Ap us history Writing a dbq or frq

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AP US History

Writing a DBQ or FRQ

DBQs and FRQs require analysis and synthesis of information from a variety of primary sources in order to construct an argument, and support it using additional knowledge of that historical era in US history. This is a skill that must be practiced. Do not get discouraged! Remember, there is no correct or incorrect answer. Your essay is based on YOUR interpretation of the documents. However, your essay must be logical, and your interpretation must be supported by the content of the documents.
Section II (130 minutes)

15 minutes – Reading period

  • Look at Parts B & C questions quickly to get a sense of which you will answer.

  • Read and analyze DBQ documents using APPARTS.

  • Group documents according to the key topics from the question using PIRATES.

  • Construct a quick outline of your essay. Before you begin writing, re-read the question. Does your outline answer ALL the key topics of the question?

45 minutes – Part A DBQ

35 minutes – Part B Pre-Civil War FRQ

  • Respond to only ONE question.

35 minutes – Part C Post-Civil War FRQ

  • Respond to only ONE question.

Writing the Essay

  1. State your thesis. Make sure it addresses ALL the key topics of the question. It SHOULD NOT be a restatement of the prompt. You can make some additional opening statement if time allows.

  1. Each body paragraph should address one of the key topics of the question. In general, these paragraphs will be structured as follows:

  • Assertion – What?

  • Evidence – How? This is where you cite the documents.

  • Commentary – Why? SO WHAT? This is the significance of your assertion.

  1. Restate your thesis in a different way. You can make some additional closing remark/clincher summarizing your analysis if time allows.

When Writing a DBQ, NEVER, EVER, EVER
Offer a factual statement as a thesis – A factual statement might be a controlling statement, but by definition, can never be a thesis. For example, “France suffered a major revolution in 1789,” is factual and fits the definition of a controlling statement. A good thesis:

  • is always embedded with controversy,

  • forces people to take a position,

  • is provocative, and

  • provokes people to argue a point.

Forget to cite the documents used – For example, write, “Even Louis XV was aware of the impending disaster (Doc. B), and the king’s 1774 observation reveals a gloomy sense of national doom & unavoidable catastrophe.”
Cite documents together – For example never cite documents all together, such as (Docs. B, C, F, & K). Document clusters represent lazy scholarship and leaves the reader with the impression that you lack the desire to individually analyze and interpret each document on an individual basis.
Use direct quotes – The purpose of the DBQ is for you to take on the role of a historian. You are no longer a history student. Quoting documents verbatim:

  • leaves the reader with the impression that you have no idea what you are doing

  • demonstrates no original analysis, insight, or creative interpretation

  • shows the reader you have absolutely no idea what the documents means

  • sends the message that you either do not understand the documents or that you are too lazy to take the time to interpret the documents’ intent.

Use phrases like, “Document J says…” – or “it says in Document 15 that…” or “In Document 7 it says that…” In a DBQ use proper historical citation, integrating the name of the source and the author into the body of your writing. For instance, instead of writing, “It says in Document 12 that the horrible poverty in France’s most visible social problem…” write, “According to A.Young, author of Travels in France in 1978…”
Reword, rephrase & restate the text of the documents – The purpose of a DBQ is for you to engage in critical thinking and original analysis of primary historical documents. When you simply restate the documents you leave the reader with the impression that all you can do is summarize and regurgitate historical narrative. The style of a DBQ is one of deep and provocative historical analysis, demonstrating original thinking, not gray & boring historical narrative.

  • We all can read.

  • We all have the documents in front of us.

  • Create, don’t reword: think, don’t restate: write, don’t copy.

  • Find your own original historical voice!

Keys to Good Writing

  1. Write a provocative & compelling thesis that forces people to argue & take a stand. Never offer a factual statement as a thesis.

  2. Pay attention to the nouns you use in your thematic controlling statement. The nouns invariably set the theme for your paragraph.

  3. Write history in narrative past tense – was, were, invaded, wrote, began…

  4. Analyze history in analytical present tense – demonstrates, indicates, means, shows, suggests

  5. Write in first person plural – we

  6. Write in active voice, not in passive voice – “Germany invaded Poland in September 1939”, not “Poland was invaded in 1939”.

  7. When possible, death to all pronouns – he, she, it, they …

  8. Historical specificity (Evidence) answers the questions – who, what, where, when – Provide SPECIFIC name, event, and/or date.

  9. Historical analysis answers the question – why – showing meaning

Analysis words


allowing for

as a result of



due to





in order to


resulting in







while, yet

Glossary of Command Terms

Account for – Asks to explain a particular event or outcome. Writers are expected to present a reasoned case for the existence of something. For example: How do you account for the length & stability of government of either Leopold Senghor in Senegal or Felix Houphouet-Biogny in the Ivory Coast.
Analyze – Asks writers to respond with a closely argued & detailed examination of a perspective or a development. A clearly written analysis will indicated the relevant interrelationship between key variables. Any relevant assumptions involved & also include a critical view of the significance of the account as presented. If this key is augmented by “the extent to which,” then the writer should be clear that judgment is also sought. For example: Analyze the social impact of developments in (a) transport &

(b) health care since 1945.

Assess – Asks writers to measure & judge the merits & quality of an argument or concept. Writers must clearly identify & explain the evidence for the assessment they make. For example: Assess John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cold War problems during his presidency. OR Using the sources & your own knowledge, assess the extent to which Mao was effective in “eliminating classes & realizing universal harmony in China up to 1953.
Compare/Compare & Contrast – Asks writers to describe two situations & present the similarities & differences between them. On its own, a description of the two situations does not meet the requirements of this key word/phrase.

