A DBQ, a document based essay question, is typically two typed pages, assuming double spacing, or three handwritten pages in length. The paper itself generally contains at least six paragraphs, counting one for the introduction, one for the conclusion, and at least four paragraphs composing the body of the paper. Understanding the purpose of the DBQ helps in writing a stronger paper. Therefore, keep in mind that the purpose is to show that everything can be open to questions. It is to help the student see that all documents should not be held up as fact but rather as opinion.
Develop Your Thesis
Read the question carefully to be sure you understand what is expected. The question will contain keywords indicating whether you are addressing an attitude or reaction or whether you are discussing the topic in relation to political, economic or social aspects.
Read the documents to formulate a position for your answer. In reading it, be sure to make an initial note of important quotes or events described, as these will shape your answer. Study any charts or graphs included with the documents.
Consider what you've read and gather the information into a single stand that will be the basis for your thesis. Develop this into a single, clear statement. The statement should be solid and strong, as if you were stating an obvious fact. It is this "fact" that you will prove through the body of your argument.
Writing the Paper
Organize the information from the documents by jotting notes. Hint: Make a notation along with each note as to which document (and where) the information came from. Remember, you must use at least half of the documents provided, so try to use a solid majority of them. Also remember you should use at least four points of view to show what people of different classes or social standing thought at the time. Note all relevant examples from the documents, even if you will not need them all in the final paper.
Write a rough outline using your notes. Here you choose which of the examples are strongest, while making sure you use an appropriate number of documents.
Begin your paper with a thought-provoking sentence, something that will draw in the reader, something interesting. Because the DBQ graders know the historical background, you should not explain that aspect of the paper. Rather, explain what you are going to do in the paper and clearly state the thesis statement. This will be the basis of your opening or introductory paragraph.
Develop the body. Each paragraph contains a set of related facts that support your thesis. Include the document number at the end of the reference in parenthesis. And in stating a point of view, give the person's name with a descriptor to indicate that person's profession or social rank. Exact quotations are not required and should be used sparingly. Paraphrase instead and include an analysis of what it means. If possible, analyze why you think the person who embodies your point of view would have said what he did. Remember that why people say and do things is often a result of their environment.
Write a conclusion. Consider the conclusion and introduction to be bookends around the paper. Each paragraph holds the topic together by stating the thesis. So repeat your thesis statement, although you need not repeat it verbatim. Rephrase it, but make it clear it is still the same stand. Then discuss the historical significance of the event in relation to the question. Showing that you know the topic will likely impress the grader. If possible, discuss how the event impacted history.
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