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Introduction: Thinking about Writing

History writing involves proof and persuasion. To convince readers, you must substantiate claims with evidence, but you must also express your ideas with clarity and grace. Muddled writing often reflects muddled thinking, and cluttered prose is usually a sign that your ideas have not yet crystallised. You will see that the more you read and write, the better your writing and thinking become.


This week we will discuss how to think about history writing. We will discuss how to approach introductions and conclusions; how to engage with the work of other historians; how to avoid wordiness and poor grammar; how to structure paragraphs; and how to achieve overall cohesion in an essay.


Core reading

Robert Pearce, 'Ten Essay Tips' and 'How to Write a Good History Essay' in History Today.

Hamilton College Writing Guide for History.


Useful Writing Manuals

These style and history writing manuals are very useful for all your modules. Inexpensive used copies of older editions can be found online.


Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. This has been around for decades. It covers all the essentials. Stronger on how to approach research than it is on grammar and style.

Strunk and White, Elements of Style. A classic ever since the 1920s. Very short, but strong on style issues. Indispensable and inexpensive. Keep it on your desk when you're writing!


Kate Turabian et al., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Very thorough. It takes you through nearly all aspects of writing history -- from planning your research to revising your drafts.


William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. A personal favourite of mine. Though not specifically for historians, this guide for non-fiction writing is entertaining and instructive. It will help you think about how to make your writing stand out. The author trained a generation of now famous non-fiction writers in the United States.


Williams and Bizup, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Very good on cohesion – how to attain fluidity by making sentences link up.