Writing Resources

HISTORY WRITING TIPS

1)  Make your main point (also known as a “thesis statement” or “argument”) clear in your introduction to your paper, and support it throughout the paper’s body into the conclusion.

2)  If you are writing about the past, use the past tense!  Avoid unnecessary shifts in tense.

3)  Use the active, not the passive voice.

example:    The paper was written by the student.  (passive voice; weak)

correction:    The student wrote the paper.  (active voice; strong)

4)  When discussing causes of events, remember that “affect” is a verb, while “effect” is a noun.

example:    The Taiping Rebellion affected the course of Chinese history.

One effect of the Black Death in Europe was that people fled to the countryside.

5)  Be aware that “primary sources” are original documents written during a time period one is studying; “secondary sources” are later discussions of what happened during that time period.

example:    the Declaration of Independence; a bill for flour and sugar (primary sources)

a textbook or recent article on a given topic (secondary sources)

6)  Make verbs agree with their subjects.

example:    Many staple crops in Latin America, like sugar, was labor-intensive.

correction:    Many staple crops in Latin America, like sugar, were labor-intensive.

7)  Avoid incomplete sentences (also known as “fragments”).

example:    A swamp that was full of crocodiles. (incomplete sentence)

correction:    The swamp was full of crocodiles.

8)  Avoid run-on sentences (also known as “comma splices”).

example:    The caliph was very powerful, his officials ruled a large empire.

correction:    The caliph was very powerful. His officials ruled a large empire.

or:        The caliph was very powerful; his officials ruled a large empire.

or:        The caliph was very powerful, and his officials ruled a large empire.

or:        The caliph was very powerful, since his officials ruled a large empire.

or:        Because his officials ruled a large empire, the caliph was very powerful.

or:        His officials ruled a large empire, so the caliph was very powerful.

9)  Note the difference between “its” and “it’s”; the former is the possessive of “it”, while the latter is a contraction of “it is”, and should therefore never be used in a paper anyway, since contractions are too colloquial for college papers.  For the same reason avoid “they’re”, and watch out for the difference between “there” and “their”!

10)  Book and film titles need to be italicized (i.e. Hiroshima or JFK); put the titles of articles, book chapters, or excerpts from primary sources, on the other hand, in quotation marks (i.e. “Interpretations of the American Revolution” or “Hymn to the Pharaoh”).

11)  Don’t trust your spell- and grammar-checks on your computer to leave your paper mistake-free, because they won’t, and they may lead you to accidentally create new mistakes; nothing beats a pair of eyes for proofreading.  Try reading your paper out loud to yourself.

Note: these tips were developed by the Undergraduate Committee of the Department of History at Stony Brook University.  Many thanks to the faculty and graduate students who offered tips.

 

WEBSITES ON HISTORY WRITING

There are a lot of great online resources out there!  Here are some of the best.

Shorter guides:

“How to Write a Good History Paper” (Emory University)
http://www.history.emory.edu/undergrad/writingguide.html
Around two pages on how to read effectively, organize a paper, and avoid common mistakes.

“Writing the History Paper” (Dartmouth College)
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/student/soc_sciences/history.shtml
About five pages on how to write about both primary and secondary sources, with lots of helpful tips.  As a bonus, there are links to short handouts on picking topics, writing strong thesis statements, creating coherent paragraphs, and working on grammar and style.

“Writing a History Paper: The Basics” (William and Mary)
http://web.wm.edu/history/hwrc/worksheets/basics.php
Around six pages, following the paper-writing process from identifying the goals of an assignment, beginning work on the assignment, formulating a thesis, finding supporting evidence for the thesis, writing an outline, and actually writing the paper.

Longer guides:

“Guide to Writing History Papers” (Todd F. Carney, Southern Oregon University)
http://www.sou.edu/history/carney/writing.htm
An excellent guide of around a dozen pages.  Of these, the first page tackles the question of “What is a history paper”, the next two pages discuss the basic structure of a history essay, and the rest discuss proper writing style and how to avoid common mistakes.

“Department of History Writing Guide” (Boston University)
http://www.bu.edu/history/writing_guide.html
Around twenty pages in all, very coherent and rich in examples. Topics include primary vs. secondary sources, thesis statements, book reviews (“critical essays”), research papers, topic-finding, the various stages of the writing process, plagiarism, style issues (with a focus on clarity and simplicity), and citation.

Collections of useful handouts:

“Reading, Writing, and Researching for History” (Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College)
http://www.bowdoin.edu/writing-guides
A collection of excellent materials, many on individual stages of the writing process, such as “Preparing History Papers”, “Avoid Common Mistakes in Your History Paper”, “How to Read a Secondary Source”, “How to Read a Primary Source”, “Structuring Your Essay”, “Presenting Primary Sources in Your Paper”, “Paper-Writing Checklist”, and many, many more.

“History Study Guides” (Carleton College)
https://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/history/study
Materials discuss many different kinds of history assignments, including “How to Write a Critical Book Review”, “How to Write a History Research Paper”, “How to Analyze a Primary Source”, “How to Give a Twenty Minute Oral Presentation”, “How to Lead a Class Discussion”, etc.

