Writing Centre

The History Writing Centre is an online resource available to any undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in a history course at UBC who would like help with their writing.

Research and writing are the most important skills that students develop during their university careers. The Writing Centre offers guidelines and tips for all aspects of the writing process, as well as the formatting of citations.

For more details, download the full Writing Centre Guide, or view individual sections.

Peer Tutoring for History Essays

The Department of History has peer writing tutors for those who need assistance or a second opinion on their history essay. Our peer tutors are happy to review your drafts and discuss ways to improve your paper.

Drop-in Office Hours

The Writing Centre is now closed for the summer.

Acceptable citation styles

MLA Style – Developed by the Modern Language Association, a non-profit membership organization that promotes the teaching and study of literature and language.

Chicago Style – Developed by the University of Chicago. This style is sometimes known as Turabian Style.

Both of these styles place bibliographic citations at the bottom of the page as footnotes, or at the end of a paper as endnotes. Both citation styles are equally acceptable, and each has a series of rules for the citation of different kinds of sources, such as books, journal articles, chapters in collected works, etc. Each style also has a particular format for your bibliography, which must be included at the very end of your paper for the reader’s information.

Whether you choose to use the MLA or Chicago citation style, you must use the selected is style consistently throughout your paper. Keeping your citation format consistent is a key feature of a well-presented and well-referenced argument.

Inappropriate citation styles include APA Style, developed by the American Psychological Association, and CBE Style, developed by The Council of Biology Editors. These styles are commonly used in the Social Sciences and the Sciences, respectively, and feature in-text citations instead of footnotes or endnotes. If you feel that using in-text citations might be appropriate for your paper, consult your instructor or TA.

Choosing a Topic

When choosing a topic, a few things should be considered:

  • Is the topic manageable? Make sure the topic is narrow enough to formulate a useful, manageable argument.
  • Is there adequate source material available? Consider that an obvious or especially popular topic may put a strain on available library resources, and that a particularly obscure topic may yield very few sources at all.
  • Is the topic credible? The student should be careful to avoid sensationalist topics, and should focus upon topics that can be dealt with historically. Finding an angle of historical inquiry often involves asking how and why particular events or circumstances influenced individuals and their societies.
  • What interests you? Choose a topic that sparks your interest. Review lecture notes, texts and other course materials that have engaged you. If you’re still having trouble, speak with your instructor.

Drawing Conclusions

Your paper should propose strong conclusions. These conclusions should reflect the argument you stated in the introduction, and should summarize the material you have presented for the final consideration of the reader.

Restating your case is a literary device that brings the reader back to your initial claims after having reviewed the material, in order to complete the argument. Essentially you are reminding the audience of your argument and asking them to consider its validity now that you have presented all of the evidence.

Avoid ending your paper by posing a question for the reader’s consideration. Keep your conclusions focused on the evidence as it supports your argument and summarize your position concisely. If there are further considerations related to your subject that have yet to be examined by scholars, mentioning them would be an effective way to wrap up.

Formulating a Thesis

A research essay cannot simply report on historical events or ideas, it must have a particular point. When formulating a thesis, consider the following:
What is a thesis? A thesis is the central, core argument being made by the author. The thesis should provide the research paper with a point, or reason for presenting the evidence uncovered during the investigation of the topic.
Are a thesis statement and an introduction the same thing? No, the introduction presents the topic to the audience, defines the subject, period, and event or ideas to be discussed. The thesis statement makes clear to the reader exactly what is being argued by the author.
What is it about this topic that is problematic? Many topics are naturally problem-based, and are readily debatable. Determining on which side of the debate you stand can lead to the formulation of an argument. Focusing on your stance(s) and arguing for their preeminence as causal factors would constitute a thesis for your paper.
Do I agree with the scholarship? Determining where you stand on the chosen topic can be a starting point when developing an argument. Some topics are widely documented, but their sources may disagree with one another or present contrasting hypotheses or explanations. Are you convinced by a certain approach to a particular topic? Are they based upon newly discovered evidence that you find persuasive?
Are there specific themes within this topic that I can investigate? Many historical topics involve many different actors or agents. You may wish to examine such a topic by focusing upon a particular sub-theme such as the role of women or minorities, the state of political or gender relations, or the influence of science and technology. This can be further explored in light of causative or consequential effects – that is, how did the actors or agents affect events, or how did the events affect the actors?
Can the evidence that I have uncovered support the claim I am making? It would be wise to consider the evidence you have found during your investigation and weigh it objectively before writing your essay. Devising an argument before fully considering the material could lead to an unexpected discovery: your argument is flawed or unsupportable. Read your sources critically, and take careful notes of what you have discovered. After you have made your initial determination and formulated an argument, these notes will then help you to form the body of your essay. The more notes you have, and the more carefully you have kept track of the key evidence you have uncovered, the more easily you will be able to construct and link together the main points of your paper.


There are a number of resources available both online and in the UBC libraries.

Do not subscribe to radically revisionist interpretations of historical events or to conspiracy theories that cannot be supported by the weight of accessible, credible evidence. Well researched and well-written histories will always provide the reader with explicit references to the sources used in the authors’ investigations.

Online sources such as government documents, statistics, bibliographic references, etc. can be valuable sources of information. However, the credibility of these sources can vary widely. When consulting sources online, consider the nature of the publications you encounter.

Consider the following when evaluating an online source:

  • What are the credentials of the person or group hosting the site?
  • What was the publication date of the site, and when was it last updated?
  • Are they making bold or innovative claims without providing reference to their own source material or evidence?
  • Is it possible that their arguments are unsubstantiated?

The university library web site provides access to a wide variety of online academic journals, known as electronic-journals or Ejournals, and many historical journals are among them. Authors of articles featured in such sources are typically professional historians, and their work is usually peer-reviewed, which means that it has been examined for credibility and accuracy by an editorial committee and a series of experts in that particular field. Another valuable online resource is the article database kept by major periodicals such as The New York Times newspaper, The Economist magazine, etc.

Primary sources are those that were produced or recorded in the era which you are researching. The university’s library has a wide variety of primary source material including copies of newspapers and magazines dating back to the 18th century. Be sure to note all of the publication information for proper citation.

Secondary sources are those written about the past from the point of view of a future date. Typically they are produced by authors who have examined a variety of primary sources dating to a previous era or eras while conducting an investigation into an historical topic. After sifting through a good deal of evidence such as autobiographies, speeches, government records, etc, the authors of secondary sources are then able to draw a series of broader conclusions about particular historical subjects.

It should be noted, however, that not all the authors of secondary works on historical subjects are professional historians. It is also important to distinguish between an author who is summarizing other people's views, and an author's who is expressing his or her own views.

Consider the following when conducting your research investigation:

  • Start early as the university’s library sources are placed under considerable strain when end of term approaches. Examine the library’s catalogue online and if it’s not available, you can request that they be sent to UBC via Interlibrary Loan.
  • Speak with your Instructor and/or TA, they will undoubtedly have some suggested reading suitable for your research.
  • Examine the authors’ bibliographies for further sources. The disclosure and citation of sources is a fundamental part of the discipline of history at every level, and the bibliographies of many works will yield a wealth of titles for additional reading.
  • Taking notes as you examine your sources is a vital component of the research process, and they will be of immense value as you stitch the major points of your argument together. When reading, note down any major findings, authors, or quotations that you find which are of value to your central thesis. In these cases, each individual part or chapter of a monograph or an edited volume may have its own argument, and may draw a series of specific conclusions.

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