Dr Rachel Standish
Writing Papers
General Format
Primary Document
Essay Structure
Dr. Rachel Standish - History and Women's Studies Menlo College
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II. How to Write a Paper Using a Primary Document

B. Thesis Statement and Opening Paragraph.
You need to begin with a thesis statement, that is, an opinion that you can support with facts culled from your research. Your thesis must answer all aspects of a given question or topic. An example of a thesis statement is:

Thomas Hart Benton's "The Destiny of the Race" demonstrates the extent to which Manifest Destiny used racism as a justification for westward expansion and masked the extent to which American success in the west was the result of policy rather than divine law.

Your opening paragraph should also summarize what you intend to say in your paper and the order in which you plan to say it.

C. Body
The body of your paper should be divided according to the organization laid out in your opening paragraph; make sure that you either stick to that order or change your opening paragraph. Cite source materials that support the main points of your argument.

Quotes (direct use of somebody else's words or ideas) and citations (references to or paraphrases of somebody else's words or ideas) should be used to strengthen your argument by showing that it is based on something other than your imagination or personal opinion. This means that you should choose your quotes wisely. Make sure that they support your argument, and if one doesn't, get rid of it-even if you think it's a brilliant line.

For example:

Benton's contempt for the natives of North America is made obvious in a number of passages. He comments that while some express sadness at the extinction of east coast Indians, he "cannot repine that this Capitol has replaced the wigwam-this Christian people, replaced the savages-white matrons, the red squaws…" Benton creates a comparison in which Indians clearly come out as the deserving cultural losers.


When Benton contends that "Civilization, or extinction, has been the fate of all people who have found themselves in the track of the advancing Whites," he is ignoring the role played by the United States government in the destruction of Indian tribes. This is especially notable given that he was writing less than a decade after Andrew Jackson forced the removal of the assimilated Cherokees out of Georgia.

D. Summation and Conclusion
Restate your thesis and summarize your argument. Go back and make sure that you've done what you say you've done. If you haven't, edit.

E. Citations
You may use footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notes when you cite sources within the body of your paper. Parenthetical notes are the easiest-simply include the website or author and page number in parentheses at the end of any relevant sentences.

"What was considered a rash declaration eighty years ago, is old history, in our young country, at this day."

You MUST include a bibliography at the end of your paper. If you do not, I will return your paper. There are numerous correct bibliographical forms, but a basic style is:

Author last name, author first name. Full title of the book. City of publication: Name of press, publication date.

In practice, this looks like:

Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

To cite a website, use the name of the site and the URL. For example:

Springfield-Greene County History http://history.smsu.edu/FTMiller/LocalHistory/Docs/Benton/destinyoftherace.htm