Say you're describing Charlemagne's troubles with his Saxon neighbors, and you compose your words in the following way, using the present tense: As a result, almost every year of his reign Charlemagne is forced to go and vanquish the Saxons yet again and has to re-Christianize them on the spot. It's very vivid, isn't it, quite intense even?
But it doesn't sound very critical or reasoned. Now, say you use the past tense: As a result, almost every year of his reign Charlemagne was forced to go and vanquish the Saxons yet again and had to re-Christianize them on the spot. Less exciting, true, but it seems more composed, less agitated or swept away with passion—or biased.
And that makes for more dispassionate and thus more persuasive historical writing. By appearing aloof, you're simply more likely to win over your readers, in this arena at least. Mixing Past Tenses and Present Tenses. Including present-tense verbs in historical, academic prose can also lead to trouble when, as is inevitable, you must at some point revert to past-tense verbs. Here's what it sounds like when you mix present and past tenses: Almost every year of his reign Charlemagne is forced to go and vanquish the Saxons again and has to re-Christianize them on the spot.
It was a serious problem and he never completely resolved it. Remember, moving from tense to tense can be very confusing.
Mallory sees her returning son and, in her excitement, twisted her ankle rather badly. Her sister calls the doctor immediately. Thou shalt begin with an outline that buildeth thy entire paper around thy central ideas. In any case, whether you organize by thesis-subthesis, topic, or narrative, your central task is to ask penetrating, interpretive questions of your sources. Therefore structure your outline to let incidental facts recede as supporting evidence, and to emphasize answers to intelligent questions.
Facts and details should always support the main ideas in evident ways. Do not relegate the real point or points of the paper to the conclusion. Thou shalt avoid self-conscious discussion of thy intended purposes, thy strategy, thy sources, and thy research methodology. Keep the focus on what you have to say, not on the question of how you hope to develop and say it.
Do not parade around in your mental underwear. Show only the well-pressed and well-shined final product. Avoid use of first person. If you must discuss methodology, do it in a preface; discussing sources is fine, but in a bibliographical essay. Phrases that tell your reader explicitly what you intend to do or to do next, or that tell explicitly where to see emphasis, are crutches. The above does not mean that you offer the reader no cues and clues. Yes, it is important, in the opening paragraph or two of a paper or a section, to lay out the essential question s you will address and often to hint at the answers you may find.
Future tense could also be correctly used for most things in paragraphs below, but not always. In particular, when referring to elements outside the main body of the text such as appendices, references, footnotes, acknowledgements, etc. I find this a bit confusing, so it is simpler for me to only use present tense and never use future tense, which is perfectly acceptable.
When describing any thing you write in preceding paragraphs, use past tense. Here is another beloved but vapid word. If you believe quite reasonably that the Reformation had many causes, then start evaluating them. Overuse has drained the meaning from meaningful.
The adjective interesting is vague, overused, and does not earn its keep. Delete it and explain and analyze his perspective. The events that transpired.
Your professor will gag on this one. Events take place or happen by definition, so the relative clause is redundant. Furthermore, most good writers do not accept transpire as a synonym for happen. Again, follow the old rule of thumb: Get right to the point, say what happened, and explain its significance. The reason is because.
This phrase is awkward and redundant. Replace it with the reason is, or better still, simply delete it and get right to your reason. For all intensive purposes. The phrase is for all intents and purposes, and few good writers use it in formal prose anyway. Take for granite. This is an illiteracy. You mean should have or could have. Center around. Use center on or center in. Begs the question. Recently, many people have started to use this phrase to mean raises, invites, or brings up the question.
Understanding this fallacy is central to your education. The formal Latin term, petitio principii, is too fancy to catch on, so you need to preserve the simple English phrase.
If something raises a question, just say so. Everything in the past or relating to the past is historical. Resist the media-driven hype that elevates the ordinary to the historic. The Norman invasion of England in was indeed historic. Historically, historians have gathered annually for a historical convention; so far, none of the conventions has been historic. Effect as a verb means to bring about or cause to exist effect change.
While stresses simultaneity. This is the classic bonehead error. A queen reigns during her reign. You rein in a horse with reins. You do know the difference. Pay attention. As an adjective, everyday one word means routine. If you wish to say that something happened on every successive day, then you need two words, the adjective every and the noun day.
For Kant, exercise and thinking were everyday activities. To allude means to refer to indirectly or to hint at. The word you probably want in historical prose is refer, which means to mention or call direct attention to. Novel is not a synonym for book. A novel is a long work of fiction in prose. A historical monograph is not a novel—unless the historian is making everything up. This is an appalling new error.
If you are making a comparison, you use the conjunction than. The past tense of the verb to lead is led not lead. The opposite of win is lose, not loose. However may not substitute for the coordinating conjunction but.
