Rubric for History Essays

A rubric is a set of clear standards that informs students of precise expectations for an assignment. The points below apply to longer written essays, to Thought Questions (classroom courses), and to online discussion postings. A rubric provides the teacher with a fair, consistent set of criteria for assessing performance. For written assignments, the areas that I will assess include (details and examples are given below):

  • Area 1: Focus, Content, Ideas, Analysis, Interpretation
  • Area 2: Inclusion of Relevant, Specific Historical Evidence
  • Area 3: Organization, Logic, Integration of Sources
  • Area 4: Writing Clarity and Correctness
See also this more detailed rubric/checklist for use when you edit and revise your essays. Just how is historical writing similar to or different from other types of writing that you may have done? Study this Venn Diagram of Historical versus Other Types of Writing so that you will understand some of the similarities and differences.

Use the guidelines below to write your history essays. I will evaluate your work using these standards. Rubrics come in different "flavors." Some, such as that below, break issue down into their components. Others, called "holistic" rubrics, provide a unified view of the problem. You may wish to examine my Holistic Rubric for History Essays. It covers much the same information but in a slightly different format. Critical thinking is a key component of good historical writing. You should review this "Holistic Critical Thinking Rubric" by Peter and Noreen Facione .

WowA or B: Superior or excellent essay

Area 1: Focus, Content, Ideas, Analysis, Interpretation

  1. Focuses on what the question asks. Does specifically what the question requires: Fulfills the demand of the action verb: compare, synthesize, critique, evaluate, etc. Be certain that you know what common key verbs in essay questions mean.
  2. Analyzes the actions and motives of people in the past (individuals and groups) and what they did.
  3. Incorporates the actual words of historical actors (primary sources) into the essay.
  4. Attempts to explain (interpret) key historical issues specified in the question, such as causation or comparison,
  5. Briefly identifies the people mentioned, identifies sources quoted in the text, and defines specialized or Spanish terms.

Area 2: Inclusion of Relevant Historical Evidence

  1. Supports all thesis statements (assertions, explanations, interpretations) with specific, warranted evidence (examples, illustrations, concrete historical actions).
  2. Establishes direct links between events of the past and the writer's interpretation of those events.
  3. Draws evidence (supporting examples) from ALL the required readings, integrating information and direct quotations from at least three different primary sources into every substantive paragraph..
  4. Includes appropriate primary source (firsthand) direct quotations. Persons quoted clearly identified.
  5. Includes statistical evidence, especially when making social or economic arguments (raw numbers, percentages, charts, graphs).

Area 3: Organization, Logic, Integration of Sources

  1. Organizes ideas and themes into logical sequences and subtopics appropriate to the question.
  2. Includes a brief, clear introduction that aptly summarizes the paper's major focus, most important points, and guides the reader on what to expect in the body?
  3. Includes a final, logical summation or conclusion.
  4. Each paragraph focuses on and supports a single idea; one topic per paragraph. Logical transitions between paragraphs create a clear flow from point to point through the essay.
  5. Within each paragraph, integrates relevant evidence from more or more different examples and sources. Use the Synthesis Matrix to help in this task.
  6. Makes as complete an argument as space permits and within established word length, plus or minus 10 percent.
  7. Avoids logical fallacies, a vital part of critical thinking. You may examine the varieties of these fallacies at

Area 4: Writing Clarity and Correctness

  1. Presents ideas in direct, clear, concise sentences. Avoids long, complicated sentences (20 words plus).
  2. Expresses ideas in vigorous active-voice prose (review "Kill the Passive).
  3. Exhibits strong sentence fluency--the language flows cleanly and clearly, like a good speech.
  4. Employs strong, vigorous action verbs. Use your word processor's thesaurus to find the best, most accurate words.
  5. Does not incorrectly mix past and present tenses. Writes in the simple past tense.
  6. Correctly cites sources, using whatever system (endnotes, for example), specified by the instructor.
  7. Uses correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Does not make common word use and grammatical errors . Here's another funny take on grammar problems. Enjoy.

C: Competent, Developing Essay--on track but still has a ways to go

  1. Simply narrates events or tells a story, rather than explaining, interpreting, analyzing.
  2. Strays from the question; includes information, people, and events not directly related to what the question asks. Consider using the Synthesis Matrix to help organize and integrate information from various sources into logical categories.
  3. Fails to make a logical argument. Information is simply spewed forth in no particular order.
  4. Fails to provide specific relevant, appropriate supporting evidence for every general statement.
  5. Includes some evidence that is not relevant and/or factually correct.
  6. Does not show knowledge of the required number of assigned readings. Fails to cite and quote from the required number of sources.
  7. Often expresses ideas in the passive voice. Historians must show causation by writing active voice prose. See the Kill the Passive Page to learn how to correct this problem.

D, F: Early draft or emerging essay

  1. Not yet there -needs more thought, more revising, more hard work.
  2. Does not focus on nor answer the question asked.
  3. Shows little knowledge or understanding of the assigned readings.
  4. Most paragraphs lack historical specifics; few or no primary source quotations and/or overuse of quotations from secondary sources
  5. Many simple assertions that lack relevant evidence or illustrations.
  6. Commits "serial plagiarism;" isolating each source instead of integrating information from several different sources into each paragraph.
  7. Entire essay overly general; no specific supporting examples; little evidence from the required readings; inadequate and/or incomplete citations.
  8. Exhibits poor writing, such as typos, sentence fragments, subject-verb disagreements, considerable overuse of the passive voice, grammatical and word use errors.
  9. Mixes past and present tenses. Write history in the simple past tense.
  10. Often appears hastily written, as a first draft, with careless errors and little evidence of careful thought.
  11. Makes unsupported assertions based on prejudice or preconception, not on evidence. Review the "Holistic Critical Thinking Rubric" by Peter and Noreen Facione .