How to Write a DBQ Essay for AP World History

20 October 2020
There are four areas that you need to consider when writing a DBQ (document based question) essay for AP (advanced placement) world history. Below we will outline and explain these.

Evaluate documents

First of all, you need to work out what your essay needs to consist of so that you know what evidence you are looking for in your documents. It is worth highlighting specific keywords such as ‘analyze’ or ‘evaluate’. Additionally, also look for keywords such as ‘economic’ or ‘political.’ Your essay may require you to consider different points of view towards a specific concept. Any keywords that you spot provide you with information on how to read any sources that you find. For example, if you need to compare and contrast you'll need to look for the different points of views of various authors and work out how opinions have changed over a set period of time. 

You need to make sure you thoroughly read any sources that you find and don't just skim information. Always make a note of the author and their point of view and who influenced this. 

You'll need to organise your sources so that you know which source relates to which argument. 

You'll also need to be able to include information that's relevant and this needs to be something that's not been provided in your documentation. When planning and considering this type of information, it is worth noting it down so it is easy to refer to it when you begin to write your essay. Hint: Your margin is a good place to write this information down.

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Create your argument

Once you have evaluated your prompts you need to create your own perspective based on the documentation you have studied. Once you have got to grips with your topic,  go back to your prompt so that you can create your response. Always remember that you are not just creating an opinion based on how you feel, instead, you'll need to create a well-balanced opinion based on the documentation you have read so that your opinion is backed up by evidence. 

You now need to take your argument and turn this into a thesis. Your thesis is a specific statement that outlines your argument. You need to make sure that your thesis doesn't just restate your prompt, but instead acknowledges your claim.

Your next step is to outline the structure of your argument. Begin with your thesis then use numbered bullet points. Against each number, you'll need to write down what you are claiming and next to each claim make a note of a few points that back up your argument. 

It is vital that you back up your argument by using citations. Wherever you have mentioned a source, make sure you add a note citing any documents used.

You need to make sure that you have enough evidence to support your thesis argument. It is vital to make sure that your thesis is transparent. Make sure you don't use any words that are not necessary and ensure that your thesis satisfies the prompt.

Draft your essay

If you're taking an exam you'll probably have around forty-five minutes to create your DBQ essay.  It's very important to remember to leave some time in the end and make any amendments.

If you do have forty-five minutes to write your essay we would suggest that you use five minutes of this time to create an outline. You'll then need to create an introduction, have around three major points which will need to cite around six documents. You'll also need to have a conclusion. We'd recommend spending no more than seven minutes on each of these sections. This then means you'll have around five minutes to check your work at the end. Remember to keep an eye on the time as you are writing to make sure that it doesn’t run away with you and you remain on task.

Your introduction needs to include a couple of sentences that relate to your introduction as well as your thesis statement.  You can begin your introduction with your thesis if you prefer and look at setting the context afterward. 

A DBQ examination doesn't allow you much time to write a lengthy introduction so it's best to get into outlining your documentation and avoid concentrating on a long introduction.

The body paragraphs of your essay need to be written in a logical order and each paragraph should tackle each aspect of your argument. If you mention a specific document you'll need to add parentheses as well as the number of the document at the end of each sentence. Always bear in mind that essay writing services such as can help if you require professional help or assistance with this before completing your DBQ essay.

It's important to highlight how each paragraph links to your thesis.  You will lose marks if you just touch on sources. It's also worth concentrating on what your sources mean and not just considering what they say. This highlights that you have a critical understanding of your sources. 

In your conclusion, you need to tie your argument together. Avoid just restating your thesis in your introduction.

Edit your draft

Finally, you need to proofread your essay for any grammatical or spelling errors. Also, when proofreading, make sure that you have covered all elements that are required. Double-check that all facts that you have included, including dates and names, are accurate. It is also important to make sure that you have cited the correct documents and presented this information correctly in your essay.

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