How to Write a Thesis for a DBQ

High-school students often write DBQs for AP history classes.

Writing a thesis for a document-based question (DBQ) is not easy if you don't know how to approach the historical material. A DBQ is an attempt to analyze history from multiple sources and to defend a thesis in your writing. The best way is to remember that your interpretation is correct as long as you support your thesis. There are few right or wrong answers in history, and a DBQ is no exception. You will want to provide a logical thesis for your argument -- that is, one backed up by evidence as well as your interpretation. The organization of your DBQ will also strengthen your thesis.

  • Historical documents or assigned readings
  • DBQ prompt or question
  • Word-processing machine

1 Gathering DBQ-Related Documents

DBQ-based documents

2 Gather the documents

Gather the documents you need to write the DBQ. The advanced placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams will provide all the original documents; however, your teacher may ask you to locate original and/or reputable secondary sources for practice DBQs.

Original sources are best for DBQ essays

3 Compare primary and secondary sources

Compare primary and secondary sources before you begin writing. As of 2011, the AP test provides only original documents and sources, but the IB test (international version of the AP test) provides secondary sources alongside original sources. Use secondary sources to help you expand and refine your argument, but always cite from the original source.

4 Write down the author's

Write down the author's point of view as well as your own thoughts and opinions about the documents. Taking notes will help you as you begin the writing process.

5 Writing and Proofreading the DBQ

6 Write out three to four tentative theses to

Write out three to four tentative theses for your DBQ based on the document and supplementary readings. Question yourself as you write your DBQ. For example, ask: What is the author trying to say? Do I agree or disagree? Is the document supported by logic or opinion? If it were written in the current era would the thesis still be the same? Is my analysis of the document supported by evidence in the document itself as well as supplementary readings?

Refine your thesis.

7 Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis

Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis so it includes all the main points you want to include in your essay. The thesis itself should forecast the points made in your DBQ and be supported by evidence from the documents.

Proofread your DBQ.

8 Proofread your DBQ thesis

Proofread your DBQ thesis and supporting points using your word-processor spelling and grammar check. Use academic language, and check for spelling and use of appropriate tenses.

Kathryn Wagner currently lives in Uganda. She has more than six years of professional writing experience and her poems and essays have appeared in "Nidus," "the North Dakota Quarterly," "Big City Lit," "Identity Theory" and the "Tucson Weekly." Wagner has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.