How To Write An Essay

Here is some information to help you with your primary assignments.

Your paper needs to be 5 pages, typed and double spaced, with 1″ margins, and 12 point font.  You need to use a normal font, like Arial or Times New Roman, nothing funky!   Please put your name, the class time, and the title of your paper on the top left hand side of your paper.

For the Primary Source Assignments, you need to use the primary sources provided, not some random stuff you found on the internet!  If necessary, and with great discretion, you can use information from the internet to back up what the primary source has said, but make sure the site is valid (i.e. it has an .edu extension) and that you only use a small bit.

You need to focus directly on the questions themselves; don’t get sidetracked into discussing something that doesn’t pertain directly to the question.  (It will help you if you make an outline!)

When working with Primary Source documents, you have to use the material itself or it doesn’t count, as it then becomes a Secondary Source project, or whatever.

Since it’s a major grade, your Primary Source Assignments need to be in either essay format or long paragraphs.  You will usually need to write an essay consisting of 5 paragraphs, complete with introduction, thesis, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion for each question.  (A paragraph has at least 5 sentences!)   I’m not concerned about page length or word count, so don’t worry about that.  You will need to write a proper essay, so  if you’re not sure how to write an essay, please see the guide posted in the Modules section.  The instructions for which format will be given in the assignment itself.

Primary Sources are incredibly important in history; they are first hand accounts of events that happened a long time ago!  Because it happened in the past, be sure to use past tense when answering.  (i.e. You would say “They crossed over the frozen Mississippi in the dead of winter” rather than “They cross over the frozen Mississippi…” ).

If you have any questions, please post them in the Discussion Module, so that others can see them as well.  You have a week to get each Primary Source Assignment done, so please be sure to do them on time.  Late assignments will not be accepted.

How to Analyze a Primary Source

When you analyze a primary source, you are undertaking the most important job of the historian. There is no better way to understand events in the past than by examining the sources–whether journals, newspaper articles, letters, court case records, novels, artworks, music or autobiographies–that people from that period left behind.

Each historian, including you, will approach a source with a different set of experiences and skills, and will therefore interpret the document differently. Remember that there is no one right interpretation. However, if you do not do a careful and thorough job, you might arrive at a wrong interpretation.

In order to analyze a primary source you need information about two things: the document itself, and the era from which it comes. You can base your information about the time period on the readings you do in class and on lectures. On your own you need to think about the document itself. The following questions may be helpful to you as you begin to analyze the sources:

1. Look at the physical nature of your source. This is particularly important and powerful if you are dealing with an original source (i.e., an actual old letter, rather than a transcribed and published version of the same letter). What can you learn from the form of the source? (Was it written on fancy paper in elegant handwriting, or on scrap-paper, scribbled in pencil?) What does this tell you?

2. Think about the purpose of the source. What was the author’s message or argument? What was he/she trying to get across? Is the message explicit, or are there implicit messages as well?

3. How does the author try to get the message across? What methods does he/she use?

4. What do you know about the author? Race, sex, class, occupation, religion, age, region, political beliefs? Does any of this matter? How?

5. Who constituted the intended audience? Was this source meant for one person’s eyes, or for the public? How does that affect the source?

6. What can a careful reading of the text (even if it is an object) tell you? How does the language work? What are the important metaphors or symbols? What can the author’s choice of words tell you? What about the silences–what does the author choose NOT to talk about?

Now you can evaluate the source as historical evidence.

1. Is it prescriptive–telling you what people thought should happen–or descriptive–telling you what people thought did happen?

2. Does it describe ideology and/or behavior?

3. Does it tell you about the beliefs/actions of the elite, or of “ordinary” people? From whose perspective?

4. What historical questions can you answer using this source? What are the benefits of using this kind of source?

5. What questions can this source NOT help you answer? What are the limitations of this type of source?

6. If we have read other historians’ interpretations of this source or sources like this one, how does your analysis fit with theirs? In your opinion, does this source support or challenge their argument?

Remember, you cannot address each and every one of these questions in your presentation or in your paper, and I wouldn’t want you to. You need to be selective.



Part of the State Requirements that Texas has provided for institutions of higher education is that a certain amount of coursework must be written.  At HCC it’s 60%.  Therefore, more than half of your work will be essays and/or paragraph answers.  These assignments are designed to help you develop analytical and critical thinking skills, which are also State Requirements (see the Syllabus for details).  They will also help you navigate the new world we’re living in that is full of “Fake News” and “Big Lies” in Social Media.

Course: How to spot fake news


For this history class, here is the essay format that you will need to follow.  This format needs to be followed for every assignment that requires an essay. (Not all of them do.)  Part of your grade will depend on how well you follow this format.

Your essay will consist of five parts, the INTRODUCTION  (3-5 sentences,) the THESIS (1 sentence containing THREE separate points), the BODY of your paper (3 paragraphs of at least 5 sentences each that correspond to your 3 points), and a CONCLUSION, which wraps everything up.  Keep your paragraphs in the same order that you listed your points in your thesis.  In general, do not use first person (I, my, etc…) unless asked to do so in the assignment.  Be sure to write an essay, not an  outline bullet items.  Everything needs to be in paragraph form.  You may use one short (1 sentence) quote per paragraph, and you MUST cite it properly or it is considered plagiarism.  (I didn’t make the rules, I just have to enforce them!)  At least 90% of the work needs to be original, that is, your own work.  You can’t paraphrase someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own, as that’s still considered plagiarism.  Nor can you paraphrase half of your paper even if it’s cited correctly.   At the end of your essay, if you’ve used more than one source, you will usually need a works cited page.

