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How to Write a DBQ Essay

Last Updated: February 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a Private Tutor and Life Coach in Santa Cruz, California. In 2018, she founded Mindful & Well, a natural healing and wellness coaching service. 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. Emily also received her Wellness Coach Certificate from Cornell University and completed the Mindfulness Training by Mindful Schools. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 681,210 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

how to write dbq essay

Analyzing the Documents

Step 1 Review the documents for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • 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.

Step 2 Identify the prompt’s keywords and assigned tasks.

  • 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.

Step 3 Note your documents’ authors, points of view, and other details.

  • 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 https://www.loc.gov/teachers/usingprimarysources/guides.html .

Step 4 Place your sources into categories based on the essay prompt.

  • 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.

Step 5 Think of relevant outside information to include in your essay.

  • 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

Step 1 Review the prompt and form a perspective after reading the documents.

  • 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.”

Step 2 Refine your rough...

  • 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.

Step 3 Make an outline of your argument’s structure.

  • 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.

Step 4 Plug your document citations into the outline.

  • 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.

Step 5 Refine your thesis after making the outline.

  • 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

Step 1 Keep your eye on the clock and plan your time strategically.

  • 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.

Step 2 Include your thesis and 1 to 2 sentences of context in your introduction.

  • 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.

Step 3 Write your body paragraphs.

  • 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).”

Step 4 Make sure to show how each body paragraph connects to your thesis.

  • 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.

Step 5 Weave together your argument in your conclusion.

  • 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

Step 1 Proofread your essay for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • 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.”

Step 2 Make sure you’ve included all required elements.

  • 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.

Step 3 Check that your names, dates, and other facts are accurate.

  • 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 https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses . 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

how to write dbq essay

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  • ↑ http://www.gpb.org/blogs/education-matters/2016/10/14/getting-started-document-based-questions
  • ↑ https://sourceessay.com/tips-to-write-an-impressive-dbq-essay/
  • ↑ https://libguides.jcu.edu.au/writing/writing1
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-dbq-2018.pdf?course=ap-united-states-history
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-course-and-exam-description.pdf
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

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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how to write dbq essay

How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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What’s Covered:

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:

how to write dbq essay

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. 

how to write dbq essay

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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

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

how to write dbq essay

how to write dbq essay

How to Write a DBQ

how to write dbq essay

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.

Feeling Overwhelmed Writing a DBQ ESSAY?

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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.

If you think that it's better to pay someone to write my dissertation instead of writing it by your own, get help from our law essay writing team.

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 .

Are you still stuck? Do you sometimes think to yourself: 'Can someone write essay for me '? You’re in luck. Our essay writing service is designed to allow you to easily find custom essay writers at your convenience. Every DBQ essay we deliver is completely original.


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

Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

how to write dbq essay


How to Write a DBQ Essay: The Ultimate Guide

  • Post by: Professor Conquer
  • Last updated on: August 28, 2021

Spread the love

Are you a student preparing for APUSH, or AP World History, or AP European History, who hasn’t quite mastered the art of writing the DBQ essay? Don’t worry — it’s a reasonably complex essay, but when broken down into steps, easy to figure out.

Read on for DBQ essay tips: how to annotate the documents, draft your DBQ essay outline, craft your DBQ thesis and argument, write the DBQ, and revise your essay. Included are DBQ examples from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam.

First Things First: What is a DBQ Essay?

A DBQ, or Document Based Question, is an essay question present on many of the history-based AP Exams , including AP U.S. History , AP European History , and AP World History .

The DBQ is one somewhat specific prompt about a historical context, and it includes six documents (either primary text excerpts, art pieces, political cartoons, or other types of archival media).

The goal of the DBQ is to write an essay arguing your specific stance on the question and to support your position with both a selection of the documents and other knowledge of historical events.

You’ll have to provide historical context for the prompt and demonstrate how some factor of each document supports your argument. You’ll also need a firm conclusion that restates your thesis and analysis.

The DBQ will be worth 25% of your score, so it’s essential to do well.

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

After you read the prompt, look through the packet of documents and take a second to analyze each in conjunction with the prompt. Does the message of the document seem to support or refute the prompt?

Jot down a few keywords about the historical context of the document — is it from a specific historical event or written by a member of a prominent historical movement? If so, make sure to reference that in your essay.

Also, note whether you can easily use the document to support the prompt.

