Writing Term Papers

This is intended to give a short introduction to writing term papers (it is now only a rough outline -- I will try to add to this soon).

Collect evidence

The most important step in preparation for writing a paper is research. In my courses, this means reading the primary sources, and completing good reading notes. See "Reading Notes: Suggested Approaches."

Secondary sources

For the purposes of my courses, avoid secondary sources -- historical analyses written by modern scholars. Your paper should be based on your reading and analysis of primary sources.

Resources for writing

Trimble's Writing with Style

Before beginning to write your paper, read John Trimble's Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. This is the best introduction I know of to writing. He explains how to collect evidence, delimit your topic, formulate an initial hypothesis, and write a rough outline, rough drafts, and the final draft. He also explains how to write critically, analytically, and present forceful, compelling arguments. After reading his book, look at "Notes on Writing with Style," where I have summarized what I think are the most important points.

When reading Trimble's Writing with Style, it is important to note that there are significant differences between the field of literary criticism (which is the subject of his book) and historical writing for this course. For example, on page 32, Trimble offers an exemplary opening paragraph, from a paper on Shakespeare's I Henry IV, which begins, "Prince Hal is as hard to crack as a walnut." While this paragraph is original, well-written, evocative, and effective, this is not acceptable in historical writing.

Reading/Writing/Study Skills Center at the University of Texas

The University of Texas provides tutoring along with other resources for improving your reading, writing, and study skills. Their home page is


In particular, I would recommend looking at their pages on the following topics:

1) Writing papers



2) Marking and notetaking in your books:


3) Reading faster:



Chicago Manual of Style

The most authoritative source on style, grammar, footnotes, etc., is The Chicago Manual of Style.

First draft

I require a first draft of all papers. There are almost always significant defects that would lead to a lower grade.


Secondary sources

Avoid summarizing secondary sources, including translator's introductions.

Also avoid long quotations and paraphrases.

Mechanical summaries

Final draft:

I will return the first draft to you and ask you to revise it for the final draft.


Plagiarism is a serious charge. For more information see "Plagiarism".


John R. Trimble, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000).

William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999).

The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).