Philosophy of History/How to Write History Better

Tips On Writing History

Prof. William E.Leuchtenburg, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill edit

I do not want to be presumptuous because I am certainly not the source of all knowledge on this. As a matter of fact I can boil down everything I know about writing into three sentences:

1. Check every single verb on each page of your manuscript mechanically to eliminate the passive voice, if at all possible.

2. Avoid repeated words, not only in the same sentence or paragraph, but within the entire paper.

3. Make sure your topic sentence is what the paragraph is about.

Prof. Mary Beth Norton, Alger Professor of American History, Cornell University edit

1) Read everything aloud to yourself. Such a strategy helps you to "hear" awkward constructions and word repetitions.

2) Do not use weak transitional words and phrases, such as "however" and "we see that. . ."

3) Avoid the "this-it syndrome"--that is, the use of vague terms without obvious referants. Especially avoid the "lonely this," as in "she wanted this above all" or "this is. . ."

Byron Hollinshead, President, American Historical Publications edit

One should always look for exactly the right verb to describe an action, rather than picking out any old verb and adding an adjective or adverb to it; e.g. try "stroll" instead of "walk leisurely."

Will Fitzhugh, Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review edit

To write history well, make it a practice to read good historical writing. A good place to start would be the essays in The Concord Review.

Thomas M. Preisser, Professor and Chair, Department of Humanities, Government, and Modern Languages, Sinclair Community College, Dayton (OH) edit

Make sure your manuscript has a thesis which you develop and support.

Stephen Webre, Chair, Dept. of History, Louisiana Tech University edit

1) Write with nouns and verbs. Consider all adjectives and adverbs guilty until proven innocent. Use them only when they make a necessary contribution to meaning. One adverb that fails this test is "very." Avoid it.

2) Keep the noun and verb close together.

3) Place the time reference (for example, the date of the event being discussed), at the beginning of the sentence or the clause.

4) You need a clearly stated thesis, but you also need what Alfred Hitchcock used to call a "MacGuffin." The MacGuffin is the thing the paper is about. Know what it is and do not lose sight of it. If there's something in your paper that's not about the MacGuffin, take it out. Know the difference between a thesis and a MacGuffin.