Adapted from Timed Writing Practice: Comparative Essay developed by Chris Peek at
Bellaire High School, . Bellaire, TX
Successful Social Studies essays have an underlying shared core structure. This core plays an essential role in a student’s ability to construct a logical argument. This core consists of a thesis, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. The following steps help guide students through the process of understanding the formal writing prompt.
1. Determine the task: What are you being asked to do?
Examples of possible task words which often appear in essay prompts:
The process of separating the parts of a given topic into its component parts in order to examine each part in detail and to reach a conclusion or determine the relationship of the parts to the whole topic.
The process of presenting a case for and/or against a particular proposition.
The process of determining the importance or validity of a topic/statement/idea; to judge the worth of something through examination.
The process of examining a given topic(s) for the purpose of determining similarities AND differences.
The process of showing points of difference between two or more topics/events/ideas.
The process of examining a subject closely to present arguments for and against in order to reach a conclusion; to present in detail for examination in order to reach a conclusion.
The process of making a judgment about the worth or value of something based on evidence and stated including one’s opinion.
The process of explaining the meaning of something in clear, explicit terms.
The process of proving something to be right or valid in order to absolve from possible guilt.
2. Determine the parameters of the prompt: What dates, places, people, ideas, and/or events are mentioned specifically?
3. Identify the key terms: What key words such as economics, nationalism, and/or gender are included in the prompt?
The Six Steps toward Writing an Effective Social Studies Essay:
Writing in Social Studies is argumentative. That is, in a social studies essay you don't simply offer description (for example, "In 1861, the Civil War began."). Rather, you address a controversy and offer reasons why your position is correct.
Here are six steps toward writing an effective social studies essay.
Step 1. Ask yourself: What does the question ask you to do?
Does it ask you to compare and contrast: That is, to identify similarities and differences?
Does it ask you to analyze: That is, examine a topic systematically and in detail?
Does it ask you to argue: That is, make a case in support of an idea, using evidence?
Does it ask you to evaluate: That is, assess an argument?
Make sure that your essay provides all the information that the question asks for.
Step 2. Devise a thesis statement.
A thesis statement is your take on the topic. It sums up your argument very briefly.
Step 3. Write an introduction.
Your introduction should introduce your reader to the paper topic in an interesting manner. Often, the introduction describes a controversy surrounding the topic (for example, some people believe that the Civil War was inevitable; others believe that it was caused by blundering politicians. I will argue that the Civil War was ...). The introduction should conclude with your thesis statement.
Step 4. Write the body of your essay.
Each paragraph must provide an argument and evidence in support of your thesis. Each paragraph must begin with a topic sentence, which sums up the paragraph's main idea. Typically, an essay has three paragraphs.
Step 5. Write a conclusion.
The conclusion both recaps your argument and describes your argument's broader implications.
Step 6. Check your essay for typos and grammatical mistakes.
Did you indent each paragraph?
Are your sentences clear?