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 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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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”.
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".
- 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” or the “MLA Style”.
Basic Essay Conventions
- 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
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)
- A word processor such as Microsoft Word or a free downloadable processor such as Open Office 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.
- ↑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".
- ↑“History and Classics: Essay Writing Guide” (on-line). Edmonton, Alberta: Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta. uofaweb.ualbert.ca (January 2009).
- ↑More information on the “Chicago Manual of Style” can be found at chicagomanualofstyle.org
- ↑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.
This brief study guide aims to help you to understand why you should include references to the information sources that you use to underpin your writing. It explains the main principles of accurately referencing such sources in your work.
Other useful guides: Effective note making, Avoiding plagiarism.
When you are writing an essay, report, dissertation or any other form of academic writing, your own thoughts and ideas inevitably build on those of other writers, researchers or teachers. It is essential that you acknowledge your debt to the sources of data, research and ideas on which you have drawn by including references to, and full details of, these sources in your work. Referencing your work allows the reader:
- to distinguish your own ideas and findings from those you have drawn from the work of others;
- to follow up in more detail the ideas or facts that you have referred to.
Before you write
Whenever you read or research material for your writing, make sure that you include in your notes, or on any photocopied material, the full publication details of each relevant text that you read. These details should include:
- surname(s) and initial(s) of the author(s);
- the date of publication;
- the title of the text;
- if it is a paper, the title of the journal and volume number;
- if it is a chapter of an edited book, the book's title and editor(s)
the publisher and place of publication*;
- the first and last page numbers if it is a journal article or a chapter in an edited book.
For particularly important points, or for parts of texts that you might wish to quote word for word, also include in your notes the specific page reference.
* Please note that the publisher of a book should not be confused with the printer. The publisher's name is normally on a book's main title page, and often on the book's spine too.
When to use references
Your source should be acknowledged every time the point that you make, or the data or other information that you use, is substantially that of another writer and not your own. As a very rough guide, while the introduction and the conclusions to your writing might be largely based on your own ideas, within the main body of your report, essay or dissertation, you would expect to be drawing on, and thus referencing your debt to, the work of others in each main section or paragraph. Look at the ways in which your sources use references in their own work, and for further guidance consult the companion guide Avoiding Plagiarism.
There are many different referencing conventions in common use. Each department will have its own preferred format, and every journal or book editor has a set of 'house rules'. This guide aims to explain the general principles by giving details of the two most commonly used formats, the 'author, date' system and footnotes or endnotes. Once you have understood the principles common to all referencing systems you should be able to apply the specific rules set by your own department.
How to reference using the 'author, date' system
In the 'author, date' system (often referred to as the 'Harvard' system) very brief details of the source from which a discussion point or piece of factual information is drawn are included in the text. Full details of the source are then given in a reference list or bibliography at the end of the text. This allows the writer to fully acknowledge her/his sources, without significantly interrupting the flow of the writing.
1. Citing your source within the text
As the name suggests, the citation in the text normally includes the name(s) (surname only) of the author(s) and the date of the publication. This information is usually included in brackets at the most appropriate point in the text.
The seminars that are often a part of humanities courses can provide opportunities for students to develop the communication and interpersonal skills that are valued by employers (Lyon, 1992).
The text reference above indicates to the reader that the point being made draws on a work by Lyon, published in 1992. An alternative format is shown in the example below.
Knapper and Cropley (1991: p. 44) believe that the willingness of adults to learn is affected by their attitudes, values and self-image and that their capacity to learn depends greatly on their study skills.
Note that in this example reference has been made to a specific point within a very long text (in this instance a book) and so a page number has been added. This gives the reader the opportunity to find the particular place in the text where the point referred to is made. You should always include the page number when you include a passage of direct quotation from another writer's work.
When a publication has several authors, it is usual to give the surname of the first author followed by et al. (an abbreviation of the Latin for 'and the others') although for works with just two authors both names may be given, as in the example above.
Do not forget that you should also include reference to the source of any tables of data, diagrams or maps that you include in your work. If you have included a straight copy of a table or figure, then it is usual to add a reference to the table or figure caption thus:
Figure 1: The continuum of influences on learning (from Knapper and Cropley, 1991: p. 43).
Even if you have reorganised a table of data, or redrawn a figure, you should still acknowledge its source:
Table 1: Type of work entered by humanities graduates (data from Lyon, 1992: Table 8.5).
You may need to cite an unpublished idea or discussion point from an oral presentation, such as a lecture. The format for the text citation is normally exactly the same as for a published work and should give the speaker's name and the date of the presentation.
Recent research on the origins of early man has challenged the views expressed in many of the standard textbooks (Barker, 1996).
If the idea or information that you wish to cite has been told to you personally, perhaps in a discussion with a lecturer or a tutor, it is normal to reference the point as shown in the example below.
The experience of the Student Learning Centre at Leicester is that many students are anxious to improve their writing skills, and are keen to seek help and guidance (Maria Lorenzini, pers. comm.).
'Pers. comm.' stands for personal communication; no further information is usually required.
2. Reference lists/ bibliographies
When using the 'author, date' system, the brief references included in the text must be followed up with full publication details, usually as an alphabetical reference list or bibliography at the end of your piece of work. The examples given below are used to indicate the main principles.
The simplest format, for a book reference, is given first; it is the full reference for one of the works quoted in the examples above.
Knapper, C.K. and Cropley, A. 1991: Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. London: Croom Helm.
The reference above includes:
- the surnames and forenames or initials of both the authors;
- the date of publication;
- the book title;
- the place of publication;
- the name of the publisher.
