Guidelines on how to write a DBQ essay

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If you’re in AP history classes, you will have to write a DBQ paper sooner or later. You may think that it’s impossible to work with the required number of documents within a given period of time, but try not to panic. How to write a DBQ essay? As long as you stay focus in your classes and take a few effective steps, you’ll succeed. Any DBQ paper is an unusually formatted, timed, document-based, and questioning essay on AP history exams. It covers AP European, US, and world history classes. Many students feel confused when writing this type of essay because they aren’t familiar with it. Use helpful preparation strategies to cover everything you need within a limited time.

The definition of DBQ essays

What is a DBQ essay all about? The main point is to put students in the historian’s shoes and interpret important historical materials. This type of academic writing tests your ability to do the following:

  • Analyze relevant sources for such basic characteristics as the purpose and point of view of authors, context, and audience;
  • Create a strong thesis and support it with strong documents;
  • Make important connections between these documents;
  • Bring in any outside knowledge to strengthen your major argument.

They all may sound a bit overwhelming, but you use these skills in other types of academic papers.

How to format DBQ papers

Every AP history test involves DBQ essays, and it’s always the first question in a special booklet for the writing section. When you open it, you will see the necessary prompts, instructions, and documents. All students are provided with a 15-minute period to read and 40 minutes to write.

This test includes 2 essays, and you have enough time to plan and write everything. The best part is that you aren’t forced to switch from one essay to the other, so use your time wisely. You aren’t required to use the entire planning and reading period, so you can start writing your essay whenever you need. Make sure that you plan everything carefully because you can complete this academic assignment faster when you have a detailed outline.

What to do with documents

When writing a DBQ essay, you receive up to 7 sources, both secondary and primary. They are available in different forms, including:

  • Maps and pictures;
  • Newspaper articles and charts;
  • Letters and cartoons.

Your basic task is to use these documents in your essay and go further in-depth on them. When it comes to US history classes, writing prompts aren’t focused exclusively on a time period either before 1607 or after 1980. Your assignment may be focused on a broader time period.

DBQ essay prewriting techniques

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First, you need to understand what must be done when writing this paper. You have only 15 minutes to read given prompts, analyze documents, and do the necessary pre-writing. When this time period is over, you should start writing.

Reading essay prompts

Start with reading your prompts to determine the evidence that you need to find in given documents according to their questions. It’s necessary to underline or circle the following details:

  • A particular society you’re asked about;
  • A specific time period;
  • Key concepts, such as cultural or economic issues.

DBQ essays always ask students to do one of these basic things:

  • Analyze different reasons that lead to the development of a particular movement;
  • Analyze the extent to which a given historical stereotype is true for a specific concept or period;
  • Analyze a degree of truth in a given statement and take your stance;
  • Compare and contrast different attitudes towards a particular policy or concept;
  • Analyze an impact of a concept or an event on some part of the society;
  • Analyze the importance of a specific factor on a given concept or event.

Considering outside information

Think about any outside information about a given theme, time period, and society. It can be anything learned in classes or read in textbooks. Outside information is important because it makes up a big part of your DBQ essay, and you need to use given documents to support it. It can include:

  • Themes studied about a particular time period;
  • Historical events;
  • People, movements, and others.

Write down your relevant outside information on paper and determine your perspective or opinion on given prompts. Are there any questions that you have in your mind? Formulate a strong thesis before looking at given documents to determine how they fit into your DBQ essay faster.

Analyzing your documents

Look at your documents that can include the following:

  • Historical writings and publications (diary entries, book excerpts, quotations, and letters);
  • Photographs and charts;
  • Illustrations and maps;
  • Cartoons and pictures of artifacts.

Ask a few basic questions to analyze the documents that you have. How do they fit into assignment prompts? What are their main ideas? How do they fit your thesis? Write down important notes and focus on their chronology to find and analyze any changes over time.

Determining logical categories

Determine special logical categories where documents can be placed to address your topic questions effectively. You should use as many documents in your DBQ essay as possible. Don’t forget to discuss the author’s point of view if it supports your thesis. When reading given documents, note their authors, their opinions, and why you think they are this way.

Categorize all documents into specific groups, and this method can be used at least twice in your DBQ paper. These groups can help you make sense logically and support a thesis. Make sure that they present different sides of your main argument. It’s possible to group given documents as:

  • Groups within groups;
  • Main groups;
  • Cross groupings.

