Written Essays

Carcassone, Languedoc.
"Carcassonne Cite" by Benh LIEU SONG. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carcassonne_Cite.jpg

The biggest assessment task you will be required to complete is a written research essay which develops an argument and uses a range of sources. All types of assessment tasks will need you to use essay-writing skills in some form, but their fundamental structure and purpose remains the same. Therefore, learning how to write essays well is central to achieving high marks in History.

A History essay is a structured argument that provides historical evidence to substantiate its points. 

To achieve the correct structure for your argument, it is crucial to understand the separate parts that make up a written essay. If you understand how each part works and fits into the overall essay, you are well on the way to creating a great assessment piece.

Most essays will require you to write:

  • 1 Introduction Paragraph
  • 3 Body Paragraphs
  • 1 Concluding Paragraph

Explanations for how to structure and write each of these paragraphs can be found below, along with examples of each: 

Introduction Paragraph

The introduction gives the reader an idea of what the topic of the essay is about, and how you are going to answer the question. It should only be a single paragraph, but it should contain specific information. Parts of a good introduction:


1. Background sentences: Two or three sentences that introduces your reader to the larger topic that you will be focusing on. This will provide a brief explanation of the key people, places, events and concepts that will be mentioned later in your essay. This information should be drawn from your background research. This should orient your reader so they can be aware of what time and place in history you will be focusing on.


2. Hypothesis: One or two sentences that states what you are going to be arguing for the rest of your essay. It should be clear in this sentence what your entire argument will be and what conclusion you will draw in response to the key question.


3. Elaboration sentences: Explains the key points that your topic sentences will touch on in each body paragraph. You don’t need to give all the detail from your separate topic sentences, but should mention the crux of their arguments.


4. Signpost sentence: A final sentence that prepares the reader for the topic of your first body paragraph. Usually it will state the importance of the first point that you’re about to make.


Example introduction: 

Since federation, a key issue that has repeatedly confronted foreign policy-makers is the tension between forward and continental defence. In the 1970s, Australian governments focused their foreign policies around continental defence because of the perceived flaws in forward defence in the wake of the Vietnam War, along with the belief that continental defence would allow Australia to become self-reliant. This decision offers an insight into the continuing debate of whether Australian defence policy should focus on supporting ‘great and powerful friends’ in overseas conflicts or defending Australia through domestic means and resources. The rationale behind the latter position is further revealed when one examines the historical events that occurred in the Asia-Pacific region during the 1970s.

Body Paragraphs

The body of the essay develops the points made in the introduction and talks through various aspects of the topic that you feel need to be discussed. These points should follow in a logical way so that paragraphs lead naturally on to each other. Parts of a good body paragraph:


1. Topic sentence: The very first sentence that clearly states what you are going to be arguing in the paragraph.


2. Explanation sentence: provides a detailed explanation of what your topic sentence means, or the main points that your sources will focus on. This usually means providing details about a historical person, location or event.


3. Evidence from your sources: Incorporate a number of good pieces (usually 3-4) of evidence from sources that prove your point for this paragraph. A typical evidence sentence has the following structure:


[Source Creator's name] says that [direct/indirect quote], which shows that [explanation] (in-text reference).


For example:

Smith says that "Romans were cruel soldiers", which shows that Roman legionaries had a reputation for excessive violence (1977, 186).


As you incorporate your quotes, ensure you provide analysis and evaluation of your sources. For examples for how to do this, proceed to this section of the History Skills website. 


4. Clincher: Make a clear statement about how all the evidence you provided helps prove what you had stated in your Topic Sentence. 


Example body paragraph: 

The Australian governments of the 1970s perceived forward defence to be an impractical policy due to the withdrawal of Australia’s western allies from South East Asia. One of these departures came about when the American president, in the wake of his visit to Guam, declared that “[America] shall look to the [Asian] nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defence” (Nixon, 1969, n.p.). Nixon’s predisposition towards American interests led the USA withdrawal from South East Asia, thereby undermining the Australian government’s use of forward defence and its reliance upon American armed forces. The reduced need for forward defence during the 1970s is further reinforced by the strategic situation of the time, which has been classified by White as “unusually benign” (2007, 169). This academic perspective is supported by events such as the opening of diplomacy with China, Suharto’s ascendance to the Indonesian presidency and the détente phase of the Cold War (White, 2007, 165). According to White, “these developments made Australia feel safer” and caused Australian governments to “focus Australia’s defence efforts on the continent rather than on defending wider interests” (2007, 165 & 169). White’s opinion is shared by Horner, a Vietnam War veteran and Professor of Australian Defence History, who argues that “the increase in stability in the region made [forward defence] unnecessary” (1997, 81). These concerns regarding the viability and necessity of forward defence were heightened in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Concluding Paragraph

The conclusion briefly restates your main arguments and shows how they answered the hypothesis. Parts of a good conclusive paragraph:

1. Restate your key points: Highlight the overall points made through the course of the essay

2. Restate the hypothesis: A sentence that restates clearly what you have been arguing for the whole of your essay. However, do not simply copy word-for-word from your introduction.

3. Concluding sentence: A final statement about the implications of your arguments for modern understandings of the topic OR a statement about what the effect of this historical person or event had on history.

Example conclusion: 

In conclusion, it can be seen that the Australian governments of the 1970s believed forward defence to be impractical and unnecessary due to the increase in stability in South East Asia. The outcome of the Vietnam War also reduced the political viability of forward defence because of the lack of public support for overseas deployments. These developments prompted the Australian governments of the 1970s to base Australian foreign policy upon continental defence. This decision set the tone of Australian foreign policy for the following decades, as well as highlighting issues that continue to be debated in academic, political and military circles.