Make sure to manage your time here — if you’re stuck on a document, just skip it. Don’t waste time trying to figure out something you may not even need in your essay. Don’t make detailed notes either — only one or two keywords you can reference later in your essay.

After you’ve looked at every document, you can determine your argument and your thesis. Are there enough documents that you can easily support the prompt statement? Pick three key points to use in your thesis, with one or two documents for each.

Your outline should not be long or detailed because the last thing you want to do is waste time. All you need is 5 points, one for each paragraph: intro, thesis points 1-3, conclusion (which is just restating the thesis).

how to write dbq essay

For each point, write down the main idea of the paragraph, summed up into two or three words, any historical buzzwords you plan to use, and the documents you plan to reference. That should provide enough of a skeleton to get you writing.

Here’s an example, from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam DBQ , released by The College Board. The prompt is as follows:

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.

For the outline, look at the documents and devise a thesis. In this case, the writer can group the documents by topic: 2 documents about the importance of a strong foreign presence, two documents warning about federal expansion, and two documents lamenting a divergence from social traditionalism. This means you might want to consider making those three categories your thesis points.

Then, figure out how to make an argument and answer the prompt.

Also, consider the historical context of the time.

Example outline (2018 question):

Contextualization: Post Civil War South in shambles, expansion of industrialization, favorable tariffs, prior isolationism halted in seeking new markets.

Thesis: Imperialism — attitudes of American superiority, foreign conflicts leading to territory gains/opportunities (Manifest Destiny idea), but also backlash to imperialism.

1. Attitudes of American superiority

  • If Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will. (Doc 2)
  • A strong navy/military is necessary to defend superior American interests (Doc 3)
  • America as a country can take whatever territories it desires (Doc 4)
  • Attitude that America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad (Doc 6)
  • Efforts to oppose America unsuccessful (ie in the Philippines)

2. Foreign conflicts and territory gains

  • US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia (Doc 1)
  • Teddy Roosevelt & the importance of foreign affairs (Doc 7)

Conclusion: These attitudes of American superiority continue into the 20th century.

Your outline doesn’t need to be detailed, just provide a roadmap for you to reference as you’re writing your essay, so you don’t lose the focus of your argument.

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

Start drafting your thesis by looking at the prompt and the documents in conjunction. Make sure you can support your thesis with some of the documents. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to back it up.

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Figure out what the prompt is asking: College Board tends to use an “action word” in the prompt, each one asking a slightly different thing. Underline the verb — what the prompt wants you to do. Examples:

  • Analyze, Discuss, Consider: Write about the causes and mechanizations of the prompt: basically how and why something occurred the way it did historically. Use evidence (the documents) to back up your claims.
  • Assess: Generally, in reference to a statement. Write about how historically defensible, or accurate the statement is. You can take any stance, but whichever one you choose needs to be backed up by evidence (the documents).
  • Evaluate: Determine which cause, or historical factor, proved most influential in the way a past event or movement played out. You can discuss several factors or causes, and figure out the extent to which each impacted the historical event, back up your evaluation with evidence.
  • Compare/Contrast: Identify key historical characteristics (social, political, economic) of the two movements/events/etc. listed in the prompt, and then draw comparisons between them and point out their differences. For your three-point essay, choose either two to be similarities and one to be a difference or two to be differences and one to be a similarity, depending on what you have evidence for/documents to back up.
  • Explain: Provide lots of detail about the causes or contributing factors to the historical event/movement/etc. listed in the prompt. Look at the social, political, and economic factors, and back up your explanation with the documents and other outside evidence.

Make sure your thesis answers the prompt, but moreover, makes a historically defensible claim that can be supported by the documents. You can then develop your thesis points using the context of the documents.

Your thesis also functions as a sort of roadmap for where your paper will go. Include your thesis points in an order that will make sense in your essay, especially if they build on each other.

Your thesis only has to be one to three sentences. Don’t start writing your body paragraph while still in your thesis statement — save all the evidence for later in your paper.

Here’s an introduction and thesis paragraph scoring full points, released by the College Board from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam. The first part of the paragraph functions as contextualization, and it introduces the period, setting up the prompt.

The next part is the thesis:

 The United States primarily sought to increase its role in the world due to the notion that America and the American lifestyle was superior and to also gain strategic territory to expand their influence globally. Despite these strong imperialist sentiments, however, there were still many who were against the movement and considered it a moral wrongdoing.

