A historical essay answers a question or addresses a specific topic. The format is like a sandwich: a body cushioned between the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Each body paragraph is a mini-essay that addresses one topic. It has its own introduction, body, and conclusion. The body paragraphs should address what is found in the introduction.
What Is A History Essay
An essay is a short piece of writing that answers a question (“Who are the funniest presidents”) discusses a subject (“What is Japanese feudalism”), or addresses a topic (“Causes and Effects of the Industrial Revolution”). A historical essay specifically addresses historical matters.
These essays are used to judge a student’s progress in understanding history. They also are used to teach and analyze a student’s ability to write and express their knowledge. A person can know their stuff and still have problems expressing their knowledge.
Skillful communication is an essential tool. When you write the body of a historical essay remember that both the information and how you express it are both very important.
The Body: The Filling
The three parts of the historical essay are the introduction, body, and conclusion.
A historical essay can be compared to a sandwich. The introduction and conclusion are the two pieces of bread or halves of the roll. The middle, the filling, is the body of the historical essay.
The introduction and conclusion are both a paragraph each. The body is made up of multiple paragraphs, each about 100-200 words long. They are the body paragraphs of the essay.
The Purpose of the Body Paragraphs
The body of a historical essay fleshes out the introduction.
An introduction of a historical essay acquaints the reader with the topic and how the writer will explain it. It provides a thesis statement, the question you have to answer, or the topic you will explore. And, it summarizes the basic approach you will take.
The body fills in the details. It will provide an answer and the details to back it up. What are the details of Japanese feudalism? Who are the funniest presidents? What are the causes or effects of the industrial revolution? Why is Taylor Swift so beloved?
How To Break Down The Body
Each body paragraph should address one topic or issue.
It is a good idea to write an outline first. This will provide you with a basic framework to work off. But, again, the introduction itself is a useful guide. What you previewed there should be addressed in the body. The paragraphs provide a step-by-step discussion of your thesis.
Each paragraph should contain a thorough discussion of the topic covered. This is an essay, not a term paper, so this doesn’t mean you are writing an extensive in-depth discussion. But, each paragraph should be a mini-essay on that topic. It is quite possible to write a whole essay on it.
Do not worry if your first draft is a bit wordy or otherwise rough. You can edit and hone your work. That is the value of modern-day word processing. This might not be possible if you have to write an essay for a test. If so, an outline and notes can still be helpful.
How Many Paragraphs?
We learned that each body paragraph is a type of mini-essay. Let’s consider a historical essay that explores the causes of the Industrial Revolution. You have done your research, including using this helpful website. And, you have made a list of the specific causes you need to discuss.
There is no formal requirement on how many paragraphs should be in the body of a historical essay. A traditional essay often had three to five paragraphs. Your choice might be influenced by the criteria set forth by your teacher. But, either way, fewer in-depth paragraphs are ideal.
Make sure each paragraph truly addresses a different aspect of your thesis. For instance, one cause of the Industrial Revolution involved inventions. A general historical essay would probably have one paragraph talking about inventions. Not one paragraph for each invention.
Okay. Let’s say we did a historical essay on the causes of the industrial revolution. You did your research and determined there were four basic causes, which were: the agricultural revolution, technology and inventions, population growth, and global trade. You would have a body paragraph for each. You would have four body paragraphs.
Breakdown Of A Paragraph
Each paragraph in a historical essay is a type of mini-essay on a specific topic.
This means that each paragraph has its own introduction (topic sentence), body (supporting sentences), and conclusion. The topic sentence provides the focus of the paragraph, its theme, or concern. The supporting sentences provide evidence and explanations.
A sample topic sentence can be:
An agricultural revolution helped lead to the Industrial Revolution in Britain
Then, you would provide supporting sentences that discussed why they were important. Supporting sentences provide facts, descriptions, and explanations. They can include quotations, data points, and citations from experts. Each sentence should be crisp and compact.
A basic way to do this is to provide a couple of sentences of explanation, backed up by evidence and analysis. Consider this paragraph on the agricultural revolution:
Improvements in agriculture such as crop rotations and changes in policy such as closing off open fields (enclosure) led to the consolidation of small farms. Not only did new methods result in much more food, but fewer farmers were needed.
The body paragraph provides details and why the details are important. It includes specific terms (enclosure) and puts them in a wider historical context. Other possible sentences can reference specific writings or experts. Quotations can add color and flavor as well.
And, you complete the paragraph with a conclusion sentence. This sentence summarizes the topic of the paragraph. It uses words such as “therefore” or “as a result.” For instance:
Therefore, an excess population of farmers arose, who flocked to the cities creating a labor supply for the industrial revolution.
The conclusion does not provide new information. It logically follows from the body sentences. After writing becomes familiar, a certain natural flow occurs that just “feels right.”
The R.A.C.E. Method of Writing a Body Paragraph
A helpful acronym when writing a body paragraph for history is R.A.C.E.:
- Restate the thesis
- Answer the thesis with 1 example
- Cite evidence to support your example
- Explain your example
Let’s see what this looks like in action. You’re writing an essay about the causes of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Here’s your thesis:
The Industrial Revolution in Britain was caused by a combination of factors, including technological advancements, access to natural resources, and a growing population.
Now let’s write the body paragraph for the first example, technological advances.
Technological advances were a significant cause of the Industrial Revolution in Britain (Restates the question/thesis). One of the most significant technological advancements was the development of the steam engine (Answers the question). The steam engine was invented by James Watt in 1775 and was used to power machines in factories and mills (Cites evidence to support the answer). This innovation allowed for increased production and efficiency and played a significant role in the growth of the textile industry (Explains the evidence). Other inventions included the spinning jenny, steam engine and telegraph. Overall, technological advances were a crucial cause of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, leading to increased production, efficiency, and economic growth.
Rinse and Repeat
The basic format is followed for each paragraph in the body of the essay.
You do not need to include the exact same details in each paragraph. Each paragraph, for instance, does not need to have a quotation. But, the same basic criteria are included.
When you complete your body, did you address what your introduction invited the reader to expect? Was it done in a crisp and comprehensive fashion? Very good!
Time for you to write the conclusion of your historical essay. But, that is another story