How to Write a Document-Based Question Essay


A Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay is a type of academic writing commonly used in history courses and exams. It requires students to analyze and interpret historical documents to construct an argument or response to a specific prompt. The essay tests a student’s ability to analyze documents and use them to support an argument, often within a timed setting.

What is the difference between a DBQ and an LEQ?

The main difference between a Document-Based Question (DBQ) and a Long Essay Question (LEQ) lies in the use of provided documents and the nature of the prompts:

  • DBQ: Requires you to answer a given prompt using a set of historical documents provided as part of the exam. These documents are used to interpret a historical event and support your argument.
  • LEQ: Offers a variety of prompts where you must create an argument based on your knowledge of history, without the aid of any provided documents. It tests your ability to recall and apply historical information to construct a coherent argument.

In essence, the DBQ focuses on your ability to analyze and synthesize information from given sources, while the LEQ assesses your capacity to recall and articulate historical knowledge independently. Both are crucial components of history exams that evaluate different but complementary skills.

How many documents should I use in my DBQ essay?

In a DBQ essay, it’s recommended to use all the documents provided to you. Typically, you will be given 5-7 documents to analyze and incorporate into your essay. It’s important to use a variety of documents to provide a well-rounded argument that supports your thesis. Remember to not just summarize the documents but to analyze them and connect them to your argument and the essay prompt.

What if a student doesn’t understand a document in a DBQ essay?

If you encounter a document in your DBQ essay that you find difficult to understand, here are some steps you can take:

  • Contextualize: Try to place the document in its historical context. What is happening during the time period of the document?
  • Author’s Purpose: Consider the author’s intent. Why was this document created?
  • Cross-Referencing: Look at other documents for clues. They might provide information that helps you understand the challenging document.
  • Key Phrases: Focus on key phrases or terms in the document. They might be central to understanding the main idea.
  • Ask for Clarification: If possible, discuss the document with a teacher or peer to get a different perspective.
  • Use What You Know: Even if parts of the document are unclear, use the parts you do understand to support your argument.

It’s okay if a student doesn’t fully grasp every detail of a document. Demonstrating an effort to interpret and connect the document to your argument can still earn you points.

How much time should a student spend on each section of the DBQ essay?

Time management is crucial for a DBQ essay. Here’s a recommended breakdown:

  • Planning: Spend the first 15 minutes reading the documents and understanding the prompt. Use this time to plan your thesis and outline your essay.
  • Writing: Allocate 2 hours and 45 minutes for writing the essay. This includes developing your arguments, analyzing the documents, and incorporating outside information.
  • Proofreading: Reserve the last 15 minutes to proofread your essay and make any necessary revisions.

These are guidelines and your actual time allocation may vary based on your writing speed and comfort with the material. Practice under timed conditions to find a rhythm that works best for you.

Here’s a brief outline of a DBQ essay structure:

Introduction: Start with a hook and state the background of the topic. Present your thesis and a brief description of the evidence you’ll discuss.

  • Start with an attention-grabbing statement.
  • Provide background information on the topic.
  • Present your thesis statement, outlining the main argument of your essay.
  • Briefly mention the documents you will use to support your thesis.

Body Paragraphs: Each should include a strong argument linked to the thesis, analysis of the documents, a statement concluding the analysis, and a transition to the next paragraph.

  • Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that relates to your thesis.
  • Analyze the documents and explain how they support your argument.
  • Include outside information to provide context and enhance your argument.
  • Conclude each paragraph by linking the evidence back to your thesis.

Conclusion: Summarize the main arguments and evidence, and provide a concluding thought or question.

  • Summarize the main points of your essay.
  • Restate your thesis in light of the evidence you’ve presented.
  • Discuss the significance of your argument within the historical context.
  • End with a concluding statement or question that reflects on the broader implications of your essay.

This format helps students develop critical thinking and analytical skills by engaging with historical texts and constructing a coherent argument based on evidence.

Formatting a DBQ essay involves a structured approach to ensure that your argument is clearly presented and supported by the documents provided. Maintain a formal tone, use past tense when discussing historical events, and cite the documents appropriately within your essay. For specific formatting styles like APA or MLA, you should refer to the respective style guides or your instructor’s guidelines.

What is a good way to start a DBQ essay introduction?

A strong introduction for a DBQ essay should set the historical context and lead into a clear, concise thesis statement. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting a compelling introduction:

  • Historical Context: Begin with a sentence or two that provides background information related to the time period or topic of the essay.
  • Thesis Statement: Follow with a thesis that presents your main argument and outlines the points you will discuss in the essay.
  • Roadmap: Conclude the introduction with a brief overview of the areas you will cover in your body paragraphs.

