Historical Analysis

Emerging (Poor) Developing (adequate) Mastered (excellent)
Thesis Development Does not have clear thesis, and/or thesis has an internal conflict (e.g. attempts to support two concepts that contradict one another.) Has thesis that is clear, but not fully based on independent reading of sources.

Thesis stated is not the argument actually developed in paper.

Clearly presents and justifies own argument, one that depends upon sources. Good arguments also acknowledge a different way of interpreting evidence and provide counter argument (if in order only to refute it), or they qualify/integrate others’ views into their argument.

Position (or argument) demonstrates sophisticated, integrative thought and is developed clearly throughout.

Primary Source Analysis Has no primary sources to speak of. Uses sources in non-integrative way. Seems to be pasting in quotes to support point. Has read and thought about meaning of primary sources; evidence in argument that primary sources shaped argument
Historical Context (secondary source use) Unaware of other scholarship on topic and/or attempts to explain past actors’ actions or motivations grounded in present-day assumptions.

Offers incorrect facts, or those from a different historical period, indicating a misunderstanding of what historical events, etc. shaped the events under question.

Offers little awareness that past actors worked within a social, economic, or political context different from the present, or those before or after their own time.

Has read scholarship but misunderstood or misrepresented what it says. Understands that a different context prevailed, but sometimes errs in what pertinent historical conditions affected event.

May get “facts” correct, but explanation has a flatness that indicates a lack of understanding of the contingencies involved in how the historical context influenced the outcome.

Understands how at least one or two other historians have discussed event/person and argument fits within the context as explained by that scholarship.

Analyzes issue with a clear sense of what differences in historical context shaped explanation of past event, and how.

Understands how one prevailing historical condition might have shaped other conditions or responses in different ways. That is, acknowledges complexity of historical contexts.

Identifies influence of specific historical conditions/attitudes, perhaps posing a counter-factual argument that illustrates how influential those conditions or attitudes were.

Use of Evidence

Emerging (poor) Developing (adequate) Mastered (excellent)
Primary Sources Support Argument Lacks primary sources, or uses evidence that actually supports a competing explanation.

No evidence that student has searched through or evaluated evidence, or that student considered more than one explanation.

Attempts use of evidence but sources don’t sufficiently prove claim.

Some evidence is over-used/repeated.

Problems in evidence not addressed/nuanced adequately.

Uses sources (or the “facts” from the past as provided by primary sources) to support the argument.

Evidence that author has sifted through sources to identify the best evidence to support argument.

Considers problems with evidence and its completeness and/or relevance for particular explanations; crafts own explanation (nuances problems of support) accordingly.

Explanation of Evidence Evidence counter to thesis offered without explanation. Source quotes repeatedly left as though their meaning is self-evident. Evidence dumped all at once and/or part of the argument lacks evidence.

Source quotes sometimes not explained.

Evidence revealed and explained at reasonable pace throughout paper.

Quotes from sources fully explained.

Evidence Trail Provided No foot/end notes used or used so inconsistently as to not provide a path to follow author’s evidence.

(Intentional stealing of another’s words and ideas—plagiarism—will be reported to Office of Student Affairs.)

Most claims that should be cited are cited.

CMS attempted and clear that author attempted to offer a path to follow evidence, but consistent errors in form.

Sources used are cited every time author makes claim found in primary or secondary source that isn’t commonly known.

Chicago Manual of style followed correctly. Reader can follow the path of evidence author used to support argument.


Emerging (poor) Developing (adequate) Mastered (excellent)
Essay Structure Essay difficult to follow; suffers from significant disorganization with little connection between ideas.

Intro does not set up paper; no true conclusion offered.

Intro works to set reader up but relies on cliché statements (“history has always..”)

Basic organization is apparent; transitions may be mechanical.

Conclusion sets up new topic.

Introduction engages reader in problem/research question. Offers signposting (reader can infer basic direction of analysis to come). Thesis clearly stated.

Body of paper develops argument logically.

Conclusion summarizes argument and evidence in manner that reminds reader of original problem and that it has been addressed.

Paragraph Structure Most paragraphs don’t have a topic sentence or start as assumption that reader sees the connection between two paragraphs.

Many paragraphs seem to be random collection of points.

Choppy transitions from one paragraph to another.

Paragraphs often lack topic sentences.

Some paragraphs are 1 or 2 sentences and don’t develop the topic OR some paragraphs cover several topics in one very long paragraph.

Each paragraph has a clear topic sentence (which doesn’t have to be the first sentence but usually is). Topic sentences allow for transitions between elements of the argument (often by restating in different words what the paragraph above proved).

Sentences in the paragraph speak to the topic sentence and develop/prove that claim.

Writing Style In many places, language obscures meaning.

Slang/colloquialisms used extensively.

Language does not interfere with communication but is repetitive in vocabulary or sentence structure. Uses clear, precise language; engages reader through examples, illustrations and anecdotes; avoids opaque jargon; varies vocabulary, sentence length, and sentence structure; writes with conviction, even passion.
Grammar Grammar, syntax or other errors are distracting or repeated. Little evidence of proofreading. Errors are not distracting or frequent, although there may be some problems with informal language or verb forms. Avoids errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and sentence fragments or run-ons; follows formal style (without contractions); uses proper verb tense (past tense for past actions); favors active voice over passive voice verb constructions.
Proper Quotations No quotations offered or ones that are unrelated to the point author is arguing.

Errors in use of quotes extensive.

Some errors made by failing to mark changes to original quotation and/or “beginning and end” of quotations not properly marked.

Quotes from sources serve the purpose but don’t enrich the prose.

No errors in adaption of source wording to fit text in grammatically correct form.

Quotations from primary sources offer subjects’ voice and enliven the prose.

Quotations used at critical moments but not over-used.



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How History is Made: A Student's Guide to Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Discipline by Stephanie Cole; Kimberly Breuer; Scott W. Palmer; and Brandon Blakeslee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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