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Comprehensive Guide on Writing a DBQ Thesis in 2023

dbq thesis

You’ve probably heard of the term DBQ thesis, or it’s your first time encountering it here. Either case, this is the right place for you! In this all-inclusive guide on writing a DBQ thesis, you will find the definition, how to write a DBQ thesis outline and topic ideas.

Stay put as we embark on a great adventure!

What is a DBQ Thesis?

It is an unpopular type of thesis that can cause dread among many college and university students. However, this shouldn’t happen as we are going to see in the subsequent discussions. We will demystify every aspect of how to create a DBQ thesis easy and fast!

How To Write a DBQ Thesis: Outline

To score highly in such a thesis, you have to be familiar with the DBQ thesis formula. It will help you determine the specific approach to take without eliminating any essential part. Below is everything you need to rock this unique type of essay!

  • Collect all the necessary information (documents)

You have to collate all the possible available knowledge on the question of the study. Remember that this is not just a matter of your personal opinion, but facts backed with substantial evidence! For instance, if you have a DBQ thesis example on the best masks for preventing against COVID-19, you will gather the following information:

  • Online reviews of the available masks
  • A top doctor’s opinion
  • Prices at different outlets
  • The cost of other masks
  • Available TV, radio, and newspaper ads for the masks

Doing this will help you have all the necessary background information on the question.

  • Analyze the documents

It will help you identify any form of bias and or irregularities in the documents. By doing this, you will know if indeed the mask you settled on is best for you or not. A good DBQ thesis will have its grounding on authentic and reliable documents.

After going through these two stages, you are now ready to write your DBQ thesis.

DBQ Thesis Template: Structure

If you wish to have a successful DBQ thesis, understanding its structure will be the backbone of all that. Since this is a unique type of idea, you will have to take a strategic approach. To achieve this, you can use a DBQ thesis template or any available DBQ thesis examples online.

Look at the structure below:

  • The introductory paragraph

It entails the background of the question or context of the period concerned. Your introductory paragraph should capture the following aspects:

  • Bring the problem into perspective (background and context)
  • Incorporate an exciting and captivating hook sentence
  • End with a DBQ thesis statement

This section should not be very long. An essential element is to ensure that the document question comes out clearly and plainly.

Write the body paragraphs in sequential and logical order. Have a topic sentence for each section that you begin. So how long should a DBQ be? Well, it depends on the magnitude of the question as well as the number of body paragraphs.

Therefore, whichever length you opt for, ensure that you cover every aspect of the question to the core. Every argument should relate to the DBQ thesis statement.

  • The conclusion

How to start a DBQ thesis is as important as its ending. Conclude your paper with a summative statement that answers the question raised in the intro.

For your inspiration, use any of our professional examples of DBQ thesis statements to identify a possible question. Better still, you can try our DBQ thesis example topic ideas below:

Topic Ideas For a Top-Notch DBQ Thesis

  • The impact of the Holocaust on Jews
  • Strategies that colonialists used to colonize their colonies
  • Causes and effects of piracy in the Caribbean Sea
  • What are the strides made in space exploration?
  • Why is Roman Catholic the longest-serving Christian denomination?
  • The regime of Adolf Hitler: Is it worth remembering?
  • The first man to visit the moon
  • The roots of slavery in America
  • Importance of the reconnaissance period
  • The development of nuclear energy through the ages
  • The achievements of Karl Marx
  • The Spanish flush and its impact on humanity
  • Why is America consider a Super Power nation?
  • The effects of the 1st and 2nd world wars
  • The origin of racism

DBQ Thesis Writing Help: Pro Tips

When you look at an example of a DBQ thesis, you will note that it has unique aspects that make it stand out. Some of these include:

  • Do not use personal pronouns and desist from statements such as ‘I think.’
  • Provide evidence and support with references to specific documents
  • Restate the historical context of the question in conclusion (The what, who, where)
  • Use this structure in the body paragraphs (begin with the main idea, explain it, cite the relevant evidence, and analyze it while connecting to the thesis statement)

Thesis writers from can help you crack your DBQ thesis thick and fast! With decades of experience in the online academic writing industry, these experts guarantee you a quality paper.

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thesis outline for dbq

How to Write a DBQ 2023

thesis outline for dbq

A DBQ essay is an assigned task which tests a student’s analyzation and understanding skills. They also test a student in thinking outside the box. These skills are essential for success in gaining this academic qualification. In this article from EssayPro — professional essay writers team, we will talk about how to write a DBQ, we will go through the DBQ format, and show you a DBQ example.

What Is a DBQ?

Many students may prosper: “What is a DBQ?”. Long story short, DBQ Essay or “Document Based Question” is an assigned academic paper which is part of the AP U.S. History exam (APUSH) set by the United States College Board. It requires a student’s knowledge of a certain topic with evidence from around 3 to 16 reliable sources. Understanding the APUSH DBQ and its outline is essential for success in the exam, itself.

DBQ Outline

We understand that learning how to write a DBQ essay can be difficult for beginners. This is why our professional writers have listed the DBQ format for your own reference while preparing for the exam. Like all essays, this involves an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

How to Write a DBQ


  • An introductory sentence to hook your audience.
  • State the background of the topic. Using a source relating to a historical occurrence or historical figure can be helpful at this time.
  • Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence.
  • Create a brief description of the evidence that will be included in the body paragraphs.
  • Write a paragraph which talks about how the DBQ essay question will be answered.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Include the strongest argument. This should be linked to the thesis statement. Read our example of thesis statement .
  • Include an analysis of the references which relate to the strongest argument.
  • Write a statement which concludes the analysis in a different point of view. Include a link to the thesis.
  • Write a transition sentence to the next body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the first argument in the previous body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the second argument in the previous body paragraph.
  • Write a transition sentence to the conclusion.
  • Create a summarizing argument of the whole paper.
  • Include the main points or important information in the sources.
  • Create a concluding sentence or question which challenges the point of view that argues against these sources.

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How to Write a DBQ: Step-By-Step Instructions

For some students, writing a DBQ essay may be hard. Not to worry. Our easy-to-read step-by-step instructions talk about the essential points which includes how to write a DBQ thesis, analyzation, time-management and proofreading your work. It is always important to write your paper in accordance to the DBQ outline for achieving the success you’re capable of.

The DBQ involves:

  • Planning: 15 Minutes
  • Writing: 2 hours and 45 Minutes
  • Proofreading: 10 Minutes

Time management is essential for a successful grade in this form of examination. The general DBQ outline states that the duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Spend around 15 minutes planning, 2 hours and 45 minutes writing, and 10 minutes proofreading. Follow these easy-to-read step-by-step instructions to learn how to write a DBQ thesis, body and conclusion successfully.

Step 1: Planning (15 Minutes)

During the exam, it is important to study the provided sources. The exam is 3 hours, so 15 minutes for planning is a reasonable approach. During this time, analyze all of the important key-points from the sources provided. Then, take a note of all of the key points, and write them under the titles; introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

Step 2: Introduction (5 Minutes)

First impressions count. Keep the introduction short and brief. Don’t go straight into answering the question in this part of the paper. For a successful introduction, write a brief summary of the overall paper. It is also important to include an introductory sentence.

Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes)

This form of essay requires a separate 3 paragraphs for the DBQ thesis. Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence. The second paragraph should include a description of the paper. The third paragraph should include how you’re going to answer the question.

  • The key difference with other essays is that the thesis plays an important role in the DBQ structure.
  • The APUSH DBQ thesis should not be two sentences long.
  • The thesis should be written with act least 2 or 3 paragraphs long.

Step 4: Body (2 Hours and 16 Minutes)

Write well-structured, categorized paragraphs. Each paragraph should include one point. Avoid mixing ideas in the paragraphs. Include your answer to the assigned question with the provided documents. It is also important to read between the lines. Each paragraph should link to the thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion (10 Minutes)

The final part of your paper. The conclusion plays a vital role in persuading your audience. A poorly written conclusion means a skeptical audience. For well-written conclusion, summarize the entire paper. Link the conclusion to the thesis. Answer the question in a concluding sentence, “the big idea”.

Step 6: Proofreading (10 Minutes)

Spend around 10 minutes proofreading your work at the end of the exam. It is important to proofread your work to make sure it does not contain any grammatical mistakes. Any writing errors can lower one’s grade. Please make sure that the body paragraphs answer the question and link to the thesis, this is the most important part of the paper.

Writing Tips to Success with Your DBQ Essay

Understand: Before writing, make sure that you understand the sources and the essay question. Duration: Remember that the exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Study: Practice how to write a DBQ before the actual exam. Identify: Find the key-points from the sources to include in your essay.

How to Write a DBQ

Read Between the Lines: Don’t just write about what you read, but write about what the passages imply. Read all Documents: Make sure you have read all of the sources, prior to writing the paper. Read the Outline: Following the DBQ essay outline is essential for understanding how to structure the paper during the exam. Categorize: Put each point into categories. This will come in useful for writing the body paragraphs. Write the Author’s Opinion: Show an understanding of the writer’s point of view. Write a Temporary DBQ Thesis on your Notes: Doing so will assist you during the paper writing. Follow DBQ Examples: Following a DBQ essay example, while studying, is an excellent way to get a feel for this form of assignment.

DBQ Example

Do you need more help? Following a sample DBQ essay can be very useful for preparation. Usually, when practicing for exams, students commonly refer to an example for understanding the DBQ structure, and other revision purposes. Click on the button to open our DBQ example from one of our professional writers. Feel free to use it as a reference when learning how to write a DBQ.

The Great War and the second ordeal of conflict in Europe, played a fundamental in the increase of the rights for women. During the second world war, the British government encouraged house-wives to do the work of what was primarily traditional for men to do.Such as growing crops and butchering animals, which was generally considered to be“men’s work”. One of the slogans was “dig for victory”. The reason for this was for people to take care of themselves during the difficult times of rationing.

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Following steps and outlines for custom writing is a great way to learn how to write a DBQ essay. As well as writing tips. Time management is vital for the positive result. Following our advice will enable you to get a good grade by learning how to write a good DBQ. Because learning the DBQ format is essential. Practice is very important for any form of examination. Otherwise, one could not do as well as his or her potential allows him or her to do so.

You might be interested in information about this type of essay, such as the definition essay .

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Our experts are able to produce a DBQ essay example within hours. Why not give it a try to improve your knowledge?

