Monday, November 14, 2011

The Foundation for Writing Great Essays on the American Revolution

Those who want to make writing American history essays, including Revolutionary War essays, a painless exercise need the right mindset, focus, and tools. With these things in place, you have the makings of a great history essay. Writing history essays can, in fact, be a breeze. Here are three things, I believe, will insure you have the right foundation in place. Do these three things and your essay on the American Revolution will be off to a great start.

Understand the "Big Picture" of the American Revolution

You've heard the saying: "Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees." That applies to essay writing. Your essay will probably be focused on a particular aspect, personality, battle, or event in the Revolutionary War. But in order for you to properly address that aspect, you must understand the Big Picture. George Washington was not the greatest battle tactician (he actually lost more battles than he won), but he had an amazingly thorough grasp of the overarching, strategic challenges facing both the British and the thirteen colonies. It was this "Big Picture" perspective that enabled him to lead the ill-equipped, under-fed, poorly clothed, (at first) inadequately trained American Continental Army to eventual victory over the most efficient and best trained army of the world. By understanding the basics of the Revolutionary War, you'll be able to address the issues within your essay in the proper context, giving them their due attention and weight.

How do you do this? Set aside 30 minutes to one hour. And in that time, read through Wikipedia's overview of the American Revolution, along with about 3-5 websites or articles that address the timeline of the American Revolution. Get a handle on the key figures of the Revolutionary War, the major events, and the general chronological order of the conflict.

If you want to take this to the next level (time-wise), then head to your local library or over to Amazon and check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to the American Revolution by Alan Axelrod or US History for Dummies by Steve Wiegand (and read the American Revolution section).

Clarify Your Teacher's or Professor's Expectations

Years ago, I had an employer that impressed upon me the critical importance of understanding the "conditions of satisfaction" when taking on a work project. If you are given an assignment (whether in school or on the job), it's imperative that you understand what the person giving the assignment expects of you. To put this in blunt, academic terms: What specifically will it take for you to get an 'A'?

The best way to find this out is to ask. Set an appointment with your teacher/professor and ask: "What specifically are you looking for in this essay? What do I need to do in order to get an A?" Chances are that you'll hear something about research, argumentation, sentence construction, etc., etc. Write all that down. Ask as many questions as you need until you understand exactly what's expected of your essay on the American Revolution.

It's also a good idea to document this meeting with your professor or teacher. That way, if there's a problem later with your grade, you can go back to the professor/teacher with your notes. And, in the worst case scenario, you have notes from that meeting that you can take to the principal, dean, administrator, or whomever. Hopefully, that won't be necessary and you shouldn't expect that. But it's always good to have documentation.

Identify the Grader's Personality and/or "Hot Buttons"

Don't kiss up or be insincere. I want to make that clear from the outset. But it's always a good idea to know something of the person who will be grading your paper, presumably your teacher/professor. What do you know of his/her personality, interests, style, tastes, etc.?

Remember that essays are different from math worksheets or multiple-choice tests. With the latter, there's little wiggle room. The standards are clear. With essays, there is a degree of subjectivity. While most professors and teachers have some kind of rubric to make their grading as objective as possible, there will always be a level of judgment and discretion that seeps into the grader's mind. It's inevitable.

Your task is to find out what the grader is looking for. If your teacher/professor is a "get down to business" type, then don't waste a lot of space in your essay with ramblings and such. If he or she is looking for stories, anecdotes, illustrations, and such rather than tedious statistics or boring academic prose, that's good to know too. If your teacher/professor has a low opinion of Thomas Jefferson, and you decide to write an essay singing his praises as the greatest American in U.S. history, then you had better make your essay persuasive and (preferably) as non-offensive as possible to the one grading it.

These three things will give you the right foundation for a great essay on the American Revolution. The rest is up to you. Future posts will address some more intermediate and advanced tips for writing great Revolutionary War essays.

No comments: