Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Shape of the Essay

Almost every essay you write as a history undergrad will follow a pretty standard format, An introductory section (which will most likely be only a paragraph) declares what your essay is about, followed by a number of body paragraphs which put forth the evidence and arguments for your conclusion, a section (that will again most likely be a paragraph) which states what your interpretation of the events in question are. The rest of this article will explore these three sections more deeply.


Every good history essay begins with a concise introduction to the topic or research question(s). The introduction should also include a clear indication of the essay's main objectives, followed by a brief statement outlining how they will be achieved. In other words, how will you structure the essay to meet the goals you have set for yourself?

In addition, the introduction identifies any qualifications that might affect the essay, such as a specific time frame or geographical scope, limitations of source material, and/or any special focus that you believe requires emphasis. The introduction should also indicate the significance of your topic and/or question(s), i.e. how they relate to larger historical trends and issues and why historians need to know what you have uncovered. This might entail a brief survey of other secondary works related to your topic.

Think of the essay's introduction as your opportunity to show that you are well informed and that your research is original and not simply a duplication of the work of other historians. It is not appropriate to begin an essay with a "warm-up" section while you try to decide what your argument or position will be.

Body of the Essay

Each subsequent paragraph of the essay should build on what you have announced in the introduction and contribute to the stated objectives. This means developing your historical "argument". Do it logically, step by step, and support your narrative with properly documented historical evidence.

Always keep in mind the overall structure of your essay. Write simply and clearly, especially in your first draft. Your thoughts should flow and have a natural and logical sequence evident in your sentences and the transitions between paragraphs.

Each paragraph should be constructed first to introduce a particular idea or body of information, then to develop the idea or information and, finally, in a summary sentence or two, to demonstrate the relevance of the material presented to the essay as a whole.

As this implies, single-sentence paragraphs simply do not make sense, and should never appear in an essay.


In a final paragraph state your conclusions with explicit or implicit reference not only to your introduction but also to the main sections of your essay. Your conclusion is not the place to introduce new material. It is where you sum up your argument, reiterate your main points, and suggest the larger implications of your essay.