The student takes a clear stance here: The US deliberately sought to increase their role in global affairs, and a rhetoric of American superiority and the quest to gain more territory together caused this increase.

  • The general assumption of American superiority
  • The government gaining strategic territory for global affairs
  • Pushback to imperialism

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

Again, develop your argument by looking at the documents. What about the goal or message of each document supports your argument? What does each document say about its historical period? Ask these questions and jot down some other buzzwords from the time period you could reference to support your argument.

You can put the documents into categories depending on what they’re saying — then you can use these categories to develop your thesis points, which back up your argument.

In the case of the 2018 DBQ referenced above, the student grouped their documents by body paragraphs.

For their first thesis point, the general assumption of American superiority,

  • A document telling Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will.
  • A document stating the importance of a strong navy to defend American interests
  • A cartoon portraying America as a country in a position to take whatever territories it desires
  • A document suggesting America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad.

Together, they used these documents to demonstrate attitudes both political and social driving American imperialism, and how the rhetoric of American superiority pushed the US to imperialism and into global affairs.

For their second thesis point, gaining strategic territory for global affairs

  • A document about the US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia
  • A document from Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of foreign affairs.

These demonstrated how the US’s direct intervention in foreign affairs could get them more territory and power — which increased the US’s global influence.

Since their third thesis point wasn’t a cause, more of a qualifying point, the student didn’t use any of the documents.

By grouping documents together based on their message, it’s easier to develop supportable thesis points. However, if you can think of several thesis points after reading the prompt, you can also jot them down and then see what documents fit under each.

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

You should contextualize/analyze at least three documents in your essay. Here are some options to analyze. For the examples, we’ll use document 3 from the same 2018 DBQ. For each example, sample notes and a sample essay analysis sentence are included. Remember, you only have to analyze one characteristic of each document for your essay.

Source: Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, 1897.

To affirm the importance of distant markets, and the relation to them of our own immense powers of production, implies logically the recognition of the link that joins the products and the markets, that is, the carrying trade; the three together constituting that chain of maritime power to which Great Britain owes her wealth and greatness. Further, is it too much to say that, as two of these links, the shipping and the markets, are exterior to our own borders, the acknowledgement of them carries with it a view of the relations of the United States to the world radically distinct from the simple idea of self-sufficingness? … There will dawn the realization of America’s unique position, facing the older worlds of the East and West, her shores washed by the oceans which touch the one or the other, but which are common to her alone.

Despite a certain great original superiority conferred by our geographical nearness and immense resources, due, in other words, to our natural advantages, and not to our intelligent preparation, the United States is woefully unready, not only in fact but in purpose, to assert in the Caribbean and Central America a weight of influence proportioned to the extent of her interests. We have not the navy, and, what is worse, we are not willing to have the navy, that will weigh hersiously in any disputes with those nations whose interests will conflict there will or our own. We have not, and we are not anxious to provide, the defence of the seaboard which will leave the navy free for its work at sea. We have not, but many other powers have, positions, either within or on the borders of the Caribbean.

1. Author’s point of view

Was the author a member of a political party opposed to specific issues, or an activist leading a prominent social movement? Identify their outlook on the document.

Notes to take: 2018 example: importance of navy, military strength for imperialism

Analysis: 2018 example: The author, like some military leaders at the time, advocated for the strengthening of domestic fortification and the enlargement of the navy to extend America’s influence abroad.

2. The intended audience

Is the document a news article from a major newspaper? An excerpt from a political pamphlet? A diary entry? Ask yourself who would have read the document — this will help you identify the author’s intended message.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Military interests abroad

Analysis: 2018 example: The intended audience was military leaders interested in hearing how better to increase the US’s influence abroad and fortify the country domestically.

3. The message or purpose of the document

Was the document’s purpose to inform readers objectively? Was it to persuade them to join a political movement? Or to entertain them? Identifying the purpose can help you better understand the document, and use the document to strengthen your argument.

Notes to take: 2018 example: fortify the navy, influence military/political leaders

Analysis: 2018 example: The author attempted to influence United States political leaders to enlarge the United States Navy to extend its reach into Central America and the Far East

4. Historical influences on the document

Did a specific historical event motivate the author to create the document? Did the actions of other scholars, activists, or politicians noticeably inspire the author? This one might not be easy, but if you know about other historical movements or figures during the same or an earlier time period with a similar message, they might be related. Take note.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Federal expansion, desegregation, civil rights movt

Analysis: 2018 example: European endeavors in Latin America and in the Far East increased the need for the United States to extend its reach into the region to protect its growing economic interests.