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AP World DBQ Outline + Thesis Practice with Feedback

5 min read • december 31, 2020

Evan Liddle

Evan Liddle

Eric Beckman

Eric Beckman

Melissa Longnecker

Melissa Longnecker

DBQ Practice is very important when preparing for the AP World exam. It is recommended to write a short brief outline of your argument before writing your body paragraph.

Your task: In  20 minutes or less , read the documents and:

  • Outline arguments you would make, using LESS than a full sentence for each
  • List, but DO NOT describe, evidence, both documents and outside evidence
  • Write a thesis based on these arguments Note: on the actual exam spending more than 20 minutes on this will not leave you with enough time to complete what you plan

DBQ Revolutions in Americas Prompt

Use these documents to answer the following prompt:

Develop an argument that evaluates the extent to which revolutions in the Americas between c. 1770 - c. 1825 successfully challenged social hierarchies.

Outlines and Feedback

Thesis and outline practice submission 1.

Thesis: Although the revolutions in the Americas themselves were successful, they did not successfully challenge social hierarchies because the lower class people including the Black and mixed races and the slaves still dealt with prejudice and the Whites stayed in power. However, there was some successful social hierarchy change for the Whites because a new class of Whites did gain more political power.

Lower classes and Prejudice continued: Doc 2, Doc 4 (Only Creoles benefited, slavery continued) Doc 5

White Creoles gained power: Doc 3 (Bolivar was a Creole, Hidalgo and Mexican Revolution)

But, still great divisions among social classes–> underdevelopment + neocolonialism

(My thesis starts with “although” but that was not what I was trying to set up the complexity with. Would I still need to prove that the revolutions themselves were successful? If so, I would use doc 1 for that).

DBQ Teacher Feedback

A way to improve your thesis would be to indicate a specific revolution which corresponds to your description. As for your question, abut complexity, that nuance could  contribute  to complexity but that itself is not complexity. Overall your structure looks good to me, but for your first paragraph you could be a bit more narrow. Prejudice against the lower classes? Race or labor based prejudice? Narrow that down.

Thesis and Outline Practice Submission 2

Revolutions in the Americas that took place from 1770 - 1825 were generally extremely successful at challenging established social hierarchies, as they diminished the power of traditional elites and led to the liberation of formerly enslaved peoples, mainly African Americans and their descendants. However, In some areas such as Latin America, the new elites that arose from revolutions to replace the old, leaving the rest of the social hierarchy intact.

Diminished Power of Elites: Doc 5, Doc 3, American Revolution (Freedom from Monarchy), French Revolution

Freed Enslaved People: Doc 1, Doc 2, Haitian Revolution

Social Hierarchy Intact: Doc 4, Creole Revolutions (Creole replace Peninsulares)

Your thesis is sufficient. If you want to make it better you could consider using hedging and qualified language such as the types of hierarchies reinforced/challenged (Labor, race, class). Your essay structure looks fine, but if you are running out of time consider combining paragraphs 1 and 2. Hope this helps keep practicing.

Thesis and Outline Practice Submission 3

Thesis: Although revolutions ranging from 1770-1825, made a profound effect on social hierarchies at the time through freedom of slaves and the destruction of monarchies in Britain, they did not last for the long term in most regions such as Latin America as the continuance of racism towards people of dark skin and harsh as well as inconsiderate ruling dominated these new changes.

Freedom of slaves: 1, 2

Destruction of monarchies: 3

Continued racism: 4

Continuance of harsh/inconsiderate ruling: 5

Could my complexity have to do something with racism still persisting in modern-day or would that not give me the point?

This thesis does a good job setting up your claim (the word “profound” works well here) and your line of reasoning. It’s clear what you plan to develop for your argument in your body paragraphs.
As you practice with DBQs, consider how you might bring documents together in your body paragraphs. This outline works, but a stronger (and easier to write) outline might find ways to bring documents together under a common argument and keep your overall essay to just 2 body paragraphs.
Complexity isn’t about bringing in modern examples necessarily. That skill point is about developing a complex argument throughout the whole essay. Think about how you could connect all of your ideas together throughout the paragraphs and fully explain your ideas. That will get you closer on many points, whether or not it earns that one complexity point.

Thesis and Outline Practice Submission 4

Thesis: Although the revolutions in the Americas successfully overthrew the direct rule of the European monarchies and led to an emergence of creoles who came to power, social inequality still plague the lower class peoples of the newly liberated nations and the obstacles of forming a fair government amidst the grievances of the mixed race and indigenous people did not greatly contribute to change the preexisting social structures.

  • Social inequality: Docs 2,4; continued to enslave African Americans in North America
  • Obstacles of forming a fair of government: Doc 5; instability and poor governance=poverty and economy dependent on former colonizer countries
  • Creoles gaining power: Docs 1,3; Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin

And also, are there more than one definitive, and correct answer to this prompt? I’m worried about misinterpreting the documents on the exam, thus leading to a non-historically defensible essay. 

To start, I’ll address your question. Yes, there are multiple correct answers to this prompt (and any DBQ). The questions and document sets are designed to allow students to successfully defend any of a variety of claims. If your claim fits with your knowledge of history AND your understanding of the documents, it will likely count as “historically defensible.” (Basically, don’t stress it - you’ve got this!)
This is a really sophisticated thesis that addresses both political and social ideas. It looks like you know that to make the political/governance stuff work, you’ll need to connect it to social hierarchies. Good work.
I’m glad to see your body paragraphs include multiple documents. That’s the fastest/easiest way to be sure that you’re using them and actually developing an argument. Keep it up!

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thesis outline for dbq

How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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What is the document based question, steps to writing an effective dbq, how do ap scores affect my college chances.

If you’re taking a history AP exam, you’ll likely encounter the Document Based Question (DBQ). This essay question constitutes a significant portion of your exam, so it’s important that you have a good grasp on how best to approach the DBQ. In this post, we’ll cover what exactly a document based question is, and how to answer it successfully.

A Document Based Question (DBQ) is a measure of the skills you learned in your AP classes in regard to recalling history and analyzing related documents. These documents can be primary or secondary sources, and your responses are expected to be in the form of an essay. Your ability to relate the context of documents to concepts beyond the given text and creating meaningful connections between all your sources will help demonstrate your skills as a knowledgeable writer.

The number of documents for a DBQ varies from exam to exam, but typically will fall between five to seven documents. The following AP exams will require you to write a DBQ:

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP World History

We’ve listed the formats for each exam below, and keep in mind that the number of documents is prone to changing from year to year:

  • Up to seven Documents
  • One hour recommended time (includes 15-minute reading period)
  • Up to seven Documents 
  • 25% of total exam score

With that in mind, let’s jump right into how to craft a strong DBQ response!

We’ve summarized how to write an effective DBQ into the following five steps:

1. Read the prompt first

Though you may be tempted to jump into the documents right away, it’s very important that you first look at what exactly the prompt is asking for. This way, when you eventually look at the documents, your focus will be narrower. A DBQ tests your reading comprehension and analysis skills more than the content itself, making it very important to understand your prompt thoroughly.

2. Skim the document titles

Each document will contain vital information regarding the context, and it’s important to scout key words regarding dates, authors, and anything pertaining to the general sense of what the documents are about. Skimming through your documents like this could save time and allow you to form a more structurally sound thesis.

Let’s take a look at the following graph and figure out how to skim the figure:

thesis outline for dbq

This document was in a real exam from the AP World History free response questions in 2019. It’s important to pay attention to data provided and what context can be drawn from it. In this case, we’re provided with a graph that displays the life expectancy of a country in relation to the GDP per capita of said country. Being able to skim this graph and notice the common trends in the data points could provide convenient information into the context of the document, without any further intensive reading. 

For example, seeing how countries with a GDP below 4,000 to 5,000 have lower life expectancies already gives us a potential correlation between the two factors. We can use this information to start formulating a thesis, depending on what the prompt is specifically asking for.

Remember, just skim! Don’t worry about reading the entire document yet; this strategy can keep you calm and level-headed before tackling the rest of the document. Methods like this can make acing the AP World History DBQ less intimidating! 

3. Formulate a tentative thesis

A thesis is a statement that should be proved and discussed upon. It’s important to have a strong thesis as the foundation of your DBQ, as it guides the rest of your response in relation to the context. Understanding the difference between weak and strong theses will be imperative to your success, so here is an example of a weak thesis:

“The Cold War originated from some scenarios of conflict between Soviets and some groups of oppressors.” 

Such a thesis can be considered weak for its lack of specificity, focal point, and usability as a constructive tool to write further detail on the subject. This thesis does not take a clear stance or communicate to the reader what the essay will specifically focus on. Here’s how the same thesis can be restructured to be stronger and more useful:

“The Cold War originated from tense diplomatic conflicts relating to propaganda and conspiratorial warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The information that’s been included into the second thesis about the two groups involved with the Cold War gives you more room to build a structured essay response. In relation to the rubric/grading schema for this DBQ, forming a structurally sound thesis or claim is one of the seven attainable points. Being able to contextualize, analyze, and reason off of this thesis alone could provide for two to four points – this means that five out of seven of your points revolve around your thesis, so make sure that it’s strong! Doing all of this in your fifteen minute reading period is crucial as once this is set, writing your actual response will be much easier!

4. Actively read the documents

Simply reading a document doesn’t normally suffice for creating a well-written and comprehensive response. You should focus on implementing your active reading skills, as this will make a huge difference as to how efficient you are during your work process. 

Active reading refers to reading with an intention to grab key words and fragments of important information, usually gone about by highlighting and separating important phrases. Annotations, underlining, and circling are all great ways to filter out important information from irrelevant text in the documents. 

An example of where you might find important information via active reading is the description. Circle important names or dates to contextualize the document. If you still can’t find contextual value from the title, that’s totally fine! Just scope out the rest of the document in relevance to your thesis – that is, pinpoint the specific information or text that best supports your argument. Finding one or two solid points of interest from one document is usually enough to write about and expand upon within your essay. 

thesis outline for dbq

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5. Make an Outline 

If you like outlines, making one before writing your essay might prove helpful, just be aware of the time limit and act accordingly. 

