training blinded him from recognizing the complex economic, social, and political forces at work which would transform and intensify his initial religious dispute into a revolution that irrevocably buried the Medieval world. The late Medieval Church must also take some of the blame, for its increased preoccupation with materialism and worldly power likewise blinded it to the spiritual needs of a troubled era. In response, Protestantism aspired to respiritualize Catholicism by simplifying its structure, doctrine, and practices. Ironically, however, the religious conflicts both sides bred would finally produce a Europe less interested in either faith."

17. Conclusion Paragraphs. Use the following rules:
No longer than 5-6 sentences, at the most.
It should summarize without simply restating.
Never finish with a last sentence quote. Finish with your own words, not someone else's.
Tie the essay, when possible, to a wider historical context...e.g. forthcoming historical developments.

Sample essay conclusion: "The Peace of Westphalia brought the religious struggle, hence the Reformation to an end. Luther's reforms had been successful in creating an alternative form of Christian practice, and half of Europe followed his cause. But his protest had also bred political chaos, religious fanaticism, and socio-economic upheaval without precedent in early modern history. Exhausted by civil war and international conflict, Europe would increasingly search for a new principal of authority guided by a more secular outlook. Hence, ironically, Luther's program for re-spiritualizing a decadent Medieval Church brought neither ministers or priests into political dominance; instead kings and princes would shape Europe's future destiny, and do so by largely ignoring the faith."

(Note how this sample conclusion fits closely with the sample introduction; in a sense bring the essay full circle.)


18. Topic Sentences. Use the following rules:
Try to avoid, especially in these key sentences, the verb "to be."
Try to make a few dramatic.
Tie some of them to other topic sentences.

Sample topic sentences:

"The aforementioned economic, social, political, and intellectual forces produced a more secular cultural atmosphere where worldly values could be cultivated and celebrated."

"Such wealth demanded new forms of political organization."

"For the Italian humanists, however, the rediscovery of Greece and Rome provided the most self-conscious stimulus for the Renaissance."

"Even in view of these overwhelming odds, German democracy might have survived."

"In contrast to the Enlightenment admiration for classical Greco - Roman culture, Romantic artists found their spiritual homeland in the Medieval past."

"Romanticism died on the barricades of revolutionary Europe in 1848."


19. Rhythm. This is hard to teach/learn, but constantly think of your essay in terms of flow. That is, it should move along with a quick pace. This is insured by keeping in mind a couple of strategies:
Vary the length of sentences
Use active, dramatic verbs e.g. Not Luther said, but Luther argued, advocated, commented, demanded, etc.
Put nouns before verbs: "The Reformation was initiated by Luther." Change that to "Luther initiated the Reformation."
Avoid those passive verbs e.g. was created, was developed, was initiated, etc. Change such sentences around, putting the noun before the verb, and dropping the "was."

20. Especially on the first semester take-home essays, devote sufficient time to their writing. Simply to sit down the night before the essay is due and wait for the muses to start talking is not going to get the job done. That's why you have unit syllabi, to give you sufficient time to plan ahead.

21. Above all, keep in mind that writing, like any other skill, only develops over time with concerted, purposeful work. You must desire to improve, and give self-critical analysis to this task.

As Ernest Hemmingway once commented,
"There is no such thing as good writing,
only good rewriting..."


Sample Essays at Mr. Sedivy's Website
| Habsburg and French Overstretch |
| Germany: WWI and WWII Overstretch |
| History of Hitler | Cost of the Cold War |
| Habsburg and French Overstretch |
Check out the Site Contents Page for More Sample Essays

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Highlands Ranch High School 9375 South Cresthill Lane Highlands Ranch, Colorado 80126 303-471-7000

Mr. Sedivy's History Classes
| Colorado History | American Government | Advanced Placement Modern European History | Rise of Nation State England | World History |

World History: Dawn of Civilization to Napoleon - Units of Study
| Prehistory | Mesopotamia & Phoenicians | Ancient Egypt | Greece | Rome | Medieval History | Renaissance and Reformation | Exploration | National Monarchies |
| The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment | Colonial America and the American Revolution | The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era |

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