“History” (University of North Carolina)
http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/history.html
Provides dozens of handouts on the writing process, grouped into categories like “Writing the Paper” (including individual materials on topics like “Argument”, “Evidence”, “Introductions”, “Revising Drafts”, etc.); “Citation, Style, and Sentence-Level Concerns” (including materials on “Commas”, “Quotations”, etc.); and “Specific Writing Assignments” (including “Essay Exams”, “Comparing/Contrasting”, etc.)

General resources on writing:

Writing Center (Stony Brook)
http://www.sunysb.edu/writingcenter
This is the main website for the Writing Center, with information about peer tutoring for students.  Clicking on “Online Writing Resources”, and then choosing topics and subtopics within the list provided, rapidly leads to extremely useful handouts on almost any aspect of writing.

“5 Most Common Grammatical Errors” (yourdictionary.com)
http://www.yourdictionary.com/grammar-rules/5-most-common.html
Extremely useful two-page handout, with excellent examples. Has link to various other writing and grammar materials, including an extremely entertaining handout on “Problems Caused by Incorrect Grammar”, which offers a wide range of reasons why correct writing is important.  (Warning: there are some extremely annoying ads provided by Google, including ones to custom paper-writing sites.  However, printouts do not include these ads.)

Online Writing Lab (OWL) (Purdue University)
http://owl.english.purdue.edu
Has all sorts of handouts on all sorts of writing issues.  Also has lots of great exercises for students on particular writing problems; unfortunately, the website seems to be in transition, so these are difficult to find directly from the website, but just search on the web for “exercises” plus the name of the writing problem, i.e. googling “comma exercises” gets you directly to the relevant pages.

Other resources:

“Top Ten Reasons for Negative Comments on History Papers” and “Top Ten Signs that you may be Writing a Weak History Paper”, both in “Writing a Good History Paper” (Hamilton College)
http://www.hamilton.edu/academics/resource/wc/WritingGoodHistoryPaper.pdf (link opens PDF file)
These two “Top Ten” lists found at the beginning and end of this 40-page writing guide say it all, as does the cartoon on the very first page.

“Writing Tips” (Mark A. Whatley, Valdosta State University)
http://chiron.valdosta.edu/mawhatley/writing.htm
The first page isn’t so interesting, but just take a look at the actual writing tips, plus the poem “The Spelling Chequer”, which should remove any remaining illusions one may have about spell check!

Undergraduate News

Blog Entry on the Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast, in DISSENT

I’ve written an online blog entry for the journal Dissentthat may prove of interest.  The argument is based on those I and others made in our edited volume Dangerous Trade: Histories of Industrial Hazard across a Globalizing World (Temple UP, 2011).

“How Industrial Hazards Get Overlooked,” Dissent Blog (April 25, 2013)

Chris

 

Rethinking Energy Histories and Landscapes

The Departments of History and Technology and Society and the Humanities Institute

Stony Brook University

Present

Ann Green
Department of History and Sociology of Science

University of Pennsylvania

“Rethinking Energy Histories and Landscapes”

horses pulling plow

Current concerns over energy consumption and environmental consequence are creating growing scholarly interest in energy history, and especially in understanding the energy transitions of the past.   Changes in the kinds of energy consumed and in levels of energy consumption have long been central to an understanding of industrialization.   Yet the focus has been largely on wood, coal and oil, overlooking other forms of widely consumed energies.  This talk emphasizes the critical role of animal power in American industrialization, and reexamines how the question of transition away from animal power is understood in historical literature.
Monday, April 30, 2012
3:30 p.m. Humanities 1008

Ann Green is the author of, among many publications, “Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America” (Harvard UP, 2008), winner of the 2009 Pioneer America Society Fred B. Kniffen Award for best book.

(URECA) Undergraduate Research & Creativity

History Department URECA Itinerary
April 25th at the SAC – Room 305 – Please stop by!

An annual event that showcases undergraduate research and is open to all SBU undergraduates conducting faculty-mentored research and creative projects.

HIS 396-K4: DIRTY & DANGEROUS WORK IN AMERICAN HISTORY (SUMMER 2012)

Summer Session I (May 29 – July 6)

TuTh 6:00-9:25

As featured in television shows like “Dirty Jobs” and “Deadliest Catch,” and in current news about clean-up workers exposed to toxic dust at Ground Zero, the interrelationships between work and environment are sometimes exciting, and sometimes downright dangerous and deadly. This is nothing new. Work environments have long been important sites of courage and risk, a stage for performing and proving one’s gender, racial, or national identity. Work environments have also been sites of cooperation and conflict between diverse peoples, and between people and non-human nature.

Child coal miners (1908)
Child Coal Miners (1908) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This course examines the relationships between work and environment in United States history from the colonial period to the present day, with emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will use books, articles, films, and students’ own real-world experiences with, and explorations of, work, to arrive at a common understanding of the place of work and environment in United States history. We will also seek to discover the parallels, if any, between the historical events and processes we study, and current issues in American society and politics. Students are expected to complete all readings, write two short papers, and produce a final project.

Summer 2012

Take History courses during the Summer . . . 3 credits in only 6 weeks!!
Courses for Summer 2012

Undergraduate Research & Creativity (URECA)

Undergraduate Research & Creativity (URECA)

April 25th at the SAC – Mark your calendars and plan to stop by!

An annual event that showcases undergraduate research and is open to all SBU undergraduates conducting faculty-mentored research and creative projects.