Using additional documents

When writing your DBQ essay, you need to discuss at least one extra historical document. It’s not provided in essay prompts or questions, and it can be any historical document. Determine the one that can be really helpful in proving your stance and explain to the audience why it’s important. For example, you can use any treaty between nations, government documents, letters to queens and kings, and ship logs.

Finally, you should solidify a thesis statement. So, go back and ensure that you can support it with given documents while making it concise and clear.

DBQ essay writing basics

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You have a set period of time to complete this writing task, so plan everything wisely to cover every topic that you want to discuss and analyze every document. Write a brief sentence of historical context about a particular time period. It will become the first sentence of your introductory paragraph, but don’t make it too long. Write a strong thesis statement and follow it with a short sentence that addresses the main topics covered in body paragraphs.

Writing body paragraphs

Body paragraphs should be written in a logical order. When referring to any documents, you should use their titles and make sure that every paragraph has a separate topic sentence, which explains to readers what it’s all about. Write as many paragraphs as necessary based on your prompts.

Their content depends on the type of your AP history classes. For example, US history requires students to cite information from many documents, but a big part of information should be outside evidence. This means that this information isn’t in given documents, while European history requires you to get most information from them. You should make an analysis of documents instead of simply listing them as they’re presented in assignment prompts.

If you want to quote any document directly, take this step in a meaningful manner. It’s necessary to quote sparingly and show how all body paragraphs connect to a thesis statement. You have a lower chance to succeed if you fail to logically show how your chosen topics, extra and main documents support a thesis. Ensure that any outside information that you use in your DBQ essay is relevant too. Demonstrate your knowledge about the importance of a particular event or era that you’re writing about.

Adding citations and writing a conclusion

Whenever you mention documents, add parentheses and cite everything correctly. Besides, you should explain why specific articles are biased in the main body to get extra points when submitting your academic paper.

Writing a concluding paragraph is a must, but it should restate a thesis and sum up everything proven in your DBQ essay. You will lose points if teachers decide that your thesis doesn’t adequately state everything written in this paper.

How to finalize your DBQ essay

To successfully finalize your essay, reread it and confirm that you include everything important. Make sure that you:

  • Have a strong thesis;
  • Explain how every document that you use support it;
  • Group all documents in a few ways based on prompt questions;
  • Discuss authors’ points of view;
  • Explain and identify at least one additional document.

Feel free to add anything missing if you still have some time. DBQ essays have a limited time, so you should be able to revise and edit everything too. Double check all sentences to ensure that they all are written correctly. Check all names, places, and dates by looking at given documents and ensuring that they all match with information in your paper.

Time management skills for successful writing

If you have the essay writing skills necessary to submit a good paper, but you fail to get your DBQ essay together within a given period of time, there are different things that may affect your end results. As an example, you may find yourself spending long minutes on staring at a piece of blank paper. If you feel stuck and don’t know how to get started, spend a few minutes on brainstorming after reading given documents and assignment questions.

After a helpful brainstorming session, organize all interesting ideas into a thesis statement and body paragraphs. It’s advisable to start working and make the necessary changes than simply wasting your time. When writing a DBQ essay, some students feel overwhelmed, while others are too anxious and distracted. If you have the same problems, there are many effective methods that can help you fight anxiety.

Being only half of the way through your paper when a given time period passes is another common problem faced by many students. Perhaps, you usually spend a lot of time on your outline so that you have no time left for essay writing. If you spend more than 20 minutes on outlining, you need more practice to be faster. Keep in mind that an outline is only a brief guide for your DBQ essay, so don’t focus on it too long. Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, so practice outlining for shorter time intervals to cut down your outlining time.

Another mistake is trying to cover too much in this academic paper. If you have five or more body paragraph, scale things back to only three sections. If you spend 20 minutes on writing 2 paragraphs with contextual information, you need to trim everything down to several relevant sentences. Stay mindful of where you spend too much tie and target these troubling areas. If you don’t recognize a problem, you won’t be able to solve it effectively. If you can’t determine what takes you so long when writing DBQ essays, you need to practice writing them in less time. This simple technique will help you manage your time more efficiently to get higher scores for your paper.

How to integrate citations

Integrating document citations into a DBQ essay is an important skill that makes a huge difference in its quality and your future scores. You should know how to reference any information in documents in a clear manner and according to a particular formatting style assigned by instructors. Otherwise, you will be accused of plagiarism.

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