For example:

“In the tumultuous era of the American Revolution, societal and political transformations were afoot. This essay will argue that the Revolution not only marked a pivotal point in American history but also laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and democratic society. The following paragraphs will explore the impact of the Revolution on different social groups, the political ideologies it spawned, and the lasting legacy of these changes.”

This approach ensures that you provide the necessary context, while also setting up a clear direction for your essay.

The introduction should grab the reader’s attention and clearly state your argument without being too lengthy, especially under timed conditions.

What is a good way to write a DBQ essay conclusion?

A good conclusion for a DBQ essay should accomplish three main objectives:

  • Summarize the Main Points: Briefly recap the key arguments and evidence you presented in support of your thesis.
  • Restate the Thesis: Reinforce your thesis statement, now showing how the body of your essay has substantiated it.
  • Significance: Explain the broader significance of the topic and why it is important in the historical context.

For example:

“In conclusion, the documents analyzed reveal the complex dynamics of the Industrial Revolution and its profound impact on society. This essay has demonstrated that, despite the challenges it presented, the Industrial Revolution was a catalyst for progress and change. Understanding this era provides valuable insights into the evolution of technology and its ongoing influence on human life.”

This wraps up your essay by reminding the reader of your main points and reinforcing the significance of the historical analysis. The conclusion is your last chance to make an impression, so make it count!

What are some tips for writing a DBQ essay?

Here are some essential tips for writing a DBQ essay:

  • Understand the Question: Make sure you comprehend the prompt and what it’s asking for. Identify key terms and tasks.
  • Thesis Statement: Develop a clear thesis that responds to the essay prompt and outlines your main points.
  • Analyze the Documents: Carefully examine each document, considering the author’s perspective and how it relates to your thesis.
  • Use the Documents: Incorporate the documents into your argument, using them as evidence to support your thesis.
  • Outside Information: Bring in relevant historical information not mentioned in the documents to add depth to your essay.
  • Organization: Structure your essay logically with clear and coherent paragraphs.
  • Time Management: Allocate your time wisely to ensure you can analyze documents, plan your essay, and write it effectively.
  • Proofread: Leave time to revise and correct any mistakes.

A DBQ essay is not just about summarizing documents but about constructing a well-supported argument that addresses the prompt.

DBQ essay topics

Here’s a list of 30 DBQ essay topics that cover a range of historical themes and periods:

  1. The American Revolution and its aftermath.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt and the era of progress.
  3. Spanish and English colonists.
  4. The regimen of the Romanovs in Russia.
  5. The achievements of the Portuguese seafarers.
  6. Hitler and the wars.
  7. Piracy in the Caribbean Sea.
  8. Tudor dynasty.
  9. The impact of the Industrial Revolution.
  10. Women’s suffrage movement.
  11. The causes and effects of the Great Depression.
  12. The Cold War and its global influence.
  13. Decolonization and the end of empires.
  14. The civil rights movement in the United States.
  15. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.
  16. The cultural revolution in China.
  17. The Vietnam War and its impact on Southeast Asia.
  18. The development of democracy in Ancient Greece.
  19. The Crusades and their impact on Europe and the Middle East.
  20. The Renaissance and the changes in European thought.
  21. The French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.
  22. The transatlantic slave trade.
  23. The conquest of the Americas.
  24. The formation of the United Nations.
  25. The apartheid era in South Africa.
  26. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  27. The rise of Islamic empires.
  28. The Mongol conquests.
  29. The Meiji Restoration in Japan.
  30. The space race and its significance during the Cold War.

These topics can help you practice analyzing historical documents and constructing arguments for your DBQ essays. The key to a successful DBQ essay is to formulate a strong thesis and use the documents to support your argument effectively.

DBQ essay writing services

When considering DBQ essay writing services, it’s important to choose one that offers:

  • Expertise in History: Look for services with writers who have a strong background in history and are familiar with DBQ essays.
  • Quality of Writing: Ensure the service provides well-written, coherent, and logically structured essays.
  • Originality: The service should guarantee plagiarism-free work that is original and tailored to your specific needs.
  • Reliability: Check for positive reviews and testimonials that speak to the service’s ability to deliver on time and meet expectations.
  • Support: Good services offer customer support and the opportunity for revisions if needed.
  • Understanding of Exam Criteria: The service should be well-versed in the specific criteria of DBQ essays for exams like the APUSH.

While these services such as can provide assistance, it’s crucial to develop your own skills in DBQ essay writing for academic success.