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Tips for Writing DBQ Essays

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					Tips for Writing DBQ Essays
AP US History
Mr. Steere

   1. Don’t freak out over the documents: Confronted with excerpts from 8 to 10
      documents it is easy become overwhelmed by them. Don’t get so swallowed up in
      the documents that you loose sight of the question and your own knowledge of the
      subject. A good DBQ essay relies both on the documents AND your knowledge of
      the subject. Before you read the question, think through how you would answer it
      without the documents, make a few notes and formulate a working thesis. Only
      then look at the documents to find support for your thesis.

   2. Read and think about the question: Read and think about the question BEFORE
      you look at the documents. You are responding to a specific question using
      documents as an aid. You ARE NOT writing a paper simply comparing and
      contrasting documents. Stay focused on the task at hand.

   3. Formulate a working thesis: Formulate a tentative thesis BEFORE you look at
      the documents. See 1 and 2 above.

   4. Don’t forget what you know: You MUST use outside information in your paper
      in addition to the documents. Make a brief list of the facts that you believe should
      be in an essay addressing the question before you look at the documents. See 1-3
      above.

   5. Read the documents with a goal: When you have done the above, read the
      documents looking for evidence that supports your thesis. But, keep an open mind.
      If the documents suggest that you should modify your thesis, do so.

   6. Try to get one good thing from each document: As you read each document, ask
      yourself what facts, ideas, or concepts are expressed in the document. Try to get at
      least one idea from it. If it doesn’t make sense to you, skip it and go back to it
      later. Look for contradictions or tensions between documents and be prepared to
      explain them.

   7. Don’t feel as if you have to use every document. A good DBQ essay will use
      most of the documents, but don’t strain to mention every one of them. This isn’t
      like a game of solitaire in which you can’t win unless you use all your cards.

   8. Don’t over-use the documents: It is neither productive nor useful to quote long
      passages from the documents. Reference them to support your argument, quote a
      few words or a sentence if it directly supports your position, but generally it is
      sufficient to identify the author of the document and to explain how the document
      supports your thesis.
9. Healthy skepticism is a good thing: Be skeptical as you read. Be a detective.
   Ask yourself whether the document is reliable, whether there is corroboration for it
   and whether the source is biased. Jefferson’s characterization of Hamilton will be
   affected by the fact that they are political rivals. Don’t accept everything in a
   document on face value.

10. The documents are not presented in order of importance: Don’t over-
    emphasize the first document: Students have a tendency to over-emphasize the first
    document simply because it is first. Be careful of this.

11. How to cite the documents: In citing the documents, it is far better to mention the
    author or subject of a document—for example, “Carter Woodson maintains” or “the
    chart on illiteracy illustrates”—rather than referring to “Document I” or “Document
    B”. It is acceptable to put “Doc.C” after a discussion as a footnote, but in a well-
    written essay it is not necessary. The grader will know most references to
    documents, even those that are made implicitly.

12. Don’t write a term paper: On the AP Test you will have only 45 minutes to write
    the essay. That is about the same amount of time that you spent writing your first
    in-class essay. Just because you have documents to deal with, don’t assume that
    you have to write a term paper. Five to six paragraphs are all that you need to
    write.

13. Don’t forget the basics: Just because you have to interpret documents don’t forget
    the basics. Start with a good solid thesis that identifies the position you will take
    and the basis for that opinion. Support that thesis with good solid facts. Don’t treat
    the issue as a simplistic, all-or-nothing, black-and-white proposition. Recognize
    and refute potential opposing arguments. In other words, build on what you have
    learned so far.




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