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

1. Be familiar with the rubric , and follow it.

The DBQ rubric is as follows:

Thesis: 1 point. Must answer the prompt with a historically defensible claim.

Contextualization: 1 point. Contextualization can be part of your introduction paragraph. Introduce the broader historical context of the time period — what, outside the specific events of the prompt, influenced public attitudes or policy during the time period? How might these other factors have influenced the events of the prompt?

Evidence: 3 points. Using at least 3 of the documents to address the prompt and strengthen your argument is 1 point. Using at least 6 of the documents to address the prompt and reinforce your argument will get you 2 points. Using outside evidence not discussed in any of the documents from your historical knowledge will get you 1 point.

If you use six documents and some outside evidence, you’ll get the full 3 points.

Analysis and reasoning: 2 points. One point if, for at least 3 of the documents, you analyze the author’s point of view, purpose, audience, or historical influences in reference to the prompt and support your argument. Explain why the author’s purpose, or audience, etc. is relevant to your case to get this point.

For the second point, you have to use evidence to demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of the topic of the prompt. Does your argument answer the question in a way that’s supported with both the documents and other evidence? Does your writing show that you know what you’re talking about?

If you’ve reviewed the rubric ahead of time, make sure to mentally check off boxes as you go through and write. You could potentially miss something small (ie, only integrating five documents, or forgetting to reference outside evidence) and lose a whole point.

2. Use the documents as a guide.

Since you have to include at least six documents in your essay for the full 2 points, you should make sure they can fit into your thesis points and support your argument. When you’re stuck writing one of your body paragraphs, reference a document and analyze how it reflects historical attitudes at the time.

You should also add in the documents you plan to reference in your outline, so if you follow your outline, you can let the documents and other outside evidence guide your writing.

However, also remember to bring in at least one piece of outside historical knowledge — treat that as another document and analyze it to support your argument.

3. Use your historical knowledge to supplement the documents.

Bring in your knowledge beyond the documents and their contexts. Is one of the documents from a suffragette in the 19th century? Bring in some of the other knowledge you have about the early feminist movement and the push for women’s voting rights. Add in critical buzzwords the documents may not have directly stated, and talk about similar events and movements at the time that may have affected or been affected by the document.

You can also reference historical events, movements, or people not discussed in any of the documents at all, assuming they support your argument, to strengthen your essay outside the scope of the documents.

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

In the updated 2017 DBQ, you don’t need to write a synthesis paragraph. So conclude your DBQ essay by reiterating the main analysis points of your body paragraph briefly, and restate your thesis. Together, this will distill your essay down to its main points for a clear, strong conclusion.

Don’t add any new material — all your analysis should be in your body paragraphs, and anything more will just confuse your reader.

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

If you have time before the end of the writing period and you’ve finished writing your DBQ, go back and revise it. Read through everything again, paying close attention to the following.


  • Have you successfully “set the scene” by describing some of the relevant historical context of the time period, including other prominent social movements, policies and legislation, economic market changes, or religious movements?
  • Are your three original thesis points used as the foundation for your three body paragraphs? If not, change your thesis to make sure it lines up with the rest of your essay.
  • Does your thesis take a stance and make a historically defensible claim? Read it over in conjunction with the prompt and make sure it’s answering the entirety of the question and not just restating the prompt.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Do you use two or more documents per body paragraph for a total of 6 or more documents total? If not, look over which documents you haven’t used and integrate them into one of your body paragraphs.
  • Each time you use a document, do you effectively contextualize it? Do you discuss how the author’s purpose, intended audience, point of view, or historical influences support your argument? If not, add that.
  • Is your argument logically supported by each piece of evidence you offer?
  • Do you have at least one piece of evidence outside of the documents that supports your argument?
  • Does each body paragraph flow logically into the next? Make sure your transitions are smooth.

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

You only have a limited amount of time for the entire essay, so manage your time intelligently . I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 10, 15 minutes max thinking about your argument and drafting an outline.

During the AP exam, they’ll give you a specific time period of 15 minutes to spend reading the documents and thinking about your argument, then 45 minutes to write the essay.

But 45 minutes isn’t a ton of time, use the 15 minutes intelligently, so you’re ready to start writing as soon as possible. You want the maximum possible amount of time for writing since that’s what’s going to be graded.