Start with your introduction, then work on the rest of your essay. This way, you can make sure your thesis is clear and strong, and it will help the graders form a clear view on what the general consensus of your paper is. Make sure to include evidence with your thesis within each paragraph and cite only relevant information, otherwise your citations could come across as filler as opposed to useful content. Every commentary or point you make should be tied in some way to the documents.

Format each body paragraph and organize your essay in a way that makes sense to you! The graders aren’t really looking at the structure of your essay; rather, they want to see that you analyzed the documents in a way that is supportive of your essay. As long as you have content from the documents which prove your thesis, the order or manner in which you present them doesn’t matter too much. What’s more important is that your essay is clear and comprehensive. As you write practice DBQs, try having someone else read your essays to make sure that the format is easy to follow.

Keep all these key details in mind as you construct your own DBQ response, and you’re well on your way to writing an effective essay!

Your chances of admission are actually not really impacted by your AP scores; however, the AP classes you take are more important than the exam scores themselves, meaning the impact of your AP scores isn’t as big as you think . 

Instead, focusing on the AP classes on your transcript and the relevance of those classes to your future major is more impactful. For a further detailed understanding of the role AP classes play in regards to your college admissions, use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator , which takes into account your GPA, standardized test scores, and more. 

Additional Information

To dive deeper into DBQs, AP classes, and learning how to tackle each exam check out other resources at CollegeVine:

  • Acing the Document Based Question on the AP US History Exam
  • Acing the AP World History Document Based Question
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP U.S. History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP European History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP World History Exam

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thesis outline for dbq

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Document-Based Question (DBQ)

What is a dbq, how to read the documents:, written documents, how to answer the prompt:, compare & contrast, cause & effect, change & continuity over time, how to earn all 7 points:.


Analysis & Sourcing

How to start writing the dbq, how to write a dbq:.

Attached below is a worksheet with an outline organizer for your DBQ. When practicing for your DBQ, feel free to download & print this to use:

iconfinder_10_171505 (1).png

7 documents (1).pn

You are given 7 documents, and you are given a prompt, similar to an LEQ prompt. You need to write an essay, responding to the prompt, using evidence from the documents. ​You have 60 minutes in total, but of those 15 minutes are recommended for reading. The sections below describe the types of documents, types of prompts, and the rubric and how to earn each point. 

You are given 7 documents. The different types are described below:

Excerpt / Written Document


Graphic, Diagram, Map, Cartoon

chart-646 (1).png

General Tips

Look at the sourcing before you read each doc to get an idea of what the doc might say

Write a quick summary (~3 bullet points) to summarize the content of each doc

Write a note of how each doc fits in with the prompt

Does it support or refute your thesis?

Which side of the prompt does it cover?

Which aspect (which body paragraph) of your prompt / thesis does it cover?

Any document with written paragraphs

Newspaper, letter, speech, historian's interpretation, constitution, religious text, etc.​

Special tips:

Before you read, read the sourcing & title and try to get an idea of what the doc might say

Take your time to understand the content of the doc; no need to rush​​

Write a few notes summarizing the doc

Figure out how the doc relates to the prompt

Does it argue one side or another?

Does it provide evidence for a specific geographical region?

Does it refute your thesis?

Which sub-category of the prompt does it answer?

Any document that is a photo

Any photo that a photographer might take, or an artist's depiction of a historical event

NOT a diagram, map, or something manmade or designed by historians

Read the sourcing & title to try to figure out what the photo might depict

Look at all aspects of the photo, get an idea of what it depicts

Does it represent a historical development?​

Does it represent an artistic movement?

Look for all signs of bias in the photo

Is it depicting a specific point of view?

Does it portray a certain culture as superior?

Does it portray a certain culture as inferior?​

Does it represent a military victory?​​​

This would mean one side is better than the other​

Does it portray something as bigger or exaggerated?

Means that the exaggerated thing is depicted as superior

Does it portray something as smaller?

Means that the thing that's depicted smaller is portrayed as inferior

Based on the point of view (bias) and the content, figure out how it relates to the prompt

Does it support / refute your thesis?

What aspect of the prompt does it answer?​

Any document that is a man-made photo

Graphic, diagram, political cartoon, map, etc.

Before you read, read the sourcing & title and try to get an idea of what the doc might depict

Look at the doc and try to figure out what it represents, or what topic it depicts

Think about the bias or point of view of the doc:

Does it represent the views of one side or another?

Is it depicting one side as exaggerated or superior to another?

Cartoons are generally biased

If it's a map, what is it representing?

Is it representing the map of industrial factories, trade routes, westward expansion, deciphered wind patterns, etc.?​

Once you figure this out, understand the historical context of the map

If it's a graphic or a diagram, what information does it detail?

If it's a population growth map, what allowed for population growth?​

Think of what the diagram depicts, and what allowed for that, and what's the historical context of that historical development?

Involves comparing & contrasting 2 different things

Most important thing is the argument: Not what the differences/similarities were, but HOW THEY WERE SIGNIFICANT

How to use the documents:

Some docs might explain the features of one of the comparand (the thing you compare), other docs may explain the other comparand

Some docs might cover both comparands

Figure out what the docs are saying for each comparand, and write your thesis based on that

What are they saying are similar & different about the 2?​

Involves examining what a certain historical development, and what were its causes & effects

What's more important is examining the significance of the causes, or how one cause/effect was more important than other causes/effects

Generally, 2 causes and 1 or 2 effects

Some docs might explain the event

Some docs might explain the causes, others might explain the effects

Draft a thesis based on the info about the causes & effects mentioned in the docs

Try to mention which causes were more significant than other causes

Involves examining what changed & what remained the same as a result of one event​

Some docs might explain the catalyst (the event that caused the changes/continuities) you write about

Some docs might describe the changes

Some docs might describe the continuities

Draft a thesis based on what the docs say about the changes & continuities

How to Earn all 7  Points:

Contextualization (1 point).

Examine the historical context of the story

Kind of like a "recap" or a "flashback"

Like at the beginning of a TV show, it shows a recap of the previous episode

How to write one

Always include the time period & possibly the location​

"In Europe in the period 1450 - 1750, ..."

Provide a brief 3-5 sentence recap of how the world arrived at the situation you are writing about in your essay

The contextualization should finish with how the world arrived at the historical development you write about in your thesis, so that there is a smooth transition from contextualization to the thesis

Sample Contextualizations

Topic: Related to the industrial revolution​

Before the 1750s, people were performing manual labor, making items by hand, which was very inefficient. From 1750-1900, Europe and the rest of the world underwent an economic transformation called the Industrial Revolution. Starting in Britain due to its abundance of raw materials & strong financial support, industrial capitalists built factories powered by waterwheels or coal that artificially produced goods such as textiles, eliminating the need to make them by hand. This brought a lot more people from the countryside to the cities, where they worked in factories for low wages. From Britain, the industrial revolution spread throughout Europe as well as to US, Egypt, Russia, and Japan. [Insert Thesis Here]

Topic: Related to imperialism​

In the period 1750-1900, Europe underwent an economic transformation known as the industrial revolution, where people would use artificial power to cheaply & efficiently manufacture goods in commercial factories in the cities, rather than making goods by hand at home. In order for these factories to produce goods, they needed raw materials, which is why they had to look to other nations like those in Africa and Asia to supply raw materials to them. Thi​s led to European imperialism, a development where Europeans started colonizing other nations throughout the world, especially in Africa and Asia, to establish export-oriented economies to get raw materials to supply to their factories. [Insert Thesis Here]

Thesis (1 point)

This is your argument

Must be something that can be opposed​

Someone else has to be able to write an essay whose thesis is the opposite of yours

Must contain an argument, and generally 2-3 examples (topics for body paragraphs)

Better to have a concession

Useful for complexity point

Format of Thesis & Examples

Color Key: 

Concession / Counterargument*

Similarities / Continuities / Causes

Difference for Comparand 1 / Changes / Effects

Differences for Comparand 2

*Concession is always optional. Described in the analysis section, it can be used to get the extra complexity point

Prompt: Compare & Contrast

Although some may believe [counterargument]* , w hile [comparand 1] and [comparand 2] both [insert similarities] , [comparand 1] was [insert difference for comparand 1], and [comparand 2] was [insert difference for comparand 2], which [is why / allowed for] [insert argument]. 

Although the Delhi Sultanate had very strict religious authority, while the Delhi Sultanate and the Chola Kingdom both used religion to maintain stability , the Delhi Sultanate was attempting to impose Islam on a Hindu-majority population , and the Chola Kingdom imposed Hindu on a Hindu population , which allowed for the Chola Kingdom to be more successful than the Delhi Sultanate. 

Prompt: Change & Continuity over Time

Although some may believe [counterargument]* , as a result of [catalyst],  while [continuity] stayed the same , [change] changed,   which [is why / allowed for] [insert argument]. 

Although some may believe the Catholic church actually became more powerful, as a result of the Protestant Reformation, while women still maintained strictly subordinate roles , there were more religious wars, and more monarchs were able to consolidate more power for themselves , which caused the Catholic church to decline in power.  

Prompt: Cause & Effect

Although some may believe [counterargument]* are the most important causes of [event] ,  [causes] were the main causes** , which caused [effects].  

Although some may believe that the desire to spread Christianity was the main cause of European imperialism , the desire to get raw materials and the need for more markets were the main causes , which led to a more integrated global economy and the development of technological infrastructure in the colonies. 

**Here, the argument is that the causes you described in the blue section are more important than the causes in the yellow section. There is no need for an extra argument at the end

Evidence (3 points)

This is where you put examples / pieces of evidence to support your thesis​

To get 1 point : Use evidence from 3 of the docs

To get 2 points : Use evidence from 6 of the docs, and put an extra analysis to connect it to the thesis

It's always better to use all 7 docs in case you use one incorrectly

To get 3 points : Use an extra piece of evidence (from your own knowledge, not from the docs), and put an extra analysis to connect it to the thesis

Examples of How to Write your Evidence

How to earn the first point:

To earn the 1st point, you need to describe / state evidence from 3 docs without connecting it to the thesis

According to document 3, the Chola Empire used Hinduism as the state religion. 

According to document 7, there were more factories in Britain than in France. 

How to earn the second point:

To earn the 2nd point, you need evidence from 6* docs, and you also need to connect it to the thesis

According to document 3, the Chola Empire used Hinduism as the state religion. Because the population was also mostly Hindu, the Chola Empire was able to maintain stability by using a common belief in Hinduism to stabilize its rule. 

