The following suggestions are particularly relevant to the process of writing history papers.
- While writing, always keep in mind the following question: "Will the reader turn the page?" You should aim for a clear, coherent essay, and you need to frame and USE a clear statement of purpose and keep in mind the audience you are addressing. Imagine your audience to be an ordinary literate group of people without special knowledge of your subject. Imagine you are writing for the Maryland Historical Magazine or the William and Mary Quarterly (both available at our library). The editors of these journals (like professors) prefer papers that give evidence of thought and research, and in which the subject is developed clearly, coherently, and interestingly.
- ALWAYS start your research early, and work at it day by day. Steady work spread over the time allotted for the assignment is bound to be better than the same number of hours crammed into the last few days before the paper is due.
- Begin writing early. Almost all successful formal papers go through several drafts, so do not expect to do all the writing on the night before the paper is due. Try to write up your research soon after you do it, and expect to do some rewriting to make your earlier writing fit together. Compose a complete draft as early as you can, and show it around - to your instructor, if possible, or if not, to classmates, roommates, and parents. Read it aloud to yourself, and see how it sounds. Expect to make large changes from draft to draft, and do not be embarrassed to do so. Almost all professional writers - including your instructors - prepare multiple drafts of their work. Writing the paper from scratch the night before is not a sign of cleverness or bravery, but of poor organization or (perhaps) laziness. It will win you no sympathy from your instructor.
- Avoid cliches and slang. Also, avoid using one-sentence paragraphs; they are acceptable only in newspaper writing.