The title of the book should be formatted to distinguish it from the other details; in the example above it is italicised, but it could be in bold, underlined or in inverted commas. When multi-authored works have been quoted, it is important to include the names of all the authors, even when the text reference used was et al.
Papers or articles within an edited book
A reference to a paper or article within an edited book should in addition include:
- the editor and the title of the book;
- the first and last page numbers of the article or paper.
Lyon, E.S. 1992: Humanities graduates in the labour market. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 123-143.
Journal articles must also include:
- the name and volume number of the journal;
- the first and last page numbers of the article.
The publisher and place of publication are not normally required for journals.
Pask, G. 1979: Styles and strategies of learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, pp. 128-148.
Note that in the last two references above, it is the book title and the journal name that are italicised, not the title of the paper or article. The name highlighted should always be the name under which the work will have been filed on the library shelves or referenced in any indexing system. It is often the name which is written on the spine of the volume, and if you remember this it may be easier for you to remember which is the appropriate title to highlight.
Other types of publications
The three examples above cover the most common publication types. You may also wish to refer to other types of publications, including PhD dissertations, translated works, newspaper articles, dictionary or encyclopaedia entries or legal or historical texts. The same general principles apply to the referencing of all published sources, but for specific conventions consult your departmental handbook or your tutor, or look at the more detailed reference books listed in the Further reading section of this guide.
Referencing web pages
The internet is increasingly used as a source of information and it is just as important to reference internet sources as it is to reference printed sources. Information on the internet changes rapidly and web pages move or are sometimes inaccessible meaning it can often be difficult to validate or even find information cited from the internet. When referencing web pages it is helpful to include details that will help other people check or follow up the information. A suggested format is to include the author of the information (this may be an individual, group or organisation), the date the page was put on the internet (most web pages have a date at the bottom of the page), the title, the http:// address, and the date you accessed the web page (in case the information has been subsequently modified). A format for referencing web pages is given below.
University of Leicester Standing Committee of Deans (6/8/2002) Internet code of practice and guide to legislation. Accessed 8/8/02
Full references to unpublished oral presentations, such as lectures, usually include the speaker's name, the date of the lecture, the name of the lecture or of the lecture series, and the location:
Barker, G. 1996 (7 October): The Archaeology of Europe, Lecture 1. University of Leicester.
Please note that in contrast to the format used for the published sources given in the first three examples above, the formatting of references for unpublished sources does not include italics, as there is no publication title to highlight.
If you look carefully at all the examples of full references given above, you will see that there is a consistency in the ways in which punctuation and capitalisation have been used. There are many other ways in which references can be formatted - look at the books and articles you read for other examples and at any guidelines in your course handbooks. The only rule governing formatting is the rule of consistency.
How to reference using footnotes or endnotes
Some academic disciplines prefer to use footnotes (notes at the foot of the page) or endnotes (notes at the end of the work) to reference their writing. Although this method differs in style from the 'author, date' system, its purpose - to acknowledge the source of ideas, data or quotations without undue interruption to the flow of the writing - is the same.
Footnote or endnote markers, usually a sequential series of numbers either in brackets or slightly above the line of writing or printing (superscript), are placed at the appropriate point in the text. This is normally where you would insert the author and date if you were using the 'author, date' system described above.
Employers are not just looking for high academic achievement and have identified competencies that distinguish the high performers from the average graduate.¹ This view has been supported by an early study that demonstrated that graduates employed in the industrial and commercial sectors were as likely to have lower second and third class degrees as firsts and upper seconds.²
Full details of the reference are then given at the bottom of the relevant page or, if endnotes are preferred, in numerical order at the end of the writing. Rules for the formatting of the detailed references follow the same principles as for the reference lists for the 'author, date' system.
1. Moore, K. 1992: National Westminster Bank plc. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 24-26.
2. Kelsall, R.K., Poole, A. and Kuhn, A. 1970: Six Years After. Sheffield: Higher Education Research Unit, Sheffield University,
NB. The reference to 'p.40' at the end of note 2 above implies that the specific point referred to is to be found on page 40 of the book referenced.
If the same source needs to be referred to several times, on second or subsequent occasions, a shortened reference may be used.
Studies of women's employment patterns have demonstrated the relationship between marital status and employment sector. ³
3. Kelsall et al. 1970 (as n.2 above).
In this example, the footnote refers the reader to the full reference to be found in footnote 2.
In some academic disciplines, footnotes and endnotes are not only used for references, but also to contain elaborations or explanations of points made in the main text. If you are unsure about how to use footnotes or endnotes in your work, consult your departmental guidelines or personal tutor.
If you are studying with the School of Law, you are required to follow the conventions of OSCOLA (The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities). Full details of how to use this system are provided by the School. Copies of the system are also made available on Blackboard.
Whichever referencing system you use, you should check carefully to make sure that:
- you have included in your reference list/bibliography, footnotes or endnotes full details of all the sources referred to in your text;
- you have used punctuation and text formatting, such as italics, capitals, and bold text, in a consistent manner in your reference lists or footnotes.
More detailed discussion of referencing conventions is to be found in the following publications:
- Berry, R. 2004: The Research Project: How to Write It. London and New York: Routledge.
- Gash, S. 1999: Effective Literature Searching for Students (second edition). Aldershot: Gower.
- Gibaldi, J. 2004: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (sixth edition). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
- Watson, G. 1987: Writing a Thesis: a Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations. London: Longman.
There are also software programs, for example, Endnote and Refworks that are designed to manage references. They include the facility to incorporate 'author, date' insertions within your text, and to format reference lists automatically.