According to document 7, there were more factories in Britain than in France. Thus, Britain had a larger industrial output than France, which is why it was able to manufacture more weapons during World War 1 and why France relied on Britain for support. 

*Always use all 7 docs to in case you use one doc incorrectly

How to earn the third point:

To earn the third point, you need to include one piece of evidence that is not in the documents and is from your own knowledge. 

Think of what evidence or what viewpoint is missing

If it's a compare & contrast: is there any other similarity or difference? Do you have any other evidence to support the topics of your thesis?

If it's a change & continuity over time: Is there any other evidence to support one of your changes or continuities?

If it's a cause & effect: Is there any other evidence or historical content that can support your causes or effects?

Analysis (2 points)

This is the hardest part

For 1 point, you need to explain how the source of 3 documents affects either your argument or what the document has to say

There are 4 parts of sourcing, and you ONLY NEED TO CHOOSE ONE

Explained in more detail below​

For the 2nd point, you need to use complex analysis in your argument

This is the most confusing

The easiest way is to weave a counterargument through your essay, which the concession already sets you up for

The best way is to not think about it too much and just put a bit more complex arguments into your essay rather than sticking to a strict format

Historical Context

Point of View

You need to choose ONE of the above and follow the instructions below. Each of the sections below has information about each aspect of sourcing. 

You need to do this for THREE different sources to earn full points (we recommend you do 4 in case one is wrong)

Historical Context:

Explain how the historical context of any document affects what the document argues

This document was written after WW1 when everyone was feeling depressed and economically poor, which explains why the priest is talking about a revival of religion and cheerful spirits. 

This document was written in a time after the Protestant Reformation when there were a lot of religious wars, which is why the document argues that Lutheranism is better than Calvinism. 

Explain how the intended audience of any document affects what the document argues

This document was written for the Armenians of the Ottoman empire, a Christian minority that was believed to conspire with the Allies, which is why the document is very aggressive toward them in asserting Ottoman dominance. 

This speech was written to the American people to gain support for the Treaty of Versailles, which is why it intends to boost nationalist sentiment and promote American power. 

Explain how the purpose of any document affects what the document argues

This speech was written by the Republic party with the purpose of convincing its audience to vote for them, which is why it argues that Free Silver, a democratic idea, is bad. 

This speech was written by John of Montecorvino, the Archbishop of Khanbaliq who sought to convert the Mongol boys to Christianity, which is why he emphasizes how Christianity allows one to achieve salvation. 

Point of View:

Explain how the point of view of any document affects what the document argues

This speech was written from the point of view of an Indian cotton farmer, which is why he writes that the British completely destroyed the Indian handmade textile industry. 

This document was written from the point of view of Grover Cleveland, an anti-imperialist president, which is why he writes about the harms of annexing Hawaii. 

The Complexity Point

The final point is the complexity point. This is given if you have a complex argument, and it is hard to achieve. The best way to think about this is do more than the prompt asks, and add a bit of extra analysis into the essay. 

The easiest way to do this is weave a counterargument through the essay. In our thesis samples above, we already set you up for this with our concession clause. 

How to Start Writing the DBQ:

First step is to outline your essay. Follow the steps below:

Read through each document, write a brief summary, and figure out how it relates to the prompt (which side/aspect does it argue?)​

Write your thesis. Write each aspect of the thesis (concession/counterargument, evidence 1, evidence 2, argument), and combine them

Write the outline for your body paragraphs. Write the topic for each body paragraph, and which docs you'll use in each. Also, denote where you'll use your outside evidence

Write an outline for your sourcing. Choose 4 different documents, and write the sourcing sentence following the guidelines in the sourcing section above

Start writing. Good luck!

How to Write a Thesis for a DBQ

Kathryn wagner.

High-school students often write DBQs for AP history classes.

Writing a thesis for a document-based question (DBQ) is not easy if you don't know how to approach the historical material. A DBQ is an attempt to analyze history from multiple sources and to defend a thesis in your writing. The best way is to remember that your interpretation is correct as long as you support your thesis. There are few right or wrong answers in history, and a DBQ is no exception. You will want to provide a logical thesis for your argument -- that is, one backed up by evidence as well as your interpretation. The organization of your DBQ will also strengthen your thesis.

Explore this article

  • Gathering DBQ-Related Documents
  • Gather the documents
  • Compare primary and secondary sources
  • Write down the author's
  • Writing and Proofreading the DBQ
  • Write out three to four tentative theses to
  • Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis
  • Proofread your DBQ thesis

things needed

  • Historical documents or assigned readings
  • DBQ prompt or question
  • Word-processing machine

1 Gathering DBQ-Related Documents

DBQ-based documents

2 Gather the documents

Gather the documents you need to write the DBQ. The advanced placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams will provide all the original documents; however, your teacher may ask you to locate original and/or reputable secondary sources for practice DBQs.

Original sources are best for DBQ essays

3 Compare primary and secondary sources

Compare primary and secondary sources before you begin writing. As of 2011, the AP test provides only original documents and sources, but the IB test (international version of the AP test) provides secondary sources alongside original sources. Use secondary sources to help you expand and refine your argument, but always cite from the original source.

4 Write down the author's

Write down the author's point of view as well as your own thoughts and opinions about the documents. Taking notes will help you as you begin the writing process.

5 Writing and Proofreading the DBQ

6 write out three to four tentative theses to.

Write out three to four tentative theses for your DBQ based on the document and supplementary readings. Question yourself as you write your DBQ. For example, ask: What is the author trying to say? Do I agree or disagree? Is the document supported by logic or opinion? If it were written in the current era would the thesis still be the same? Is my analysis of the document supported by evidence in the document itself as well as supplementary readings?

Refine your thesis.

7 Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis

Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis so it includes all the main points you want to include in your essay. The thesis itself should forecast the points made in your DBQ and be supported by evidence from the documents.

Proofread your DBQ.

8 Proofread your DBQ thesis

Proofread your DBQ thesis and supporting points using your word-processor spelling and grammar check. Use academic language, and check for spelling and use of appropriate tenses.

thesis outline for dbq

About the Author

Kathryn Wagner currently lives in Uganda. She has more than six years of professional writing experience and her poems and essays have appeared in "Nidus," "the North Dakota Quarterly," "Big City Lit," "Identity Theory" and the "Tucson Weekly." Wagner has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

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How to Write a DBQ Essay?

01 October, 2020

20 minutes read

Author:  Richard Pircher

AP (Advanced Placement) examinations are standardized tests designed to evaluate how well American students have mastered the course and acquired skills on specific subjects. Most AP courses presuppose final paper-and-pencil tests at the end of the year, but some courses come with different ways to assess students’ knowledge. AP tests cover the full content of each course and give college students an opportunity to obtain college credits and placements.

dbq essay

What Is a DBQ?

A DBQ essay is a type of academic paper written on the basis of a Document Based Question. It implies that students will have some documents to be used as sources of information for writing an essay. Since 2002, the DBQ essay format has been used to test college students for understanding historical development.

The time of US history usually covers a period from 1607 to 1980. At present, the DBQ method is also used to test students in AP European and world history, as well as social studies. The approach is the same, but sources of information are different. For writing DBQ essays, students are offered to analyze some historical events or problems based on the sources or materials provided.

The Purpose of A DBQ Essay

The point of document based question essays is that students are provided with seven documents to be analyzed and used to present evidence-based argumentation in their writings. Students have to formulate the thesis, which should be typically presented in the last sentence of the introduction. Further, this thesis has to be supported by evidence and historical facts. This test is aimed to evaluate the students’ abilities of:

  • Analyzing documents, taking into account their authors’ points of view, their purposes, and general context;
  • Formulating a strong thesis and substantiating it in an essay;
  • Using personal knowledge for supporting the thesis with additional facts.

However, students should not wholly rely on knowledge of historical facts during the test. They rather have to analyze the information contained in the provided documents. To successfully pass this test, students need to have the skills of logical thinking, as well as profound knowledge of civilization development, historical facts, and geographical regions. The task is to interpret historical material, draw conclusions based on existing knowledge, and answer the main question.

Preparing For The DBQ Essay

The DBQ test is based on the skills of historical analysis that you can acquire and put into practice. For writing a strong DBQ essay, you need to use the evidence provided to support an argument, make connections between different documents, and apply specific information in a broader context. Also, a historical essay with a Document Based Question answers the issues of the author’s intentions, general conditions, target audience, and so on.

It is recommended to practice writing this type of essays to be well prepared for the DBQ essays. When you exercise, you do not have to write a complete essay every time. The main point is to understand the main issue and related documents and then sketch out the thesis. Make sure you are aware of the general historical trends and periods.

The general flow of your preparation should include taking a practice of the DBQ test and focusing on analysis and exposing your suggestions in writing. How much you take the practice DBQs depends on how perfect preparation you need and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice to write DBQ essays so that this format becomes familiar to you, but not so much that you fail to apply other skills.

How to write a DBQ essay? Firstly, do not intend to fudge your way through the DBQ test by using only beautiful writing with no substance. Secondly, you should focus on the meaning of your essay. Thirdly, you can get your essay peer-reviewed online. Fourthly, ask somebody who has experience in this matter to review your practice with a DBQ essay. Listen to comments and ideas of that person to take these recommendations into consideration.

Stuck on writing an DBQ essay? Our Essay writers is always ready to help you!

DBQ Outline

The process of writing a DBQ essay requires a proper outline. Plan how much time you can spend on each paragraph. Read the main question carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked. As you read the documents, take notes about what information they contain, who the author is, and which historical period it belongs to. Before you start writing, think about the thesis. The materials provided and your notes will help you compose a thesis.

Read the essential hints and objectives carefully. Make sure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what the instructors want to see in your essay. Most probably, you might be asked to analyze or explain the reasons for the historical development. Use your knowledge to compare and contrast different perspectives on a concept. Show how public opinion has changed over a specified period.

The outline to plan and write a DBQ essay is similar to an FRQ (Free Response Question) test, but your evidence should be based on the supplied documents. When you read these documents, ask yourself what grabs your attention and what is the background information on the topic (date, place, and surrounding situation). State the question with key terms. Tell what the reasons to prove your point of view are.

