© Damen, 2002

A GUIDE TO WRITING IN HISTORY AND CLASSICS

"Many people assume that professional writers don't need to rewrite; the words just fall into place. On the contrary, careful writers can't stop fiddling. . . . Students, I realize, don't share my love of rewriting. They think of it as punishment: extra homework or extra infield practice."
William Zinsser, 1998

Introduction

The medium of history and classics as intellectual disciplines is the written word. Successful students in these fields must be able not only to read but write well. That is, they must be able to receive and impart words with precise meaning. Sloppiness of expression is as detrimental to any historical study as faulty equations are to physics. This guide is designed to help you avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls of misstatement into which students often fall.

Remember that good writing is actually very simple. Essentially, it requires only two things: preparation (i.e. awareness of pertinent data and the construction of a viable argument) and the precise, direct expression of your thoughts. Thus, the advice below is broken into two parts, Style and Content.

I. Part 1: Style

A. The General Tone of Your Writing

1. Informality

2. Definitive Statements

3. Overstatements

4. Meaningless Words and Non-Statements

5. Choppy Sentences

B. Words and Word Choices

6. Phrasing

7. Repetition of Words

8. Noun Clusters

C. Grammar and Spelling

9. Subject-Verb Agreement

10. Dangling Participles

11. Pronoun Referents

12. Spelling

13. Possessives and Plurals

14. Present-Tense Verbs

D. Organizing Your Work

15. Paragraphs

16. Punctuation

17. Run-ons and Fragments

E. The Presentation of Your Work

18. Neatness

19. Quotes

20. Proofread

Prepositions

Plagiarism

II. Part 2: Content

F. Topic

21. Stick to the Question/Topic

22. Positive Themes

23. Narrow Themes

G. Structuring and Organizing Your Paper

24. Introduction and Conclusion

25. Rough Transitions

H. Argumentation: What to Include and How Much

26. Narrative

27. Repeated Phrases and Facts

28. Specific Facts

29. Technical Terms

30. Length

III. Conclusion

IV. Cory's Guide to Good Style: A Primer on How to Write not only Correctly but Well

 

 

Click here to see a graph showing how sentences should be structured and enumerated in a paper

Sample Essay
click here to see an example of an essay properly enumerated and written in the style recommended in The Writing Guide

 

 

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