Writing the DBQ Essay The Document-based Question (DBQ) requires the construction of a coherent essay that integrates interpretation of the supplied documents with a demonstrated knowledge of the historical period in question. Higher scores are earned with essays that successfully incorporate primary evidence from the documents with traditional historical themes and maxims. The student who simply describes the contents of the documents and fails to place them into historical perspective will not be successful in writing the DBQ essay.
Simple sequence for writing a DBQ essay:
1. Read the question and identify the historical period being discussed.
2. Brainstorm a list of relevant issues, historical terms, names, or events that are significant to that period of history. When complete, this list should be examined for logical division into sub-topics.
3. Read the supplied documents. In the margin of the documents, make notes that add to or embellish your brainstorm list.
4. First Paragraph:
a. Write one clear sentence that states a thesis, what the essay will prove.
b. Specify three or four sub-topics to the thesis. (logical segments or divisions of the overall thesis).
c. You may elaborate on each of these sub-topics with simple defining sentences.
5. Second Paragraph:
a. Begin with a sentence which re-introduces one of the sub-topics.
b. Support that topic sentence with outside information from your brainstorm list.
c. Support your outside information with a reference to one or more of the supplied primary sources. Be sure you use and citethe documents properly
d. Write a concluding sentence that relates the paragraph's topic back to the thesis.
e. Write a transitional sentence introducing the next topic.
6. Subsequent Paragraphs:
Continue this procedure until you have exhausted your brainstorm list for possible sub-topics. If you have outside information that is not supported by the primary documents, include that information anyway. Accurate student-supplied information will strengthen your essay, even without support from the documents; any use of the primary documents not supported with outside information will not be as strong and should be avoided.
7. A conclusion is not necessary, but it will strengthen your essay if done properly. If you decide to write a concluding paragraph, be sure that what you write is more than just a restating of the thesis. One suggestion is to connect your thesis or the topic at hand to other themes in history or to future time periods.
Note: This format will help you write a basic DBQ well (at a “B” level). If you want to improve upon this structure you need to offer insight that is not obvious and may even be thought provoking. This can be difficult to do, so you mainly want to focus on writing a strong essay in proper format. Obsessing about inspiration will take away from your focus and from the overall fluidity of your essay.