Writing Tips

The State University of New York at Stony brook recently posted a top-ten list (actually there's 11) of writing tips for history majors. Here's a taste:

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)

You can find the rest of the tips here.