Think about the thesis or roadmap of what the essay will be about. Typically, a statement credited as evidence from outside the documents will be more specific and relevant to an argument, analogous to the function of evidence drawn from the papers. In the body paragraphs, outline sub theses based on the information from either documents or sources, as well as provide two to three examples. Each sub thesis should be grounded by evidence.

Support details for reasons with references to the specific documents or sources and connect your evidence to your thesis. In the central argument or conclusion, restate your thesis. It should not be its exact duplication, but a periphrasis of your thesis statement in differing words. Explain and not simply identify how or why the documents, their purposes, historical situation, and audience are relevant to an argument. In the end, clarify relevant and insightful connections across time and space and explain why the issue is significant today.

DBQ Structure

Here are the main parts of the DBQ essay a student cannot forget about:

DBQ Essay Introduction: Starting DBQ Format

Problems and discussions usually characterize the DBQ essay outline. In this work, it is not enough to retell what is written in a textbook, as is often the case in a DBQ essay, or to apply a problem-solving technique, as in a test. When writing the DBQ essay outline, you can be guided by the example of the logic of construction, become familiar with the DBQ essay, and start with the relevance of the topic.

Strong Thesis Statement: What Should It Include?

The strength of your thesis statement influences how you write a DBQ. The standard number of theses for a DBQ essay is from 2 to 5. To determine the exact number of ideas, you must be guided by the required work. The larger the text, the stronger the thesis statement should be. It isn’t easy to write a DBQ on one thesis statement.

There are specific ways to write a DBQ with a strong thesis statement in the paper. The main DBQ essay outline has only four points:

  • DBQ outline requires you to determine why you are convincing the reader of the truth or falsity of the thesis statement. To do this, it is desirable to be clear about the target audience. Your thesis statement should be interesting to the reader. Otherwise, he will not read further;
  • Gathering information. You can write a good DBQ essay only if you have read enough literature on the topic before. In the process, you will be able to understand the relevance of your document-based question;
  • In any DBQ format, it is essential to identify keywords that will be the anchor points and skeleton of the DBQ essay outline.

DBQ Essay Example: Describe Your Main Ideas in Body Paragraph

It reveals the DBQ essay outline from the introduction from different angles. The central part of the DBQ format is not a continuous text; it is divided into smaller pieces. In the first part, you need to state your DBQ outline and describe how you understand and feel about the topic. Next, justify your opinion with arguments. DBQ outline demands facts from life, scientific studies, and views of scientists. You can cite facts from history to write a DBQ.

DBQ Essay Example: Logical Conclusion

The conclusion of a document-based question essay can contain such an essential, complementary element to the article as an indication of the application (implication) of your research, not excluding the relationship with other problems. DBQ essay example: “The DBQ essay is mainly about gender relations in agricultural labor, but a fuller examination would also require an examination of class relations,” followed by a few sentences explaining how the DBQ essay does that.

How to Write a DBQ essay With a Strong Thesis Statement

DBQ stands for a document based question. Such assignments require a student to demonstrate their ability to create well-researched arguments. If you have never written such tasks, read about the DBQ format.

Steps of Writing a DBQ

Create dbq essay outline: write an intro.

You will be provided with a historical context to help write a DBQ introduction. In addition, it will allow you to develop several ideas for writing your text.

Make sure to write a DBQ first sentence that answers 4 questions:

It will allow you to provide your reader with a context and briefly indicate what problem you will solve. This sentence should be the first part of your DBQ essay outline. It is followed by a couple of sentences preceding a thesis statement.

Write a Powerful Thesis Statement

To write a DBQ that will look well-researched, pay careful attention to this part of your essay. Likewise, consider the question you need to answer when writing a thesis statement.

To get tops marks for your document based question essay, follow these steps:

  • Make claims and provide pieces of evidence
  • When creating a DBQ essay outline, remember to describe the information that you will base your statements on
  • Write a paragraph explaining how you will answer the main question

If you have never written a thesis statement before, look at a DBQ essay example to see how another author coped with this task.

Correctly Structure a Body Paragraph in Your DBQ Essay Outline

A DBQ format doesn’t require you to limit the number of body paragraphs. However, when creating a DBQ outline, include at least 3 paragraphs to cover the main points.

The first paragraph should follow your thesis statement. Experienced writers start a DBQ essay outline by selecting the strongest point and analyzing it from several points of view. Then, use a transition sentence to move smoothly to the next part of your DBQ outline. It will enable you to write a DBQ more easily.

The second and third paragraphs of your DBQ essay outline should also refer to the thesis statement. You can also find a DBQ essay example with four or more paragraphs if you need to provide a detailed answer to your question.

DBQ format is quite easy to use. You can make your text logical by creating an easy-to-follow DBQ outline. Don’t forget to add another transition sentence at the end of this part of your text.

Draw a Conclusion

The last part of your DBQ outline should summarize your argument and show that you have answered the question. Use a DBQ essay example to see how such parts of these essays are usually written. The main thing is to list your main points and show that the opposing views are biased.

Wrapping Up

Following these tips, you can write a DBQ essay demonstrating that you can analyze complex issues and draw independent conclusions. Practice a lot to hone your skills and get the highest marks!

DBQ Essay Examples

If you are not sure of how to write a DBQ essay, you can always search and find good examples online. You can find them on the College Board website. This organization administers AP tests, and therefore, the provided DBQ essay samples can give you some prompts and responses to many questions. These samples are not only evaluated, but the score system is explained in accordance with the rubric.

Writing Tips to Succeed with Your DBQ Essay

The AP test typically consists of one or two DBQ essays, and 45 minutes is given to writing each of them. So, students have up to 90 minutes to draw up a plan and finish two papers. When you see the task for writing a DBQ essay, you will see instructions, a hint, and attached documents. Usually, up to seven different sources are provided. These can be newspaper clippings, articles, maps, drawings, photographs, and so on. However, you do not need to use all the documents, but at least four of them.

It is recommended that you first read the materials and schedule your time carefully. Organize these sources into categories and define how each document relates to your main question. Think about how to use documents to support your argument. If you are comparing different points of view, classify your sources based on opposing opinions.

Also, try to include relevant external information in your essay. You need to provide at least one piece of evidence besides the data from the provided documents. List some external evidence on a draft to refer to when writing your essay. As you write your DBQ essay, support your arguments with links to provided documents. Make sure that both your argument structure and supporting evidence back up your preliminary thesis.

You should describe how a particular event, movement, or somebody’s beliefs can support your statement. Outline the structure of your arguments in your DBQ essay. Start with your preliminary thesis and break your essay into multiple parts. In each of them, write one statement or element for the argument. Under each idea, list a few points supporting that part of your argument. Also, do not just cite sources without analysis.

Make sure you use documents to craft and highlight your point of view. Refine your thesis and make sure again that your thesis is clear, does not contain unnecessary words, and fully answers the main question. When writing an essay, general historical accuracy is essential, but not details. If minor details are not indicated correctly without affecting the general meaning, then this will not lead to a decrease in the overall test score.

How To Be Successful On The DBQ Test Day?

The matter of how to write a DBQ essay may seem challenging, but you are able to pass an AP test and get a high score provided that you have particular skills. It is recommended to get acquainted with the DBQ essay rubric that instructors use to evaluate AP tests. Information about this rubric can be found on the College Board website. It has four categories: abstracts, document analysis, use of third-party evidence, and synthesis.

You can get one point for the thesis and argument. An extra point is given for a perfect thesis presenting the close relationship between historical events and their causes. A strong thesis, supported by information from documents or any other source, is of great importance. Also, you need to reinforce this thesis in your paper. Demonstrate that you have generated a critical understanding of the given sources by focusing on what they mean rather than what they say.

Another three points are provided for the use of the maximum number of documents and their detailed analysis. This analysis refers to the authors’ points of view, target audience, or historical context. Be sure to reveal the connection between your research and your main argument. Providing an external example and establishing a link with another historical period or topic is estimated as one additional point. You are advised to give an extra specific example that is relevant to your argument.

When passing an AP History exam with a DBQ essay, you will lose one point out of seven if you do not relate your arguments to the broader historical context. Also, you will miss one point if you just mention sources or add quotes at random. You have to establish logical connections between the documents and the conclusions you draw.

For synthesis, you need to show the link between your arguments about a specific period with another historical time, social processes, geographic regions, etc. It is best done in the final part of your essay. This task will earn you one more point. In the end, take at least a few minutes to check everything and make corrections. Make sure the names, dates, and other facts are provided correctly.

Thus, the maximum number of points that you can get in the AP exam with DBQ essays is 7. For that, you have to clearly state your thesis, establish a broader historical context, support your argument with as many documents as possible, provide external evidence, and describe several points of view. However, you do not need to obtain the highest score to achieve your goals. You can get 5 or 6 points out of 7 on this exam, and it will be a success. Even 3 points can give you a credit score in many colleges.

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Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the ultimate apush dbq guide: rubric, examples, and more.

author image

Advanced Placement (AP)


You’ve been working hard in your AP US History class, and now it’s time to start prepping for your APUSH exam. 

But there’s a lot you’ll need to know if you want to do well, especially on the APUSH DBQ section. For instance, you’ll need to understand the APUSH DBQ rubric so you know how you’ll be scored on your answers, and you’ll need to look at a few APUSH DBQ examples so you understand what it takes to 

Luckily for you, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about APUSH DBQs in one easy place. (That place is, uh, here. ) We’ll go over: 

  • An explanation of what APUSH DBQs are and why they’re important 
  • A walkthrough covering how APUSH DBQs work on the exam and what to expect
  • A six-step process for writing a great DBQ
  • Four tips for studying for and answering the APUSH DBQs

We’ll also give you an APUSH DBQ rubric and APUSH DBQ examples That’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get going!


The APUSH DBQ is an essay-based question, so you'll have to write quickly!

What Is an APUSH DBQ? 

A DBQ is a “document-based” question that you’ll have to answer on your AP exam. For these questions, you’ll be given seven “documents,” which are short readings that cover different, usually related aspects of US History. From there, you’ll be asked to answer each DBQ in essay form using information from the documents you’ve been provided! 

The good thing about APUSH DBQs is that they’re open-ended, meaning there are multiple correct ways to answer each question. The downside is that in order to answer the question and earn full credit, you’ll need to analyze and incorporate multiple documents as part of your argument. 

And did we mention you’ll only have a limited amount of time to answer the DBQ, and that it's worth 25% of your total test score? That’s why APUSH DBQs can be stressful for test-takers! 