Ideally, you should try and finish with five minutes or so to revise your finished essay, check for readability errors, factual errors, parts where your argument isn’t cohesive.

Make sure to coordinate with the other essay: the LEQ to make sure you have enough time to write both essays successfully. You get 55 minutes for the DBQ and 35 minutes for the LEQ, so the longer you spend on the DBQ, the less time you get on the LEQ.

This is why practice is so important! You won’t be able to write a good DBQ in 45-55 minutes on your first try.

You shouldn’t need a ton of time to look over each document, just jot down a few keywords about what it’s saying and how that might fit into your essay. Your outline doesn’t need to be more than 5 points: an intro, conclusion, and three body paragraphs, each based on a thesis point, with the documents you plan to use for each.

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

Good DBQs have theses with a strong stance and defensible claim, as well as three specific points that build on each other and can be backed up logically using six of the documents provided.

Good thesis examples (from the 2018 question):

“While some historians may argue that the US desire to expand its role in the world was due to the fact that the US felt it was its duty to civilize nations and act as a global police, the most important reason for America expanding its role in the world can be attributed to its competition with Europe over global influence, its desire to expand its economy through trading opportunities, and the U.S. ideal of manifest destiny.”

This thesis makes a claim and reflects the cause and effect prompt. You can tell where their essay is going to go: to discuss the US as global police and its competition with other global influencers.

“The country was doing this for a few reasons, such as expanding its territory, (manifest destiny or imperialism) preserving its national interests such as trading with China, and helping other nations.”

Same with this thesis — though this one isn’t as wordy. It outlines 3 body paragraph points and makes a defensible argument.

Bad DBQ theses don’t make a strong claim, instead opting for a vague statement that can’t be defended well either way. They pick thesis points that cannot be backed up well with the documents or other outside evidence.

Bad thesis example:

Due to this, America began to embark on an imperialistic mission in the latter half of the 1800’s in the name of economic, social, and political ‘necessities.’

Different causes and events had a major importance in expanding the role of the US in the world.

These theses aren’t specific to the time period. They restate the prompt, and we have no idea what the “necessities” might be.

Good DBQs integrate their documents logically, in a way that supports their claim. They analyze the historical context of the documents and note how the author’s intended audience, purpose, point of view, or historical influences play into their argument.

They also reference the specific names of related historical events or influences to strengthen their argument and bring in other outside evidence not related to the document that supports their point.

Bad DBQs don’t use the documents to support their argument, instead of discussing the documents outside of the context of their argument, or forgetting to use the documents. They might draw illogical or loose-fitting connections between the documents and their argument, while unable to entirely explain why they fit together.

They don’t use any evidence outside the documents, and they’re unable to provide specific historical names for events or movements related to the documents.


Good DBQs go back to the prompt and restate the thesis, as well as a few main points of your analysis.

Bad DBQs add more material that should have gone in a body paragraph, that will just further confuse the reader.

College Board Resources for DBQs

College Board Resources for DBQs

The College Board website has lots of practice DBQs and DBQ resources to use. Make sure you look some over before the exam to get a sense of how the College Board tends to grade them and what easy mistakes you can avoid.

Most Updated DBQ Rubric : Here are the rubrics for all the AP History essays.

Practice DBQs:

Practice writing DBQs then read some sample essays and grade them with the rubric for more familiarity with the DBQ essay rubric.

AP U.S. History past DBQs

AP European History past DBQs

AP World History past DBQs

More information: AP Classroom

Specific information about AP History, including timing and question numbers, FAQs, plus practice resources:

AP World History

Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways on Writing a Good DBQ Essay

The biggest takeaways to writing a good DBQ should be: starting prepared by annotating the documents and drafting your thesis and a clear outline to guide you through the writing process. You need to make sure you have a robust and defensible argument and that your documents can back up your key points.

Hopefully, the listed tips have helped you better understand the DBQ rubric and the skills you need to ace the DBQ, but don’t forget the next step: practice! The DBQ essay style is a little complex, and the best way to better remember it for the test is to look at some of the sample prompts on the College Board website and practice! Then, go through the grading rubrics and identify your weak point, so next time you’ll be even better.

Did you enjoy this post? Then you may also want to check out some of our guides to the best AP review books .

We also created extensive tips guides for many of the AP History courses:

> AP US Government Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP US History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP World History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

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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...


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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.


Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.


