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General Instructions & Writing Tips for (this or any college-level) Essay Assignment

FORMAT: 5-page, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point font, typed.

Cover Page (separate from the text of your essay): starts with your essay’s title (not the assignment title; come up with your own title that reflects your own, personalized take on the assignment). For the format, place your title in larger font at or near the top of the page, with your name a line or two below it in regular-sized font; then in a separate clump near the bottom of the page, list (each on a separate line) the date, school, course & instructor. The whole page should be aligned to the center.

Number each successive page (think of the cover page as page zero); staple all pages together. Do notrepeat the cover-page information on each subsequent page (i.e., at the top of or in a header to the first page of your text); start your words right at the top of the first page. If you’re concerned that the pages might become separated, you’re welcome to insert a short & small-font (9- or 10-point), right-justified header (such as “S. Smith, pg. 2”), but do not make this header too large/obtrusive.

Introduction: Every college-level essay should have a beginning section (usually 1 or 2 paragraphs) that includes two items: a general introduction to your topic, and a thesis, in that order. For a short essay (such as this one, you should probably fit both of these items in a single, opening paragraph. Your “introductory material” (sometimes only a sentence or two, for a short essay), by definition, introduces the reader to your topic, the era & characters (people, places, events, etc.) that your paper will cover. Also, if you like, an effective, stylistic way to get a reader’s attention is to use a good “hook” right at the start of your introductory section — i.e., a short yet compelling fact, statistic or historical anecdote (short story with a point) — something that encapsulates what your paper will discuss.

Thesis (usually the second part of your introductory paragraph, in a short paper, or a separate/second paragraph for a longer paper): all college-level essays MUST have a “thesis” = one sentence that states what your paper intends to argue. A thesis is NOT a description, but an argument/judgment — like a law case — which you will prove (provide evidence for, from your source material) during the rest (body) of your essay. A thesis can disprove a well-known myth, posit (put forward) a new idea, and/or suggest a fine-tuning of a previous thesis/idea in history.

Body: In this section (most of your paper), you will discuss the various points needed to prove your thesis, over the course of several paragraphs. Remember that each paragraph must have a topic sentence (like a mini-thesis) that states what that paragraph will discuss/argue. When you are ready to change topics, start a new paragraph; paragraphs generally should not be more than 6-8 sentences (or 1 page) in length, since the reader needs a visual break to comprehend what you are saying.

Conclusion: Your final paragraph should do TWO things — restate your thesis (slightly reworded from how you phrased it in your introduction), and briefly summarize the main points (“supportive evidence”) you raised in the body section to prove your thesis. NEVER raise new evidence/stories at this stage; you should have brought up all the material you will use, by now, in the body section. At this point, you can also refer back to your opening anecdote (your “hook”) if you wish, or raise a new yet related, brief anecdote that equally sums up your thesis.


Proofread: You MUST proofread your paper before turning it in, and give yourself some extra time (even only an hour) to type in last-minute revisions. Why? This paper is not an e-mail! Grammatical errors, uncapitalized proper nouns, and/or sloppy sentence construction are the fastest way to lose a reader’s attention and respect for your ideas. Spellchecking your paper alone (on your computer) will notcatch all possible errors; for best accuracy, read your paper OUT LOUD (to yourself or a friend; hide in the back room or shower if you don’t want to embarrass yourself!) to see if your sentences and paragraph-transitions flow well. If you get jumbled up trying to read your own paper, this is a good sign that you need to fine-tune it to make it read better. In this particular assignment, grammatical, spelling & punctuation errors will not be counted directly against you (since this not an English course), BUT errors do distract the reader from your main argument, diminishing the force of your presentation, overall.

Citations: You must give a citation for (or “cite”) any quotes and any detailed/specific information that you include in your paper, and note any exact quotes in quote marks; a long citation/quote can be indented and single-spaced, with no quote marks but still with a footnote number at the end of this “block quote.” This type of quote is usually not very effective, however, since readers usually skip over them — for such a short paper, as well, you are advised to condense your quotes down to the most pertinent part you want the reader to notice, and should probably incorporate it into your sentence (i.e., without separating it out in a long, blocked quote).

Citations for History papers are most often given in CMS format ( for both footnotes/endnotes (your choice) and a separate-page bibliography. To save space, for your footnotes/endnotes:

* For the first mention of any source, list the full citation, i.e., Suzy Titan, New Ways to Pay for College (Fullerton, CA.: University Press, 2005), 215.

* For any subsequent mention of the same source, give the “short form” citation, i.e., Titan, 224 (author’s last name, page number).

* For all your sources, list the full citation in bibliography form — see CMS link above for full details, or here’s a quick sketch:

Bibliographic citations list only the work/book/article, NOT the page number, and place the author’s last name first, i.e.:

for a book: Titan, Suzy. New Ways to Pay for College. Fullerton, CA.: University Press, 2005.

for an article: L. Robert Kohls, “The Values Americans Live By,” Immigration Issues Today (Oct. 23, 1984), 26.

for an on-line source: Susan Jones, “New Orleans Now Admits It Seized Firearms From Citizens,” (March 16, 2006); accessed on [give the date when you found the article] at: [give the full URL (website address where you found the article), even if it’s long]

Dr. Baxter’s lectures are considered informal material, and should not be cited or referred to in a formal, college-level essay.]


Plagiarism (citing something without proper reference) is intellectual theft, and you will receive an “F” for the entire course if you are caught plagiarizing. For a recent academic discussion of plagiarism, see:

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