How Do DBQs Work on the APUSH Exam?

The APUSH exam consists of 60 questions in total. Here’s how they break down across the test: 

Of the two free response questions, one is a long essay (worth 15%) and one is a DBQ. This means that the sole DBQ is, by itself, worth 25% of your total grade, making it the single most heavily-weighted question on the APUSH exam.  

The APUSH DBQ will consist of a single open-ended prompt . To answer it, you’ll have to create a persuasive argument that uses the documents you’ve been given on the exam itself. (More on that a bit later.) 

To give you a little more context, here are some actual APUSH DBQ examples from previous years’ APUSH exams:

  • “Evaluate the extent of change in ideas about American independence from 1763 to 1783.” ( 2017 ) 
  • “Evaluate the relative importance of different causes for the expanding role of the United States in the world in the period from 1865 to 1910.” ( 2018 )
  • “Evaluate the extent to which the Progressive movement fostered political change in the United States from 1890 to 1920.” ( 2019 )

APUSH Document Types 

To answer these questions well, you’ll also have to read, analyze, and incorporate information from seven documents you’ll be provided on test day. These documents will be a mixture of: 

  • Primary texts : texts that were actually written in the time period you’re being asked about
  • Secondary texts : texts written by later historians that explain the time period 
  • Images: these are typically either political cartoons or artworks from the time period

How many of each type of document you’ll see on your exam varies from year to year, so you’ll need to be equally comfortable using all three types of documents. 

You’ll have to read through all seven documents and understand them so you can use them to answer your DBQ question. The information in the documents will help you create a thesis, build your argument, and prove your point…so you can get a great APUSH DBQ score! Just remember: to earn full credit, you’ll also have to explain how at least six of the documents are relevant to your argument, using evidence to back those claims up. 

Using Outside Information 

Along with the provided documents, you’ll also be expected to use one piece of historical evidence that isn’t included in the documents , but you already know from your own reading. This is information that you’ll have studied in class (or read on your own!) that applies to the DBQ and supports your argument. 

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to bring any class notes with you on exam day. That means you’ll need to study ahead of time so you’ll be ready to incorporate outside information into your DBQ answer! 

Whew! That’s a lot! However, if it makes it any easier, the APUSH DBQ will only cover the period from 1754-1980 . That means you’ll only need to focus on studying–and remembering!--information from about 230 years. 


Understand the APUSH DBQ Rubric

First, you need to understand what the expectations are and how your answer will be graded. That means reading through and understanding the official APUSH DBQ rubric!

The good news is that the College Board has provided the APUSH DBQ rubric as part of their 2021 AP Exam Administration Scoring Guidelines - AP United States History document .  

Here’s how the rubric breaks down:

Thesis (1 point) 

First, you’ll need to create a thesis that “responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning.” In order to get this point you’ll need to make an arguable claim based on the documents that answers the question of the prompt.  

In other words, you’ll need to choose a position and then defend it with evidence from the documents and your knowledge base. 

Contextualization (1 point) 

In order to get a point for contextualization you’ll need to “accurately describe a context relevant” to the time period covered by the prompt. What this means is that you’ll have to describe the political, social, or economic events and trends that contributed to what your thesis is arguing. 

Some of this you’ll know from the provided documents, but some of it you will also be expected to know on your own based on what you’ve studied in AP US History. You’ll also need to relate your knowledge to “broader historical events, developments, or processes that occur before, during, or continue after the time frame of the question.” That means you have to show how the events of this time period are relevant now or how they are similar to some other historical situation .

Evidence (3 points)

For this part of the rubric, you’ll earn one point just for incorporating specific evidence that does not come from the provided documents in a way that is relevant to your thesis! 

In order to earn the other two points, you must support your argument by using content from six of the seven documents . (If you don’t use six documents, but do use at least three of them, you’ll only earn one point.) 

You can’t just randomly throw information from the documents into your essay, though, you have to use it in a way that supports your argument and accurately represents what the documents are saying . 

Analysis and Reasoning (2 points)

For the analysis and reasoning section, you get one point for explaining “how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument.” You’ll earn another point for “complexity,” showing that you understand the time period that the prompt covers and use evidence to prove your understanding and back up your argument . 

So to earn analysis and reasoning points, you have to prove how the documents are relevant to your argument, your argument has to demonstrate you understand the historical events of the time period, and you’ll have to create an argument that is well-reasoned and “complex.” 

You’ll need to show graders you understand there’s a variety of possible perspectives about the issue you’re writing about and that people in that era did not all agree or have the same experiences.


Step-By-Step Process for Tackling an APUSH DBQ

The APUSH DBQ is a complicated question that tests you over several different skills, so there isn’t any simple technique to ace it. However, if you master each of the individual skills it takes to do well on the DBQ examples, rocking your APUSH DBQ will be much easier! 

Here are five steps you can follow to build a foundation that’ll help you ace the DBQ. 

Step 1: Take a Practice DBQ

The best way to master APUSH DBQs is by practicing with real APUSH DBQ examples.

The College Board’s website has the actual prompts from 2015-2019 available to download. This means you can take at least five practice APUSH exams, as well as read APUSH DBQ example responses and APUSH DBQ rubrics, for free! 

This is excellent news because you can take several practice swings at answering APUSH DBQs before you have to tackle the real thing on test day. 

Before practicing DBQ responses, it’s a good idea to take at least one APUSH DBQ practice test so you know what your baseline is. That way, you’ll understand your strengths and weaknesses and can really zero in on your weakest areas! From there, you can work through the practice APUSH DBQ prompts on their own. 

However, the nature of a free response means that it won’t be easy for you to grade by yourself. To evaluate your DBQs, be sure to use the APUSH DBQ rubric we walked through above. Honestly try to assess whether or not you incorporated the information thoroughly and accurately. You can also ask a teacher, tutor, or even a family member to grade your APUSH DBQs for you as well! 

Later, after you practice the skills outlined in the steps below, take another practice DBQ and see if it seems easier for you. Compare your score to the baseline score from your first attempt. Then, re-read over your textbooks and take it again. Repeat the cycle a couple of times. The big benefit will be that you will eventually get so used to the APUSH DBQ that you will be more comfortable in the actual testing environment .

Step 2: Practice Writing a Thesis

Because your DBQ response will have to choose a position and defend it, you’ll need to work on writing strong thesis statements. A thesis statement is essentially your argument in a nutshell, and it sums up the purpose of your essay. 

The most important aspect of your APUSH DBQ thesis is that it has to make a claim that is both arguable (meaning you can use evidence to prove it) and is relevant to the prompt you’re given. However, you don’t want to just restate the prompt in your thesis! 

Here’s what we mean. Let’s say your APUSH DBQ prompt is: 

Evaluate the extent of change in ideas about American independence from 1763 to 1783.

You don’t want your thesis to be “Ideas about American independence changed a lot from 1763 to 1783. That’s just adding a few words to the prompt…and it’s not descriptive enough to cover the argument you’ll make later. Instead, make a specific claim about how and why ideas about American independence changed, and you’ll need to use the documents provided to prove it!

So for this example, a better thesis might be, “Between 1763 and 1783, American ideas about independence changed from being unsure about how the nation could survive without British rule to believing in (and fighting for) the nation’s independence.” 

Because APUSH DBQs are open-ended, there are actually many different thesis statements you could come up with that would let you write an amazing answer. Here are two APUSH DBQ examples that College Board considers acceptable theses for this prompt:

  • “The ideas about American independence changed greatly from 1763 to 1783. In the beginning, colonists only wanted representation and a say in the legislation of new laws, but by 1783 Americans wanted true freedom from British rule.” 
  • “From 1763–1783, ideas of American independence changed from the colonies blindly accepting the tyranny of the British by religious rights of divine kings to believing in natural rights of individuals against British rule.”

Let’s look at how these theses make specific claims: 

The first thesis argues that colonists originally only wanted representation, but by 1783 wanted freedom from British rule. These are two different mindsets that the author can then use the documents to illustrate and prove actually existed. 

The second example thesis addresses a more theoretical change in belief: one that changes from Americans of 1763 accepting the medieval notion of the king inheriting from God the right to govern, to one in which Americans of 1783 believed that individuals had the natural right of freedom from tyranny. The author can then use the documents as evidence that Americans in that time period had those beliefs, and can argue about what happened to change them.

By practicing thesis writing, you’ll be able to create a detailed–and defensible!--statement that will help you create a convincing DBQ argument. 


An outline will serve as a roadmap that'll help you write a great essay—and it'll help you manage your time, too. 

Step 3: Practice Creating an Outline

With only an hour to read the documents to write your essay, you probably won’t have time to revise. It’s very important that you make the best use of the limited time you will have available, so an outline will help you organize your thoughts and will keep you on track as you write. 

Just be careful that you don’t take too much time with your outline–you need to write a whole essay! Five minutes (or less!) is all you need to put together an outline that’ll help you write an awesome DBQ. 

With that said, let’s talk about what makes up a great outline.

Two important elements of a good outline are an introduction and conclusion ! Your intro will set up your thesis and your conclusion to restate your thesis while explaining why it’s relevant to the reader today. Because both of these sections center around your thesis statement, they’ll help you organize the rest of your argument…and your DBQ essay! 

Once you have those in place, you can start adding body paragraphs to your outline. Since you only have about 45 minutes to write this essay, you don’t want too many of them. Three or four body paragraphs will be enough to get the job done. 

The most important thing about your body paragraphs is that each of them makes a claim that a) supports your thesis and b) allows you to incorporate information from the documents as evidence. You may even want to make a note of which documents you want to use in each body paragraph! 

Here’s an outline template you can use as you practice your APUSH DBQs:

  • Set up your argument and include your thesis.
  • You can break down your thesis into several component steps, which will then become the body paragraphs as you expand upon them.
  • Tell the reader what they need to know about the historical situation. 
  • Include any information you might already know from outside the provided documents.
  • Make the first argumentative point you mentioned in your introduction/thesis.
  • Use information from two to three documents to illustrate and prove your point.
  • Make the second argumentative point you mentioned in your introduction/thesis.
  • Use two to three different documents to support this point. 
  • If you have a third argumentative point, you’ll need to make it here. 
  • Be sure to use at least one document to support your argumentative point. 
  • Restate your thesis and summarize the main points you’ve made.
  • Show how it’s relevant to the reader.

