Aug 24 2022

DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

Adela Belin photo Adela Belin Content strategist and writer
Writing Advice

As a student, you’ll come across different types of essays throughout your college journey. Essays provide a great way to portray your understanding of a topic and display your writing skills.

One of the most common types of essays in college is Document-Based Question (DBQ) essays. You’ll occasionally be asked to write these types of essays, and it’s therefore important to understand the essentials of writing them.

Original: SourceIn this article, we’ll help you understand what DBQ essays are and the step-by-step process you can use to write the best DBQ essays in college.

What are DBQ Essays?

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document.

This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S History exam.

To write a good DBQ essay, you must portray an understanding of the topic and link it to evidence from reliable sources.

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How to Format a DBQ Essay?

Like any other essay, your DBQ essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Let’s review the components of each section and how to write them for the best performance.

1. Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay is the introductory paragraph. Here, you review the historical background of the document and the main idea covered in the essay. Take five minutes to write this section and keep it short and brief. Include a brief statement that summarizes the points you are going to discuss in the essay body.

2. Thesis statement

The final paragraph of the introduction should be your thesis statement. A thesis is a concise statement or a claim that summarizes your overall argument. Identify the claims you’ll make in your paper, which shall be backed by evidence.

Your thesis should be one to two sentences long, describing your opinion or stand on the idea under discussion.

3. Body paragraph 1

After the thesis stamen, start writing the first paragraph of your essay. Here, you identify the strongest argument that links to the thesis statement, then provide supporting details from your evidence sources. Start with a topic sentence to let the reader know what this paragraph is about.

After the topic sentence, discuss your argument and cite each piece of evidence that supports every argument you make. Analyze the evidence in relation to the main idea rather than merely quoting it. Use direct quotes sparingly if you have to.

4. Body Paragraph 2

In the second paragraph, you identify the second relevant argument and link it to the thesis statement. The argument in this paragraph should be less superior to the first paragraph but still relevant to the main idea.

Make a logical connection between your second argument and the relevant sources of evidence. Remember to cite the evidence appropriately and demonstrate that you’ve understood what they mean and not just what they say.

5. Body Paragraph 3

In the third paragraph, identify your third relevant argument, and like the other arguments, link it to the thesis statement. State your argument in the topic sentence and explain it in subsequent sentences citing the evidence.

Your argument in this paragraph can be inferior to the ones in the first and second paragraphs but relevant to the thesis statement.

6. Concluding paragraph

After discussing all your argumentative points in the essay body, it’s time to conclude your DBQ essay. Weave your arguments together in a conclusion paragraph, which links back to your thesis statement and shows you’ve sufficiently proven your claims.

Summarize the main points in the essay and let the reader see that you’ve adequately responded to the essay prompt. Don’t use this section to merely rephrase the introduction and your thesis statement. Instead, provide a conclusive analysis that reconnects the historical context to the main idea and your arguments.

How to Write a DBQ Essay in 9 Steps

So, how do you write a DBE essay so that it flows effortlessly and satisfactorily answers the essay prompt? Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams.

1. Read and understand

Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt. Understand the document and develop your argument.

Identify all the key points and write them down as draft notes. As you analyze the main document, figure out how it relates to the other sources provided.

2. Identify the main idea

Once you’ve reviewed and understood the document, identify the main idea and note the keywords in the essay prompt. The keywords will help you understand what you need to accomplish in your assay and the type of evidence to look for in the provided sources.

For instance, the essay prompt may ask you to:

  • Analyze
  • Explain
  • Evaluate
  • Compare and contrast

Also, take note of common keywords like ‘Social, Political, or Economic.’ Always keep the prompt in mind while writing to avoid being irrelevant and losing points. The prompts will also help you develop your arguments based on the main idea of the document.

3. Gather evidence

Now that you know the main idea, pick out the sources of evidence that support the main idea. Identify how each source relates to your essay prompt and categorize them based on the prompt.

Figure out how each source can support an argument. For instance, if you're comparing the attitudes towards women's rights in different historical times, you can categorize your sources of evidence based on the contrasting ideologies they represent.

4. Find external sources

When writing your DBQ essay, you’ll also need to cite other external sources that support the ideas in the main document.

Identify at least one external source that's relevant to your claims and use the events in the document to support your arguments in the essay. Jot it down somewhere so you can refer to it later when you start writing.

5. Identify the writer’s point of view

As you analyze your document and prepare to start writing, identify the author’s point of view concerning the main idea.

Who influenced them to write the document and what did they intend to achieve with it? How do they feel and what’s their take on the documented events? Also, identify their intended audience and how his writing might have influenced them.

6. Write your thesis statement

Now that you have the main idea and your sources of evidence, it’s time to develop your argument and put it down as a thesis statement.

Review the essay prompt again and form your own perspective or opinion that responds to the prompt without simply restating it. Remember the claim you make should be specific and supported by your sources of evidence.

For instance, when writing a DBQ essay about The Effects of World War II on Women's Rights, your thesis statement can be:

The selfless efforts of women in World War II promoted their human rights and empowered them to a higher social status in the society.

Here’s a useful video by Heimler's History on writing DBQ essays.


7. Polish your thesis statement

Re-read your thesis statement and polish it to ensure it’s clear and concise. Delete any unnecessary words that do not impact the meaning of the statement.

A good thesis statement has no fluff and responds directly to the essay prompt without being too short or too long.

8. Start writing by creating an outline

Once you’ve encapsulated your arguments into a thesis statement, it’s time to start writing. You start writing by creating an outline of your arguments first.

An effective outline should include:

  • The introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • First argument
  • Second argument
  • Third argument
  • Conclusion

After creating the outline, explain your arguments and fill in the evidence while citing the sources.

Creating an outline will help you organize your points and make your work easier when you start writing the main essay. Following the outline will also save you time and help you finish writing your essay on time.

9. Proofread and polish

After you finish writing, spare 10 minutes to proofread and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. Identify and rewrite weird sentence structures, add missing words, and replace those that complicate meaning.

While proofreading, delete fluffy sentences that don’t add value to your essay. Also, check that you’ve appropriately cited the evidence sources and that your essay is well structured before submitting it.

Final Thought

DBQ essays will significantly contribute to your final grade. It’s, therefore, necessary to take time to learn how to write an excellent one and practice before the final exams.

Remember your DBQ essay test will be timed, and that doesn’t leave you much time to include fluff. Go directly to your points and explain them in clear and concise sentences.

If you’ve been having trouble writing these types of essays, use the tips in this article to make it hassle-free onwards.

Need more help? Writers Per Hour is here to assist you with this writing assignment of yours. Our professional writers can help you research, outline, write, revise and proofread high-quality DBQ essays that are sure to give your grades a boost.

last edit at Sep 20 2022