Posted on December 26th 2012



Catalogue of Frequent Mistakes in History Papers :

Note : KMLA is a high school located in the Republic of Korea. These notes are addressed to students new to writing history papers at High school level.
Students' Papers posted on WHKMLA are in English and addressed to readers all over the world. 'English' here is understood as a world language, and not the national language of any particular country.


001) Nouns Describing a Collective :

Clergy, Nobility, Proletariate, Bourgeoisie.
These words do not have a singular. To describe an individual, write : clergyman, nobleman, proletarian, bourgeois.
You may find nouns describing a collective improperly used in plural in many texts, usually written by U.S. Americans.
Famine, Drought, Inundation
Describe conditions; have no plural. Cases of famine.
Food, Water, Bread
Are uncountable, describe quality, not quantity; hence no plural. A bucket of water, a loaf of bread.
Don't learn from the wrong teachers.

002) Accidental Plagiarism :

Students coming from Korean middle schools are accustomed to learning by the means of memorization. For many of them, writing analytical papers is new. In first-timer papers, insufficient indication of direct quotes as such is a common mistake.
Students are advised to indicate all direct quotes by both using quotation marks and italic font. They also shall give reference in a note.

003) Forgotten Notes :

Notes (with references) must be given for any direct quote, figure, map, table, image taken from an outside source.
Notes (with references) must also be given for theses statements or definitions taken from an outside source.
Notes shall be given to provide reference for detailed information obtained from outside sources.

004) Improper Usage of Notes :

As history papers at KMLA shall have both notes and a separate reference list, in notes short references (in case of books : family name of the author, year of publication, page(s)) are advised. For the full title, the reader may look into the reference list.
Students are advised to use either footnotes or endnotes, not a combination of both systems. Every note number shall be used only once; notes in the text shall appear in numerical order; no two notes shall be given at one spot (in such a case, merge both notes into one).
Notes may contain a reference, additional explanation, sometimes even reference to a publication with an interpretation contrary to the author's.

005) Incomplete References

Inexperienced students (and experienced, but lazy students) may simply give a URL, or in case of a book, just author and title, as a reference. For URLs : person or organization responsible, title of the webpage, title of the website the webpage is part of (if applies), URL
For books : author, title, place of publication (a city, not a country), publisher, (edition, if not the first), year

006) Poor Organization

A history paper should contain a table of contents. The basic structure is : Introduction, Body, Conclusion; the body usually is broken up further into chapters.
The chapters are to be numbered. If a chapter is subdivided, there should be at least two subchapters.

006a) The Introduction

The approach propagated by the College Board insists on one single thesis sentence containing (a rather general) answer to the guiding question being included in the opening paragraph of an AP history essay. Translated into a history essay, this means, the introduction should include an albeit generalized version of the synthesis.
Students trained in writing AP style essays are misguided to assume that historical research begins with a thesis. If a history paper were to be written this way, the introduction of the paper would be the last part written, after the basic analysis (body) had been completed.
At KMLA, students give mid-semester presentations on the topic they have to write a paper on by the end of the semester. It is not uncommon for class to destroy working hypotheses during discussion after presentation.
In Germany, the introduction is to explain what approach was taken to examine the topic in question, what source base was accessible (and, if applies, what sources were inaccessible), perhaps juxtapose the approach of the paper in question to the approaches of other authors etc.; thus putting the paper in question in a wider context. The synthesis would be discussed in the conclusion.
At KMLA history class, it is left up to the student which model to follow.

006b) The Conclusion

The conclusion must contain the main thesis arrived at (more specific if already mentioned in the introduction).
It also may contain a discussion of the method of analysis.
KMLA students should keep in mind, potential readers of their papers may be short of time and read only the conclusion. As a text by itself, the conclusion should make sense; it should persuade the reader to read the entire paper.

007) Lack of Distance to Sources

When a historian takes over information from an outside source without distancing himself/herself (.. according to ...), he may unintentionally take over
(a) a collective regional bias (usage of the Imperial system from British or U.S. sources; or English/U.S. spelling of foreign names/places)
In case of names and placenames outside of the English-speaking countries, the policy of using the spelling in the respective country respectively the transcription suggested by the respective country is advised; Exceptions may apply to places which have seen significant population changes (expulsion).
(b) a collective temporal bias (a prejudice of a bygone era)
(c) flawed information from a source
(d) a bias from a subjective source
Lack of distance to sources in this case results in the student taking ownership of the bias or inaccuracy in question

008) Shallow Source Base

KMLA is a high school. Students are encouraged to begin their research by looking into encyclopedic sources.
When doing so, students shall be aware of the following :
(1) Encyclopedic sources, such as Wikipedia articles, may contain inaccuracies.
(2) Encyclopedic sources, such as Britannica articles, may be outdated.
(3) Encyclopedic sources may provide answers to some questions, but also may be of little use if the reader asks other questions.
In order to reach a greater depth, the student should move on to primary or/and academic secondary sources.

009) Usage on Unquotable Sources

There are sources out in libraries and on the internet, which are (except for certain circumstances, where they serve as primary sources) unquotable.
(1) Ideologically tainted sources, which distort history to serve propagandistic purpose.
(2) Literature which confuses history and fiction.
(3) Pseudo-historical sources
Depending on one's definition, encyclopedic sources, high school textbooks (and most high school history essays) May be regarded as unquotable as well. The purpose of this website is to raise students to the level where they at least understand why such sources are, for the most part, unreliable, and how to differentiate quality history analyses from less reliable ones.

010) Omissions

(a) Factual omissions
(b) Missing chapters in an overview paper

011) Lack of Focus

Inclusion of Irrelevant Information. Not necessarily wrong, but dilution the focus of the paper, leading to shallowness. A good paper is concise, as long as necessary and as short as possible.

012) Using Terminology the Student Does not Understand

Students shall be able to explain every term they use in their paper, to find any place name on a map.
When researching, make a list of terms you don't know, and look them up.

013) Contradictions

(a) Occasionally a student contradicts himself/herself in his/her paper.
The way to avoid this : proof-read your paper before handing it in. Every mistake you find and correct the teacher does not find.
(b) Sometimes students encounter contradictions in the sources they read. In such a case they are encouraged to discuss such contradiction in their paper, to provide proper references, and in case the student takes sides, to explain why.

014) Prejudice / Bias

Historic research is to be objective. While it may be impossible to be 100 % objective (we use a language which, more or less openly recognizable, brings with it subjectivity), historians are expected to at least honestly try to be objective.
(a) Local Patriotism. A GLPS student refers to class on a Korean who played a role in the history of book printing. Presenter and class shared the same national bias, and his inaccurate, exaggerating expression went unopposed. Try avoid this trap; imagine to address a public/readership of foreigners only.
(b) Political Correctness. Use ideologically defined/tainted terms in quotation marks.
Examples : "Aryan" (if in a modern context), "Living Space in the East", "Final Solution of the Jewish Question", "Kristallnacht" etc. Avoiding quotation marks may be construed by your reader as indicating that you agree with such terminology.
(c) Be aware : terms such as 'terrorist', 'revolution' are value-laden.