Again, this outline doesn’t need to be fancy! Jotting down a few words–or a short sentence–for each point will get you to where you need to go. 

Step 4: Practice Incorporating Quotes and References 

As you write your essay, you’ll need to use examples from the documents provided–and each time you do so, you need to explain documents you pulled the information from. You’ll do this whether you are quoting your source or just paraphrasing it. 

There are two ways to do this:

#1: Attribution

Attributing your information means you tell your reader in the sentence which document you’re quoting or paraphrasing from. Below are two attribution DBQ examples APUSH considers acceptable: 

"Charles Inglis uses reason to note that the colonies would be unable to sustain themselves without British support because the colonies don’t make enough money through agriculture and commerce.”

Notice that even though this APUSH DBQ example doesn’t quote Inglis outright, the author still lets the readers know which source they’re using to prove their point.

#2: Parenthetical

Using a parenthetical citation means that you put either the author of the source’s name or which document it’s from, in parentheses, at the end of the sentence. H ere’s an example of parenthetical citation that the College Board considers acceptable:

“He claimed only man himself can direct his own actions and decisions, not the rule of any legislative authority or man (Doc. 3).”

Since the sentence does not say who “he” is, the author of this essay has included this parenthetical citation (Doc. 3) that the reader can use to read the document in question and see if the argument the author is making is correctly represented from the source.

As you use these sources, you need to make sure that you are using the document accurately and not plagiarizing. Your goal is to show that you understand each document and know how to incorporate it into an argument. 

Step 5: Understand Time Management

One of the most important skills you can acquire by taking multiple attempts at the APUSH DBQ practice test will be time management . When you’re in the actual test environment, you won’t be able to use your phone to set a timer or alarm, so it can be difficult to keep track of how much time you’re spending on reading and re-reading the documents, brainstorming, and outlining. 

You want to leave yourself the majority of the time allowed (which will be one hour) for writing. College Board’s APUSH DBQ rubric recommends that you spend 15 minutes reading the documents and 45 minutes writing the essay . 

The best way to get your time management down is practice . Set timers during your APUSH DBQ practice test so you can get a feel for how much time it takes to put an answer together. That way you have a feel for the process and will have enough time to write your DBQ on test day. 


4 Tips for Mastering APUSH DBQs

Now that you’ve read our step-by-step process for tackling the APUSH DBQ and have seen several APUSH DBQ examples, here are some expert tips on doing well on the APUSH DBQ .  

Tip 1: Remember that Each Point Is Scored Separately

Go through the APUSH DBQ rubric and take note of each individual task since you’ll be scored on how well you complete each one . For each task, there are usually multiple points available. 

For example, you’ll earn one point for using at least three documents in your DBQ. But if you want to earn the full two points for that category, you’ll need to incorporate at least six documents into your answer.  

By understanding the rubric, you’ll be able to maximize how many points you earn on your DBQ. 

Tip 2: Your Essay Can Contain Errors 

Now, don’t misunderstand us: you can’t say an author makes one claim when they are clearly saying the opposite. You also can’t write something that is obviously wrong, like that America continues under British rule because the revolution was unsuccessful, and get full credit!  

But you can make minor errors that don’t detract from your argument as long as you are demonstrating a knowledge of the time period and the ability to incorporate evidence to make an argument. So for example, if you said that the First Continental Congress ended in November instead of October of 1774, you’ll still be able to earn full credit despite making a small error. 

Tip 3: Write For Clarity 

One thing to keep in mind is that you will be graded on how well you make and argue a thesis, and how well you incorporate the evidence from the documents to support that thesis– you don’t get graded on how beautifully or fluently you write ! So, while you’ll want to use correct grammar and write as clearly as you can, don’t spend too much time thinking about how best to phrase things as if you were writing for publication. Just focus on clearly explaining your ideas! 

You won’t have points taken away for grammatical errors unless they make it difficult for the graders to see how you’ve used the evidence to make an argument.

Tip 4: Connect the Dots 

Not only for the APUSH DBQ, but for everything you write, you need to ask yourself, why is this relevant? In the contextualization section, you are required to relate the information you’re conveying to other time periods or situations to earn full credit.

This is your chance to show that while the period you’re writing about may have been long in the past, the events are still relevant to us today ! This is why we read, write, and study history in the first place!


What’s Next? 

If you’re taking APUSH, you’re probably taking other AP classes as well! Here’s a general guide to preparing for AP tests that’ll help you get ready for any other AP exams you take. 

Like we mentioned earlier, taking practice tests is one of the best ways you can get ready for your actual AP exams. Here’s a guide that’ll help you find the best AP practice tests for each exam.

If you’re taking multiple AP tests, you’ll need to maximize your study time. One way to do this is to study for each test based on when you’ll have to take it! Our complete breakdown of the AP exam schedule will help you manage your study time efficiently and effectively. 

Looking for help studying for your AP exam?

Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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Writing a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Guidelines

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Table of contents

As you prepare for college, you will want to learn as much as possible about a DBQ essay. This type of essay is found in AP history exams and social studies classes in different grades.

A DBQ , or Document-Based Question essay  requires students to develop an argument using evidence from a set of primary source documents provided to them. The DBQ essay tests a student's ability to critically analyze multiple documents, connect them to the historical context, and form a coherent, well-argued response. These documents may include written texts, images, graphs, or maps, and typically relate to a specific historical period or theme.

It deals with way more of historical documents then you might have thought. So, at some point, you can certainly find yourself at a loss. “How to write a DBQ Essay?”, you may ask. Don't worry! In this article, we will talk about how to write it. We will look at its format and show you an example. Are you ready to learn more now from proficient essay writers online ?

What Is a DBQ Essay: Main Definition

In simple terms, a DBQ Essay is an assignment that tests student's analytical and comprehension skills. There is a more formal definition of this term. DBQ stands for Document-Based Question. This type of essay is part of the AP US History (APUSH) exam established by the US College Board. Student's task is to provide their foliage knowledge and back it up with facts. Three to 16 reliable sources of information are required. To write quality work, you must understand more about the DBQ essay schema.

How to Write a DBQ Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

The first question that students have is “how to write a DBQ essay?” Students must familiarize themselves with an issue posed in a document. They should interpret presented material with particular historical period in mind. Student will have 15 minutes to read paper, take notes, and then 45 minutes to write their DBQ. Sounds a little complicated? No worries. We’ve prepared a basic step-by-step guide to help you complete this challenge for the highest score.

Step 1. Analyze the Documents Before Starting a DBQ Essay

If you are on an AP exam , you will have 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the hint and document for writing a DBQ essay. During this short period, you need to read your given tip carefully (we recommend re-reading it several times), analyze attached documents, and develop your own argumentation. Document analysis is the first and most crucial step in writing a DBQ. Be sure to highlight the question for yourself. Otherwise, you risk losing points even for the most adequately structured and competent essay if it does not answer the question posed in the tip.

Step 2. Create Your Thesis for DBQ Essay

After reading an essay recommendation, you will need to highlight a DBQ thesis sentence. It is a summary of your arguments. Make sure your thesis is a well-founded statement that responds to clues rather than just repeats them. There should be several arguments in the thesis itself. Let's suppose that the question of your document is, “Why did movement for women's suffrage start in the 20th century?”. "Significant contributions of women in support of the war formed a movement for women's suffrage to the right” is a strong thesis. In this case, thesis speaks of participation in hostilities during the First World War. Therefore, it will be easier for you and your future reader to form some strong point of view when reading your work. Support your arguments with around 6 documents. Always highlight one of them whose vision of the situation is closer to you. You will decide on the main answer to the question based on your thesis and read the documents.  

Step 3. Read the Documents and Note the Details Before Writing a DBQ Essay

As we said above, correctly highlighted abstracts are key to successful DBQ essay writing. Be careful when reading any information. Read the documentation carefully and take your time looking for answers. We have a few recommendations for you:

  • Indicate the document's author, their audience, and point of view.
  • Determine percentage of reliability of this source and try to identify what influenced the author's opinion (perhaps this is particular historical period that will help you in further analysis).
  • Highlight key points such as “evaluate,” “analyze,” and “compare and contrast.” Also, look for keywords such as "social,” "political," and "economical,” as well as information about the period and society in question (it is convenient to take notes in document margins so that you can return to desired passage).

Kindly note that not all sources will be written documents. Occasionally, you will come across diagrams, maps, or political cartoons. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with some nuances of reading primary sources in advance.

Step 4. Create a DBQ Essay Outline

Before you start writing your text:

  • Make a brief DBQ essay template outline.
  • Organize your brief and write your central thesis at page's top.
  • Write a possible structure for your document.
  • Next to each item, write one statement that does not contradict your view.

If you indicate some sources as a confirmation to sections, it is recommended to draw up an essay in chronological order. Keep in mind that an essay structure should not be broken. Start with an introduction, then write at least three paragraphs with arguments. Your DBQ should end with a conclusion in which you again repeat your thesis, only in an affirmative manner.

Step 5. Write Your DBQ Essay

Find out time management tips when writing DBQ essays. Remember that you will have 45 minutes during which you must complete the entire paper. We recommend that you plan how much time you are willing to spend on each of your sections. Be sure that you take a few minutes and correct your essay at the very end. DBQ essays have a clear structure that cannot be deviated from introduction with a thesis sentence, body with enough evidence supporting your arguments, and conclusion. We will tell you more about what each section should include later in this blog post.

How to Start a DBQ Essay

It would help if you started with DBQ essay introduction. In this part of your text, indicate your thesis and several appropriate sentences in context. It is a natural and easy way that you can start your essay right and not get lost in thought. It should be noted that you must link your thesis with its historical implications. If you don’t, you will probably lose one point.

How to Write a Body Paragraph for a DBQ Essay

It is crucial to know how to write a body paragraph . DBQ essay body paragraphs occupy more than 80% of your text. It typically consists of at least three paragraphs. All sections should be logically related with each other. Stay tuned to chronology of events, especially if you mention periods or information that supports your arguments with documents' date. Each of the paragraphs can indicate some component of your thesis. You should mention dates, historical figures and cite papers as often as possible. Include document's number in parentheses when using a quotation.

