Writing A Good Ib History Essay

As a side note, all of this information is geared towards SL English Lang and Lit, but I’m sure that with a few adjustments it could be applied to HL as well.

So let’s get started:

How to Structure Your Essay:

 A. Introductory Paragraph

a)    Motivator (address the question or statement)

b)    Background Summary (brief background to the texts and authors)

c)     Thesis (what are you trying to prove?)

d)    Focus (how will you prove your thesis? This is where you state your arguments)

B.  Points (aka each body paragraph embodies this layout-aim for 3-4 paragraphs)

a)    Point (topic sentence)

b)    Evidence (quotation or description)

c)     Analysis (specific focus on literary techniques)

d)    Link (back to the topic in the question)

C. Concluding Paragraph

a)    State Thesis (using different words/phrases)

b)    Summary of Main Arguments (do not include new information)

c)     Clincher (final sentence: should leave examiner satisfied you have covered all areas, but should also attempt to provoke further inquiry, or new dimension of looking at question)

If you want to see an essay that I actually wrote following this template, subscribe to our mailing list (by going on the subscribe tab above) because I can’t post it here due to plagiarism concerns + functionality.

So, this is the structure you want to follow. A common query that students have is in regards to how they should mention their quotes whilst writing their essays. What I like to do is integrate them really fluidly within my paragraphs; this takes practice, but here are a few examples below from my writing:

Natsume identifies intricacies and details in British culture that seem entirely foreign to him coming from Japan; he notes the impeccable fashion sense that surrounds him: ‘herds of women walk around like horned lionesses with nets on their faces’and notices a distinct height difference ‘but when we rush past one another I see he is about two inches taller than me’ (Natsume in Phillips, R161). Natsume’s experience as an outsider in Britain, according to Caryl Philips, ‘helped him to become the fully mature and outstandingly gifted writer that he subsequently became’ (Phillips, R161).

I hope you can see what I’m trying to do; note that each quote naturally compliments the flow of the paragraph. You never need to explicitly state that you are about to use a quote; rather, just insert it within your body as nicely as you can. I’ll be sending out more examples via email later.

The thesis statement of your essay is also extremely important; many English teachers have told me that often to gauge a writer’s quality they examine his thesis statement. The more clear and compelling it is, the more credibility you gain as a writer in their eyes. Remember that you should be aiming to provide an argument; otherwise, your whole essay won’t really have any meaning or substance (every single word you write should in some way back that thesis up).

Bad Thesis:

 In this novel, Kanye West argues that we cannot justify the usage of drones and that their increased prevalence is harmful to members of society.

Good Thesis:

 Though there may be considerable advantages to the usage of drones, West attempts to demonstrate that the worrying possibilities of mass surveillance and civilian losses, specifically in regards to the recent incidents in Orange County, are ultimately too precarious a path to follow.

I’m going to be honest: You should try to use flowery language to spice up your essays. It’s just the truth. Before you go sit that exam, go on www.thesaurus.com and try to replace some common words you’d use with some nice, juicy ones.

In terms of transitioning between paragraphs aim to be clear and simple. ‘It is possible to see the idea of..’  or ‘One argument put forward is…’ are pretty good.

Now, listen up: I’m about to share a very valuable piece of advice with all of you:

 Get your whole class to create a shared Google Doc with the following table:

As we enter October many of you may be feeling a bit of anxiety about your essay-writing skills.  If you are a first year History student, you are wondering about how much higher the expectations are for IB students and if you are a second year IB student you are wondering how prepared for the IB examinations you are – especially if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and the IB exams are looming.  Given all of these circumstances I thought it would be useful to go over the main components of a history essay.

When you write an essay for IB history there are 3 components:

Introduction

This is the roadmap for the essay, so you want to:

  • Provide historical context to show an understanding of the question
  • Answer the question as explicitly as is possible, given the question
    • This may take the form of  a thesis
  • Explain to the reader the issues you will raise or arguments you will present to answer your question

If you have been successful, the reader (i.e., your teacher of the examiner) will have a good sense of how your essay will progress and will feel that you have focused on the question.

Supporting arguments -which constitute the body

Here you want to develop the arguments that you have presented in the introduction

Each supporting argument constitutes a one-paragraph mini-essay: a handy tool to ensure that you completed each argument is the acronym PEEL:

  • POINT:  This is your topic sentence and you will present a mini-thesis that is the idea you are trying to prove
  • EVIDENCE: Here you provide the factual knowledge that is needed to prove your point
  • EXPLANATION: You analyze the evidence, showing its relevance and support
  • LINKAGE: Link the argument back to the overall question or thesis you presented; in a relatively short, timed essay this may feel a bit repetitive but it is effective in showing that you understand the demands of the question and have maintained your focus.

There is a lot of debate around how many arguments you should present; it is going to depend on the question itself and the number of arguments you have.  It is certainly true that one or two arguments will be insufficient to go higher than the 9-11 markband, but other than that, it is dependent upon the depth of knowledge and level of explanation that you provide

Conclusion

Very simply put:

  • Restate your thesis or answer your question
  • Highlight relevant issues that you raised in the body
  • Take the essay topic back to its larger context

If your introduction and body are clear and easily followed, 2-3 sentences is satisfactory here, and it is largely superfluous.  If, however, your essay lacks critical commentary, this can become an important section where you have made the prior discussions relevant.

This is just one approach to writing history essays – if you are doing well with your current method, keep things as they are.  However, there may be some of you looking for fixes for your essays.  If your teacher asks you to integrate more analysis – look at the explanation component of the body.  If your teacher writes that the point of your essay is not clear, stating an explicit answer to the question (and possibly underlining that answer) will help you clarify your points.  Use as much or as little of this method as you like.

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