Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

How to Write a History or Social Studies Essay

Social studies classes are required in high school and college. In fact, you’ve probably taken several social studies courses throughout your school years. As you graduate into higher-level courses, you will be required to prepare research papers about various subjects. Most instructors require either MLA style or Chicago style for your social studies essay.

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What Does Social Studies Mean?

Social studies cover a broad range of subjects. Even though high school students attend social studies classes, the term usually covers several subjects, such as civics and history. The National Council for the Social Studies identifies seven themes based on social science and history, plus three broadly-based subject areas:

  1. Culture (anthropology)
  2. Time, continuity, and change (history)
  3. People, places, and environment (geography)
  4. Individual development and identity (psychology)
  5. Individuals, groups, and institutions (sociology)
  6. Power, authority, and governance (political science)
  7. Production, distribution, and consumption (economics)
  8. Science, technology, and society
  9. Global connections
  10. Civic ideals and practice

Should I Use Chicago/Turabian Style?

Writing a Social Studies Essay

Your teacher provides guidelines on writing format for your social studies essay; however, Chicago/Turabian style is a good choice for history, geography and sociology papers. If you use Chicago author-date style, you will prepare a bibliography of the sources you consulted to research and write your paper.

How Do I Organize My Essay?

Follow your teacher’s guidelines for format, page length, and citation style. From there, these basic steps will help you organize your social studies essay:

Select Your Topic

Common assignments in social studies classes are events in United States history, such as the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. If you are assigned to write about the Dust Bowl, search for interesting stories about that era.

Choose an Essay Style

Will you write a persuasive essay? A compare and contrast essay? Or will you present an argument that you will support with your research? Many times, your teacher will define the type of essay for you.

Once you’ve decided on a main topic and essay style, you can zero in on exactly what your essay will be about. If you’re writing about the Dust Bowl, you might consider one of these ideas:

  • A compare and contrast essay on how the dust bowl migrants’ journey compares to that of Central American migrants’ arrival in the United States at present
  • An exploratory essay on one person’s experience during the migration
  • A persuasive essay on how the dust bowl migration changed the course of California

Find Sources

After you decide on your topic, start searching for reliable, authoritative sources to develop your essay. One easy way to search is to start with secondary sources, such as encyclopedias, LibGuides, and educational institution websites. Once you find articles on your selected subject, then look through the bibliography or links to find primary sources.

  • Primary: Original material/research
  • Secondary: Material based on primary sources

Ask your school or public librarian for help finding primary sources.

Note: Use primary sources for your paper with a minimal number of secondary sources.

Helpful Sources

These authoritative websites are secondary sources that lead to primary sources on the Dust Bowl.

This secondary source is a book about Caroline Henderson, a writer about the Dust Bowl.

  • Henderson, Caroline Agnes. Letters from the Dust Bowl. University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Also, these two sources will lead you to primary sources of Henderson’s original writings:

Note: Although it is recommended to never use Wikipedia as a research source, each entry does have a reference list and you can find good sources through those links.

Prepare a Preliminary Bibliography

Use either the note card system or simply create a Word document for your bibliographic entries. Either way, be sure to keep track of every source you consult. Include these elements for each source:

  • Author, Editor, Translator
  • Date of Publication
  • Edition
  • Volume
  • Series
  • Publisher’s name
  • Place of Publisher (location)
Note: As you prepare your preliminary bibliography, include any quotes and other information you may use in your paper. Make sure you note that they are quotes so you do not accidentally plagiarize other writers.


Organize Your Essay

Following your instructor’s guidance, create an outline for your paper. Although it seems strange, it is a good idea to write your introduction last. The outline helps you stay organized as you write your essay.

Complete Your Bibliography

A bibliography includes all the works you consulted, not just the ones you reference specifically in your paper. However, make sure that any quotes or other in-text citations are included in the bibliography. Alphabetize the bibliography using the letter by letter style and make sure your entries are formatted correctly in the Chicago/Turabian author-date style.

One Last Check

Once you’re done writing, review your MLA style or Chicago style assignment rubrics to make sure you’ve included everything that’s required. Then, re-read your essay for spelling and grammar errors. And finally, make sure your bibliography is formatted correctly. Now, you are ready to turn in your social studies school paper for top marks.

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