How to Write a Conclusion Essay for a DBQ

Writing a conclusion in a DBQ essay is as easy as shelling pears. You shouldn't really indicate anything new that was not in your text. Summarize your arguments and point out to your reader that you have been able to prove your claim. You will most likely get an extra point if you can connect your arguments with history of other periods or other countries. Scale your thoughts. For example, if you are talking about the First World War period in the United States, then indicate that it had similar impact on citizens of other countries.

The Best DBQ Essay Example

Still, have some more questions? DBQ essay sample will be beneficial for you when preparing for an exam. An example helps you understand the structure and formation of arguments in your future text. You can check out our sample if you are in need of further help. Do not hesitate to contact professionals! After all, high-quality assistance is key to your good grade.

DBQ Essay: Bottom Line

We have detailed the way and structure of a DBQ essay. Its purpose is based on analyzing, drawing conclusions or tracing trends of events from the past. Writing a strong essay includes all your skills learned in the AP class. This way professors can assess student's knowledge, experience and evaluate their efforts. Your dbq score is one-quarter of your score on the entire AP exam. In general, you can achieve up to seven points for this assignment. Article above describes a few ways of getting more points...

Choose a professional essay writer to your liking, send paper requirements and get your assignment fast!  

Frequently Asked Questions About DBQ Essay

1. do i need to use quotes in my dbq essay.

Yes. Use quotes in your DBQ essay as often as possible. In this way, you will provide evidence to support your argument. But do not forget to analyze these quotes every time and talk about your point of view. Use quotation marks when writing quotes.

2. Can I start a DBQ essay introduction with a question?

Yes, you can start the DBQ essay introduction with a question. Keep in mind that you must answer this question using an argument. Further down a text, you should not ask questions.

3. Is a DBQ essay an LEQ with documents?

A DBQ essay should consist of evidence from the documents provided in your task. LEQ (that stands for thesis-based response) should not contain any evidence at all.

4. How many documents usually need to be analyzed for DBQ essay?

Usually, before writing a DBQ essay, you need to analyze about 5 to 7 documents. But it is always a good idea to check with your professors for clear instructions.


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How to Write a DBQ Essay

Last Updated: September 23, 2023 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 83% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 663,825 times.

In the past, Document Based Questions (DBQ) were rarely found outside of AP history exams. However, they’re now used in social studies classes across grade levels, so you’re bound to take a DBQ test at some point. [1] X Research source Going into the test, you will need strong background knowledge of the time periods and geographical areas on which you will be tested. Your documents will always relate back directly to the major subjects and themes of your class. The key to success is to analyze the provided documents and use them to support an argument in response to the essay prompt. While DBQ tests are rigorous, they allow you to actually do historical work instead of merely memorize facts. Don’t stress, put on your historian hat, and start investigating!

Writing Help

thesis outline for dbq

Analyzing the Documents

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  • For an AP exam, you’ll then have 45 minutes to write your essay. Exact times may vary for other exams and assignments but, for all DBQ essays, document analysis is the first step.
  • For an AP exam, you will also need to include a thesis, set the prompt’s historical context, use 6 documents to support an argument, describe 1 piece of outside evidence, and discuss the point of view or context of at least 3 of the sources. Label these elements as you review and outline so you don’t forget something.

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  • A prompt might ask you to analyze or explain the causes of a historical development, such as, “Explain how the Progressive Movement gained social, political, and cultural influence from the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States.”
  • You might need to use primary sources to compare and contrast differing attitudes or points of view toward a concept, policy, or event, such as, “Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in the United States from 1890 to 1920.”
  • Keywords in these examples inform you how to read your sources. For instance, to compare and contrast differing attitudes, you’ll need to identify your sources’ authors, categorize their points of view, and figure out how attitudes changed over the specified period of time.

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  • Suppose one of the documents is a suffragette’s diary entry. Passages in the entry that detail her advocacy for the Women’s Rights Movement are evidence of her point of view. In contrast, another document is newspaper article written around the same time that opposes suffrage.
  • A diary entry might not have an intended audience but, for documents such as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, you’ll need to identify the author’s likely readers.
  • Most of your sources will probably be written documents, but you’ll likely encounter political cartoons, photographs, maps, or graphs. The U.S. Library of Congress offers a helpful guide to reading specific primary source categories at .

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  • Suppose you have a letter sent from one suffragette to another about the methods used to obtain the right to vote. This document may help you infer how attitudes vary among the movement’s supporters.
  • A newspaper article depicting suffragettes as unpatriotic women who would sabotage World War I for the United States helps you understand the opposing attitude.
  • Perhaps other sources include a 1917 editorial on the harsh treatment of imprisoned suffragists and an article on major political endorsements for women’s suffrage. From these, you’d infer that 1917 marked a pivotal year, and that the role women played on the home front during World War I would lead to broader support for suffrage.

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  • For instance, perhaps you read that the National American Woman Suffrage association (NAWSA) made a strategic shift in 1916 from focusing on state-by-state suffrage to prioritizing a constitutional amendment. Mentioning this switch to a more aggressive strategy supports your claim that the stage was set for a 1917 turning point in popular support for women’s suffrage.
  • When you think of outside evidence during the planning stages, jot it down so you can refer to it when you write your essay. A good spot could be in the margin of a document that relates to the outside information.

Developing an Argument

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  • For example, after reviewing the documents related to women’s suffrage, identify the opposing attitudes, how they differed, and how they changed over time.
  • Your rough argument at this stage could be, “Those in opposition saw suffragettes as unpatriotic and unfeminine. Attitudes within the suffrage movement were divided between conservative and confrontational elements. By the end of World War I, changing perceptions of the role of women contributed to growing popular support for suffrage.”

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  • Suppose your DBQ is, “How did World War I affect attitudes toward women’s suffrage in the United States?” A strong tentative thesis would be, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.”
  • A weak thesis would be, “World War I affected how Americans perceived women’s suffrage.” This simply restates the prompt.

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  • For example, under numeral I., write, “New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s.” This section will explain the 1890s concept of the New Woman, which rejected traditional characterizations of women as dependent and fragile. You’ll argue that this, in part, set the stage for shifting attitudes during and following World War I.
  • You can start your planning your essay during the reading portion of the test. If necessary, take around 5 minutes out of the writing portion to finish outlining your argument.

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  • For instance, under “I. New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s,” write “(Doc 1),” which is a pamphlet praising women who ride bicycles, which was seen as “unladylike” at the time.
  • Beneath that line, write “(Doc 2),” which is an article that defends the traditional view that women should remain in the household. You’ll use this document to explain the opposing views that set the context for suffrage debates in the 1900s and 1910s.

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  • Suppose your tentative thesis is, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.” You decide that “contributed” isn’t strong enough, and swap it out for “led” to emphasize causation.

Drafting Your Essay

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  • If you have 45 minutes to write, take about 5 minutes to make an outline. If you have an introduction, 3 main points that cite 6 documents, and a conclusion, plan on spending 7 minutes or less on each of these 5 sections. That will leave you 5 minutes to proofread or to serve as a buffer in case you need more time.
  • Check the time periodically as you write to ensure you’re staying on target.

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  • To set the context, you might write, “The Progressive Era, which spanned roughly from 1890 to 1920, was a time of political, economic, and cultural reform in the United States. A central movement of the era, the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum as perceptions of the role of women dramatically shifted.”
  • If you’d prefer to get straight to the point, feel free to start your introduction with your thesis, then set the context.
  • A timed DBQ essay test doesn’t leave you much time to write a long introduction, so get straight to analyzing the documents rather than spell out a long, detailed intro.

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  • Each body section should have a topic sentence to let the reader know you’re transitioning to a new piece of evidence. For example, start the first section with, “The 1890s saw shifts in perception that set the stage for the major advances in women’s suffrage during and following World War I.”
  • Be sure to cite your documents to support each part of your argument. Include direct quotes sparingly, if at all, and prioritize analysis of a source over merely quoting it.
  • Whenever you mention a document or information within a document, add parentheses and the number of the document at the end of the sentence, like this: “Women who were not suffragettes but still supported the movement wrote letters discussing their desire to help (Document 2).”

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  • For example, a private diary entry from 1916 dismissing suffrage as morally corrupt isn’t necessarily a reflection of broader public opinion. There's more to consider than just its content, or what it says.
  • Suppose a more reliable document, such as a major newspaper article on the 1916 Democratic and Republican national conventions, details the growing political and public support for women’s suffrage. You’d use this source to show that the diary entry conveys an attitude that was becoming less popular.

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  • In your essay on World War I and women’s suffrage, you could summarize your argument, then mention that the war similarly impacted women’s voting rights on an international scale.

Revising Your Draft

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  • If you’re taking an AP history exam or other timed test, minor errors are acceptable as long as they don't affect your argument. Spelling mistakes, for instance, won’t result in a loss of points if the scorer can still understand the word, such as “sufrage” instead of “suffrage.”

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  • A clear thesis statement.
  • Set the prompt’s broader historical context.
  • Support your argument using 6 of the 7 included documents.
  • Identify and explain 1 piece of historical evidence other than the included documents.
  • Describe 3 of the documents’ points of view, purposes, audiences, or context.
  • Demonstrate a complex understanding of the topic, such as by discussing causation, change, continuity, or connections to other historical periods.

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  • As with spelling and grammar, minor errors are acceptable as long as the scorer knows what you mean. Little spelling mistakes are fine, but you’ll lose points if you write that a source supports suffrage when it doesn’t.

Community Q&A

wikiHow Staff Editor

  • Remember that you shouldn't just identify or summarize a document. Explain why a source is important, and tie each reference into your argument. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you’re taking an AP history exam, find exam rubrics, practice tests, and other resources at . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Taking a timed test can be tough, so time yourself when you take practice tests. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

thesis outline for dbq

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About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

Document-Based Questions, or DBQ essays, are often used in social studies classes to test your ability to do historical work rather than simply memorize facts. Start by spending some time reviewing the documents and developing an argument. Pay special attention to keywords in the prompt that will help you construct your argument. For example, if the prompt includes the words "compare and contrast," you'll need to include 2 different viewpoints in your essay and compare them. Then, as you read your sources, note the authors, points of view, and other key details that will help you figure out how to use the documents. Once you’ve reviewed all of the material, come up with your response. Sketch out a tentative thesis that encapsulates your argument and make an outline for your essay. You can then draft your essay, starting with an introduction that gives context and states your thesis, followed by supporting body paragraphs. To learn how to write a conclusion for your DBQ, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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