Your religion, ideology, or worldview all have tenets—propositions you hold or believe in. Tenants rent from landlords. The second sentence says that some colonists did not want to break with Britain and is clearly true, though you should go on to be more precise. Historians talk a lot about centuries, so you need to know when to hyphenate them. Follow the standard rule: If you combine two words to form a compound adjective, use a hyphen, unless the first word ends in ly. The same rule for hyphenating applies to middle-class and middle class—a group that historians like to talk about.
Bourgeois is usually an adjective, meaning characteristic of the middle class and its values or habits. Occasionally, bourgeois is a noun, meaning a single member of the middle class. Bourgeoisie is a noun, meaning the middle class collectively. Here are some questions you might ask of your document. You will note a common theme—read critically with sensitivity to the context.
This list is not a suggested outline for a paper; the wording of the assignment and the nature of the document itself should determine your organization and which of the questions are most relevant.
Of course, you can ask these same questions of any document you encounter in your research. What exactly is the document e. Are you dealing with the original or with a copy? If it is a copy, how remote is it from the original e. What is the date of the document? Is there any reason to believe that the document is not genuine or not exactly what it appears to be? Who is the author, and what stake does the author have in the matters discussed?
If the document is unsigned, what can you infer about the author or authors? What sort of biases or blind spots might the author have? For example, is an educated bureaucrat writing with third-hand knowledge of rural hunger riots?
Where, why, and under what circumstances did the author write the document? How might the circumstances e. Has the document been published? If so, did the author intend it to be published? If the document was not published, how has it been preserved? In a public archive? In a private collection? Can you learn anything from the way it has been preserved? For example, has it been treated as important or as a minor scrap of paper?
Does the document have a boilerplate format or style, suggesting that it is a routine sample of a standardized genre, or does it appear out of the ordinary, even unique? Who is the intended audience for the document? What exactly does the document say? Does it imply something different? In what ways are you, the historian, reading the document differently than its intended audience would have read it assuming that future historians were not the intended audience? What does the document leave out that you might have expected it to discuss?
What does the document assume that the reader already knows about the subject e. What additional information might help you better interpret the document? Do you know or are you able to infer the effects or influences, if any, of the document? What does the document tell you about the period you are studying? If your document is part of an edited collection, why do you suppose the editor chose it? How might the editing have changed the way you perceive the document?
For example, have parts been omitted? Has it been translated? If so, when, by whom, and in what style? Has the editor placed the document in a suggestive context among other documents, or in some other way led you to a particular interpretation?
Writing a Book Review Your professor may ask you to write a book review, probably of a scholarly historical monograph. Here are some questions you might ask of the book. Remember that a good review is critical, but critical does not necessarily mean negative.Writing a Term Paper or Senior Thesis Past to the History Department You will find tooth shaped writing paper your you professors tense a great deal about past writing. Papers may cover your papers with red ink. Writing history hard work, but it requires neither native genius nor initiation into occult knowledge. We history demand write same qualities stressed tense any stylebook— good grammar and syntax. It uses the active voice; it has a thesis; it explains the significance you the topic; and it tells the write who, what, when, where, why, papers how.
Even then, paraphrasing may do as well or better. Historians read secondary sources to learn about how scholars have interpreted the past. In this example, the verb "twisted" is the only verb that appears in the past tense. A primary source allows the historian to see the past through the eyes of direct participants. When in doubt, err on the side of putting in extra details. The opposite of win is lose, not loose.
In general, the more sources you can use, and the more varied they are, the more likely you are to make a sound historical judgment, especially when passions and self-interests are engaged. Skilful writers do sometimes intentionally use a fragment to achieve a certain effect. Moreover, to vacillate between these can be disconcerting to your readers.
Make the suggested changes only if you are positive that they are correct. Write in the active voice. Including present-tense verbs in historical, academic prose can also lead to trouble when, as is inevitable, you must at some point revert to past-tense verbs. You must be especially careful to distinguish between scholarly and non-scholarly secondary sources. Historians value plain English. Your days at Hamilton will be long over by the time the project is finished.
Tense inconsistency. Some common primary sources are letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, church records, newspaper articles, and government documents of all kinds. Be more literal. This phrase is filler. Who invaded?
Be especially alert for these five abuses: Web abuse. Delete it and discuss specifically what Erasmus said or did. It's very vivid, isn't it, quite intense even? First, are you describing research itself and ideas from research?
It should appear in the present tense, "twists," or the other verbs should be changed to the past tense as well. Watch the chronology. You need not share their snobbishness; some popular history is excellent. Quoting does NOT add authority, unless you have already established that the source carries authority. Writing is hard work, but it requires neither native genius nor initiation into occult knowledge.