INTRODUCTION – This is where you introduce your topic.  You need 3-5 sentences discussing what you will be writing about.   Don’t go off on tangents, and try to make it as interesting as possible. You can include a quote here, but if you do, make sure that you begin your introduction with the quote, and put it above the paragraph.

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’” (King George VI, Christmas Speech, 1939)

THESIS – This is the heart of your essay.  This should be the first thing that you write – and stick to it. This will help you avoid getting off track.  Keep referring back to it when writing your paragraphs.  You need THREE points in your THESIS for this essay, and the points need to answer the question the essay is answering.  This can be tricky, as many people tend to lose sight of the question and go off on tangents.  It will help immensely if you have the question in front of you, and make sure that each of your points directly answers the question!

BODY – This consists of three paragraphs.  Your first paragraph corresponds with the first point of your THESIS, the second paragraph with the second point, and third paragraph with the third point.  If you keep your THESIS in front of you while you write your paragraph, you can keep looking at your point to make sure that everything in your paragraph helps to support the point that you are making. Each paragraph needs to have about 4-5 sentences in it.

CONCLUSION – Basically summarize the paper in 3-5 sentences.  This is an important part of your essay, so don’t blow it off in the joy you experience when you’re almost done with your essay!!

Essentially, you are going to tell me what you’re going to say in your paper (INTRODUCTION, THESIS), say it (BODY), and then tell me what you just said (CONCLUSION).   😊

Be sure to proof read your work. A lot of simple errors can be easily fixed this way.  Have a parent, friend, or tutor (tutoring is free, by the way!) look it over.  Then submit it to TURNITIN.   Turnitin is very simple to use; there is no code or arcane knowledge necessary to turn in your work.  Just go to the bottom of the page where you submit your work.   You will see a little box that say something like “I promise that this is my original work” (meaning that you haven’t plagiarized anything!), and click it.  Then the SUBMIT button will activate, and you can submit your work.  I give you unlimited attempts to get it right, so if it comes back with a plagiarism score, you need to fix it.  Keep in mind, that just because your score may be green, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to plagiarize.  The school and department policy regarding plagiarism is 0 tolerance, so be very, very careful not to do so.  When in doubt, cite!  If you have questions, please contact me at


This needs to be a separate page.  You MUST cite your work properly, and have a works cited page if you are using more than one book.  Examples of how to do both are found on the Purdue Owl website, which you can find in your syllabus.  Note: you can either use in-text citations, end notes, or footnotes, and can’t switch back and forth.  The in-text citations are much easier, all you have to do is after your quoted material (don’t forget to use opening and ending quote marks!), is to put the author’s name and page number of where you got the information.  If you’re using two books by the same author, then list which book it is as well.  Then you put the information, in alphabetical order, in your Works Cited page.



Dear Students,

For this assignment, we are going to look at the origins of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.




Whilst there were many possible reasons for this tragedy, including the failure of the City on a Hill, the loss of the Massachusetts Bay Charter, and greedy people taking advantage of the opportunity to gain their neighbors’ wealth by accusing them of witchcraft, the origins of the actual hysteria began with an Indigenous Peoples slave woman named Tituba.  Recent historical evidence suggests that Tituba may have come from Colombia or Barbados, where she was originally forced into slavery.

Here is a good background on Tituba (ignore the few errors, there was no “country” to speak of, and the trials lasted almost a year!).  This is a secondary source that contains some primary sources, but it provides some basic information about her that will help you with your assignment. Links to an external site.

Here are your primary sources, which means they were written during the time of the Trials themselves. Links to an external site.

SWP No. 125.5 (same link as above)

Apparently 6 of the 9 judges during the Trials were related by marriage.  All of them were part of the elite of the Bay Colony.  With all of the bad luck happening to the Colony, could they have been looking for a scapegoat to blame everything on?  Certainly 2/3 of those executed were women, and many of them did not meet the stereotypical “Puritan” mold.

Bearing that in mind, read the sources and then answer the following question in one full essay.  Please see the guide on How To Write An Essay in the Modules section; you will need to follow the format shown there to receive full points!  Be careful with your answers; everything that you write needs to address the questions so don’t go off on tangents!

Read Tituba’s first 2 examinations.  (Not the different versions of the same examination, but the first two separate occasions).   There is also evidence that her owner, Minister Samuel Parris, beat Tituba into confessing; she later recanted her confession.

“At the end Tituba recanted her confession, admitting that she had lied to protect herself. That action had little effect on the subsequent events and was almost lost in the rush by other confessors, in fear of damnation, to admit their terrible sin. Tituba’s attempt to retract her confession received scant attention at the time and was ignored in the written reports of most observors. Only Robert Calef made note of it: ‘The account she [Tituba] since gives of it is, that her Master did beat her and otherways abuse her, make her confess and accuse (such as he call’d) her Sister-Witches, and that whatsoever she said by way of confession or accusing others, was the effect of such usage.’ Hers was not the first retraction of a reluctant confession. The others had already received a great deal of attention.”1

Question:  Now think about this.  Tituba was probably smarter than anyone else in Salem, the Harvard graduates notwithstanding.  She knew how to survive, having dealt with slavers and other miserable people for years.  How did this characteristic, along with her horrible experience at Parris’ hands, play into her actions during her trial?

You should be able to find all of the information you need from the sources listed above.  If you need to, you can google Tituba (on a reputable site) for more information on her background and influence on Salem, but remember, this is a Primary Source Assignment and needs to be mostly PS material! (Good sources of information include the History of Salem, the History of Massachusetts, etc…  No Witches R Us or anything like that!  While Wicca is an actual religion, most of the practitioners are not historians and tend to look at the mystical side of “witchcraft” rather than the historical side.)  Don’t forget to submit your work through Turnitin!  There are directions on how to do so in the syllabus.  🙂

1. Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies. New York University Press, 1997


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