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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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AP® US History

How to write a new ap® us history dbq.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

How to Write a New AP® US History DBQ

Hey! We wrote an updated version of this post here . Check it out for helpful videos and FRQ tips.

The dreaded AP® US History Document Based Question. For years it has struck fear in the hearts of many, turned boys into men and rookie students into old, weathered veterans. Rumor has it that little Jimmy Walker once took the AP® US History exam and when he got to the DBQ section, proceeded to spontaneously combust. Okay, so maybe that is a little dramatic. But the DBQ can be a really intimidating process that stands in the way of success for many students. Lucky for you, with this comprehensive guide, it can be relatively painless, and you will be well on your way to academic success and glory.

To start with, it is a good idea to figure out what exactly you are trying to  accomplish on the DBQ .  The quickest way to a high score is to know what the test scorers are looking for, and then do it! The rubric for grading the AP® US History DBQ can be found  here . Also lucky for you, we broke down the rubric to make it easy to understand. Before you continue through the rest of this how-to guide, be sure to go check out the DBQ rubric guide  here .

All right, so now you know what they are looking for and what you are trying to accomplish. Let’s get started.

The DBQ Layout:

Okay, so here’s how it works. Basically, you will be given an essay prompt, a set of primary source documents (never more than 7), and only 60 minutes to come up with a well written, clear and coherent essay response. The general rule of thumb, recommended by the good people at CollegeBoard, is to dedicate about 15 of those precious minutes to planning and the last 45 to writing. That may seem a little overwhelming, but it is totally doable! Especially with these 6 easy steps!

1. Read the Question.

Then figure out what the question is asking you. I can’t stress this enough, figuring out what the prompt is asking you is critical. No matter how good of a writer you are, or how much history you may know, if you don’t answer the question, you are sunk. A neat tip might be to write out in your own words what the question is asking.

As you are reading the question, be on the lookout for which skills they are trying to test you on. Every DBQ is looking to test your skills of historical argumentation, use of historical evidence,  contextualization , and synthesis. These things are outlined in the rubric and are consistent parts of every good DBQ. In addition to these critical skills, a DBQ will be looking to analyze one of a number of certain skills. These include: causation, change/continuity over time, comparison, interpretation, or periodization. Don’t waste too much time trying to figure this out, and don’t get so caught up in it that you forget to answer the actual question, just be sure to keep it in mind as you plan out your answer.

That probably seems like an insanely long first step, but all of that will really only take a couple of minutes and set you up to breeze through the rest of the process. Once you have thoroughly read and interpreted the question, you are ready for step number 2!

2. Dig into the Sources

While you want to make sure that you read each document, don’t waste your time on too focused of a reading. Underline or highlight things that stand out, and make notes out to the side. One suggestion is to write a quick sentence or two that summarizes the main idea of each document. And again, this is all just part of the 15-minute planning period; so don’t get too caught up on any document. You are just looking for main ideas and details that really stand out. To take this one step further, you can organize the documents into groups based on their main point. (For highest score possibilities, make sure to use either all or all but one of the primary source documents).

3. Make an Outline.

First decide on a thesis, and from there think about how you want to use your primary source documents to support that thesis. Think about what kinds of outside information you might want to bring in to further support your argument, and where it will fit into your essay as a whole. Once more, don’t get stuck mapping out every single thing that you are going to say, but be sure that you include documents where they fit in the response. This will make it much easier to incorporate them into your answer. Hopefully it has only been 15 minutes or less at this point and you are now ready to write!

4. Start Writing!

how to write dbq essay

Most of your highly intensive, critical thinking type stuff should already have happened and now it is just all about putting those thoughts into words. If you played your cards right and made good use of the first 15 minutes, this part of the process should be pretty straightforward. Start with a brief introduction that gives a little context to the subject matter and shows that you know some of the details surrounding the subject matter. Introduce your thesis, then a few of your main ideas that support your thesis. This part of your paper is not much different than a regular essay response.

5. Keep Writing!

As you get going on some longer paragraphs and stringing together lots of sophisticated and smart sounding sentences, it can be easy to lose sight of the main points of your paper. I have said it a couple times already, but it is absolutely essential that you answer the question!

A few key things to keep in mind as you write your body:

1. Use specific references from your documents, and always show where you are getting the information. At the same time, don’t just use huge block quotes to take up a bunch of space. Use what you need to answer the question.

