How to Write an AP US History DBQ Essay

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DBQs are document-based questions that test a student’s ability to read and use primary sources in answering historical questions in Advanced Placement classes. Students can be presented with quotes, journal entries or even photographs and are then asked to assess how they influence our interpretation of history.

1 Writing a DBQ Response

2 Read and analyze the question

Read and analyze the question. Determine what the question is asking you to do. Pay close attention to the verb used in the prompt. Marcella Ruland also suggests looking for conjunctions (and, or) to ensure that you are answering the question completely.

3 Make a list

Make a list of relevant information before you read the documents. Write down everything you think is important about this time period or event.

4 Read the documents

Read the documents. Underline information that is relevant to the question. It is important to consider the point of view of the documents, including who wrote it and under what circumstances. The context of the document is just as important as the information it contains.

5 Write the introductory paragraph

Write the introductory paragraph. This paragraph should include a general introduction to the period or event, a statement of two or three key issues or aspects of the topic, and a thesis sentence.

6 Write the body paragraphs

Write the body paragraphs. Each issue or aspect that you listed in the introductory paragraph should get its own body paragraph. Provide support explaining why each issue is important, using both the documents given and your list of relevant information.

7 Write the conclusion

Write the conclusion. Restate the thesis from the introductory paragraph now that you've supported it. In some cases it's appropriate to explain how this issue is relevant today.

Susan McGrath has been writing since 2004, mostly creative nonfiction. She is a regular contributor of science-related articles to various websites. McGrath has a Bachelor of Science in wildlife biology and a Master of Science in cell and molecular biology, both from Colorado State University.