Here is a great outline to fill out and help you get started on how to write a great DBQ essay. Link–  DBQ Outline

The document based question (DBQ) is designed to enable students to work like historians, analyzing and synthesizing evidence from a variety of sources and media. Students will be evaluated on their ability to interpret such factors as purpose, source, bias, date and place of origin, tone, etc. In order to receive a satisfactory score, students must establish and prove a thesis through accurate and sophisticated utilization of the available documents.The DBQ is designed to test the skills a historian uses in interpreting historical material. Thus, it does not require that a student be familiar with the event or topic that is being presented. Although it is admissible to include background or supporting knowledge in writing the essay, a student will be able to respond adequately using only the data provided. In this regard, the European History DBQ differs from the U.S. History DBQ. As a result, the College Board does not identify a particular time period or theme from which the European History DBQ will be drawn.

The types of documents that might be included as historical sources include:

  1. Public Records
  2. Diaries and letters
  3. Art, literature and music
  4. Charts and graphs
  5. Maps
  6. Speeches
  7. News articles
  8. Interviews
  9. Photographs
  10. Political cartoons

Students should consider the evidence presented in each of the documents individually. Additionally, they should seek to establish connections or explicate apparent contradictions in the documents.


Do the following things with a DBQ




Read carefully and make sure you understand the question being asked.

Quickly jot down the major themes/events/people you associate with this topic or question.

Read over the documents, noting the year and author/source of each one. If the document seems to support or oppose a possible perspective or opinion on the question, note that in the margin.

Write out a preliminary thesis and outline of your major points.

As you begin to write, remember to weave the documents into your answer, always focusing on the thesis.

Include your knowledge of the era along with your analysis of the documents.

Be sure to include your own analysis/perspective on the question.

If you can knowledgeably quote or refer to an historian who has a perspective on this question, include his or her perspective.

Keep an eye on the clock so that you can have time to re-read your essay for any obvious technical errors.

Be as specific as possible when you include historical information.

Be assertive and forceful in making your points.

Use Transitional phrases like however, still and furthermore

Include a conclusion and introduction – when rushed students tend to forget the conclusion

Before a practice have students circle or write “Must-Include” or “Must-Have” pieces of evidence, student own knowledge



Don’t do the following things with a DBQ




Respond to a question that isn’t asked.

Use “I” statements such as “I think that Document A portrays…”

Summarize the documents. The reader knows the content of the documents and is interested in how you view the document relating to the question.

Quote long passages from the documents. Use an ellipsis “…” if you need to quote.

Try to impress the reader with big words that are used incorrectly. This has the opposite effect of what is intended.

Spend so much time reading and underlining the documents that you have to rush your writing.

Begin writing your answer until you have a good sense of your thesis and how you want to approach the question.

Write “I ran out of time” on the bottom of your essay. You had as much time as every test-taker in America.

Use ” “absolute” words like always, never, every, or all

Use pronouns unless necessary

Talk down to your audience.

Refer to yourself, the reader of your paper or the paper itself.

Don’t create a mini paper in the form of your outline – if you are going to outline be brief (one sentence max for each point!)

Be discouraged by a large number of document’s – read each individually first before making the decision about what you are going to write.


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