2. Make sure you use some outside knowledge to support your argument, along with your documents. Specific examples that aren’t on the documents are super helpful in making your argument stronger, and just showing that you know what you are talking about.

3. Don’t forget to contextualize. Things that happen in history are not isolated events, and the circumstances surrounding things matter. Don’t forget to address that.

6. Wrap it up with a ballin’ conclusion.

Don’t draw it out and don’t introduce new ideas in the conclusion. Make it short and to the point. Summarize what your main thesis and arguments were and leave it at that. Don’t try to be too clever or witty or trite and you actually don’t have to use the term “In conclusion” every time you write a conclusion. (Mind blown, I know).

If you follow these 6 easy steps and  ANSWER THE QUESTION , you will demolish the DBQ section of the  AP® US History  exam. (That’s a good thing). And at the very least, you will make it out better than poor Jimmy Walker.

Looking for AP® US History practice?

Kickstart your AP® US History prep with Albert. Start your AP® exam prep today .

Interested in a school license?​

4 thoughts on “how to write a new ap® us history dbq”.

This says it was updated in May of 2020, bull crap! YOu are telling students they have 15 min to read the documents and 45 to write. Thats wrong! They have a total of 45 min. on the new 2020 online DBQ. So Im telling students to spend no more than 19 min with reading the docs. Come on guys! get this updated

I meant 10 min on reading Docs.

Paul, this was written several years ago as noted by the disclaimer. For the 2020 exam, please review our new guide here: https://www.albert.io/blog/ap-us-history-review/

Thanks for the comment!

Paul, this is an article from a few years ago (note the disclaimer). The updates made to this were just images, not core content. Our 2020 AP® US History guide can be found here: https://www.albert.io/blog/ap-us-history-review/

Comments are closed.

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What Is a DBQ? Understanding DBQs and How to Excel in Writing One

What Is a DBQ? Understanding DBQs and How to Excel in Writing One

What Is a DBQ?

Format of a dbq, what makes a good dbq essay, how to prepare for a dbq.

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Curious about what a DBQ is and how to excel in writing one? This blog post will demystify Document-Based Questions, explain how they are scored, and offer a step-by-step playbook filled with tested strategies. Whether you’re preparing for an AP History exam or seeking to boost your essay-writing skills, you’ll find the guidance you need right here.

If you’re considering or currently enrolled in an Advanced Placement (AP) course , you've likely heard the term "DBQ" mentioned either by your teacher or in test preparation materials. But what exactly is a DBQ? Understanding what a DBQ is and how it fits into AP testing is crucial for your success. This article explains what a DBQ is, their purpose and format, what's required in a DBQ response, how they're scored, and how to prepare.

Already enrolled in an AP class and wondering what it takes to write a DBQ essay? Don't worry, you'll also find a step-by-step method for writing your DBQ essay, with proven strategies from our Crimson experts.

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question . This type of essay question is on AP History Exams , such as AP United States History , AP European History , and AP World History .

The Key Features of a DBQ

  • A prompt presenting a critical thinking task about a historical period and topic
  • Several short primary source documents related to the prompt and historical topic for you to review, analyze, and use to make or support claims in your essay
  • The application of evidence-based reading and writing skills , including the application of your own knowledge (from your AP course) about the time period and topic presented in the prompt
  • Writing a response in the form of an essay that uses critical thinking and is guided by a thesis (a central claim or argument) that address the prompt and is defended with analysis and evidence.

The Purpose of a DBQ

The main purpose of a DBQ is to test your ability to apply your knowledge of history and think critically about history, in the ways historians do .

A DBQ is designed to assess what you've learned about the principles of historical research and analysis, as opposed to just testing your knowledge of rote facts, dates, and events.

A DBQ also tests your ability to assess and make defensible use of primary source documents in order to illustrate, interpret, and analyze historical periods, concepts, trends, or events.

  • Document analysis : in order to use primary source documents in a credible way, historians need to critically assess source documents in a historical context , taking into consideration the origin, meaning, and purpose of a document, its authorship, intended audience, and so forth, depending on what factors are most relevant to the document and to the research focus.
  • Making Sense of Sources : Historians need to think about how source documents can illuminate our understanding of history, such as how do various sources corroborate, qualify, or challenge existing views of historical events ? This typically involves synthesizing historical knowledge and assessments of source documents and looking for patterns, factual evidence, or inconsistencies across different viewpoints and sources.
  • Making Interpretive Claims: Beyond multiple choice and short answer questions, a DBQ involves synthesizing and applying knowledge and sources . For example, we all know the US Civil War started in 1861, but we don't all agree on the primary vs. secondary causes of the war, or if the war could have been avoided or not, or if the Civil War period offers meaningful parallels or insights into contemporary US events. These kinds of interpretive skills require making claims and defending them with analysis and evidence ; DBQs are formatted to test skills like these.

