Interview with Sydney Watts, Ph.D.
It is no surprise that college writing differs from writing in high school, but many students who take history courses find that writing for history is difficult. Professors often see many mistakes in student writing, and here are a few of the most common to consider first:
However, these mistakes can be easily fixed if a student knows what they are and understands how to avoid them. Here are interviews with University of Richmond History Professor Dr. Sydney Watts that help to explain the most common mistakes in students' writing, how to write well for history, tips for beginning historical writers, professor "pet peeves," how to think like a historian, and what historiographical writing entails. Key points from each interview follow the video.
Common Mistakes History Professors See in Student Writing
"If you find yourself just describing events instead of asking yourself why they happened or how they happened, you're probably on the wrong track."
Writing for History
"I often tell students, think about writing a paper where the primary source is like your telescope. You're going in very closely with a primary source, and then you pull back and you see the larger screen."
Tips for Beginning Students
"Historical writing really begins with the questions you're asking of your sources."
History Professor "Pet Peeves"
"Make sure you direct your answer in the first paragraph."
"Often I tell students to read [their papers] out loud, and that is a good way to catch mistakes that you might make."
Thinking Like a Historian & Historiography
"Thinking like a historian is definitely a skill that you want to build early on."
"[In historiography], a lot of questions have to do with historical problems that are really problems that can't be easily solved, that are constantly being discussed, reinterpreted, re-approached, or approached differently with different sources."
If you would like to see the full transcript of Dr. Watts' interview, click here.