For example: Compare the effects of the changes in family structure since 1945 in one developed & one developing nation. OR Compare & contrast the circumstances that gave rise to the regimes of Juan Peron & Fidel Castro in Latin America.
Define – Asks writers to give a clear & precise account of a given word or term.

For example: Define the aims of two international economic organizations & analyze their success in improving economic conditions.
Describe – Asks writers to give a portrayal of a given situation. It is a neutral request to present a detailed picture of a given situation, event, pattern, process or outcome, although it may be followed by a further opportunity for discussion & analysis.

For example: Describe the content & discuss the relative importance of the Camp David Accords to the Middle East peace process.
Discuss / Consider – Asks writers to consider a statement or to offer a considered review or balanced discussion of a particular topic. If the question is presented in the form of a quotation, the specific purpose is to stimulate a discussion on each of its parts. The question is asking for the writer’s opinion, these should be presented clearly & supported with as much evidence & sound argument as possible.

For example: Discuss the view that the United Nations General Assembly has become a forum for propaganda rather than constructive debate, but nevertheless acts as a useful safety valve. OR Consider the significance of the 1837 rebellions in Upper & Lower Canada for the development of Canada to 1967.

Evaluate – Asks writers to make an appraisal of the argument or concept under investigation or discussion. Writers should weigh the nature of the evidence available & identify & discuss the convincing aspects of the argument, as well as its limitations & implications.

For example: “German policy after January 1917 forced the US to declare war.” Evaluate the validity of this statement
Examine – Asks writers to investigate an argument or concept & present their own analysis. Writers should approach the question in a critical & detailed way which uncovers the assumptions & interrelationships of the issue.

For example: Examine the role of the Treaty Port system in the development of China’s relations with foreign powers between 1842 & 1870.
Explain – Asks writers to describe clearly, make intelligible & give reasons for a concept, process, relationship or development.

For example: Explain the circumstance in which NATO & the Warsaw Pact were formed. What contribution did each make to the intensification of the Cold War? OR Explain the causes or failure of two guerrilla wars, each chosen from a different region.
How – On its own this is a straightforward invitation to present an account of a given situation or development. Often a second part will be added to an essay question to encourage analysis. Adding a second word such as “successfully”, “effective”, or “accurate” turns a how question into one that requires a judgment. The writer is now expected to provide his/her detailed reasons for that judgment.

For example: How & why did Indo-China achieve independence from France after the Second World War? OR How successful has the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) been in achieving its aims? OR How far do you agree that the absence of the USA from the League of Nations was the major factor in the failure of that organization to preserve world peace?
Identify – Asks writers to recognize one or more component parts or processes. A second part will be added to such an essay question requiring explanation & analysis. For example: With reference to three examples, identify & explain the different reactions of African peoples to European attempts at annexation of their territory.
Outline – Asks writers to write a brief summary of the major aspects of the issue, principle, approach or argument stated in the question.

For example: Outline the ways in which two industrialized countries, each from a different region, attempted to solve the problems arising out of the Great Depression.
To what extent – Asks writers to evaluate the success of one argument or concept over another. Writers should present a conclusion, supported by arguments.

For example: To what extent can nationalism rather than religion be considered the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Why – This short key word invites writers to present reasons for the existence of something. Thus, the brevity of this command rather disguises a powerful requirement to present a detailed, reasoned argument. In effect it is similar to the invitation “account for.”

For example: Why have African Americans been attracted to the teaching of Islam? OR Why, since independence, have Asian countries achieved greater economic success than those in Africa? Refer to at least two countries in each region


An acronym of prompts

for the analysis of primary sources

Who created the source? What do you know about the author? What is the author’s point of view?


Where and when was the source produced? How might this affect the meaning of the source?


What else do you know that would help you understand the primary source? For example, do you recognize any symbols?


For whom was the source created and how might this affect the reliability of the source?

REASON (Purpose)

Why was this source produced when it was produced?


What point is the source trying to convey?


Why is this source important? What inferences can you draw from this document? Ask yourself, “So what?” in relation to the question asked.


Place any information that deals with political aspects of the region or time period you are working on. This may include government structure/organization, rise and fall of political parties, significant contributions, leaders and their policies, revolts and revolution (cause & effect), regional, transregional, and national structures and organizations…


Place any information that deals with the interaction between humans and the environment. You may include details on how the environment affected the population’s development or how the population changed the environment to suit their needs, patterns of settlement, migration (push/pull factors), demographic trends, and the spread of disease.


Place any information that deals with religion, belief systems, philosophies, and ideologies. Include details on the development of the religion/belief system, basic elements of the beliefs, diffusion of the faith/belief system…


Place any information that deals with the arts, education, or intellectual development. This may include elements of visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture), literature or performing arts. Details on how cultural aspects are disseminated from generation to generation or the development of new ideas may also be included here.


Place any information that deals with technological development/advancement. This may include the inventions/discoveries and advances in math and science.


Place any information that deals with economic development, expansion, or interaction. This may include the main economic activity, effects of trading networks, or technological improvements in transportation/business practices. Also consider the development of new economic systems and labor systems.


Place any information that deals with the development and transformation of social structures such as gender roles and relations, family and kinship, racial and ethnic constructions, social and economic classes.


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