Principal Skills Tested

As a complex, critical thinking task, the DBQ tests a variety of course-related skills.

Background knowledge

DBQs test students' knowledge of important historical periods, concepts, developments, people, events, and trends studied in the AP course and aligned with learning objectives in the course syllabus.

Critical thinking and applied knowledge

Your DBQ response requires you to analyze and interpret historical sources using higher order thinking skills such as analysis, comparison, cause and effect, and synthesis. You also need to apply the knowledge you've studied in class along with academic principles of historical investigation in order to make and defend an interpretive thesis.

Expository writing skills

You need to create a clear and ordered essay that presents and supports a clear interpretive thesis. This tests your ability to write about historical events and topics using expository and argumentative writing skills .

Learn more about AP History Exams:

AP US History Exam: Everything You Need to Know

Navigating AP World History: A Comprehensive Guide

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DBQs have a predictable format, with four key components:

  • The Prompt: This sets the stage for your essay by providing a specific question or statement that you need to address. The prompt will guide your entire approach, so read it carefully. 
  •   Historical Documents: You will be given a series of primary and secondary source documents, usually between 5 and 7. These documents can include textual sources, such as letters, speeches, and excerpts from historical books, as well as non-textual sources like photographs, maps, and charts.
  • Essay Writing: To respond to the DBQ, you'll write a timed essay that addresses the kind of analysis task, the time period, and topic set forth in the prompt.
  • Time Limits: The DBQ format provides a 15-minute period to review the prompt and historical documents and a 45-minute period for planning and writing your essay.

Examples of DBQ Prompts

  AP United States History (APUSH) :

    Prompt : "Analyze the ways in which the Vietnam War heightened social, political, and economic tensions in the United States. Focus your answer on the period 1964 to 1975."

  AP European History :

    Prompt : "Evaluate the extent to which the religious policies of sixteenth-century monarchs contributed to the growth of Protestantism. Use specific examples from England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire."

AP World History :

    Prompt : "Analyze the economic and social effects of the Columbian Exchange on the Americas and Europe during the period from 1492 to 1750."

  AP World History: Modern :

    Prompt : "Evaluate the extent to which the political, economic, and social goals of movements for national unification in nineteenth-century Germany and Italy were realized by 1871."

One of the key concerns for students tackling a DBQ is understanding what differentiates a good DBQ essay from an average one. You’ll find a much more detailed guide on writing a strong DBQ in Part II below. For now, here are some crucial elements that typically make a DBQ essay stand out, followed by the official DBQ Scoring Rubric.

Clear Thesis Statement

A clear thesis responds directly to the key critical thinking task presented in the prompt (analysis, causation, change vs. continuity…) laying out your main argument and providing a clear roadmap for your essay. It must be specific and assertive, telling the reader the claim you’ll be discussing, analyzing, and supporting with historical knowledge and with evidence from the documents accompanying the prompt.

Effective Use of Documents

A good DBQ essay incorporates a majority, if not all, of the provided documents. Each document should be accurately interpreted and utilized to help support, illuminate, or explain your thesis. It’s important to apply the source documents thoughtfully, this typically includes considerations of the author and/or author’s perspective, the type of document and purpose of the document, and the document’s historical context.


A strong essay includes broader historical context to frame your argument. This means explaining the more relevant events, trends, or policies that are part of the historical backdrop for the period, prompt, and your arguments.

Coherent Structure and Organization

You’ll want it to have the essential elements of essay structure, logic, and flow, but you’ll probably want to use a fairly straightforward organization given the time constraints, similar to a standard 5-paragraph essay.

Pick three or four subtopics around which to group the key points, arguments, and evidence (body of the essay).

Write clear and purposeful paragraphs. Use topic sentences to introduce the main idea of each paragraph and ensure each paragraph transitions smoothly to the next.

Be sure your introduction paragraph provides some context, rephrases key elements in the prompt, and presents your thesis (overarching claim or argument).

Solid Evidence and Analysis

A good DBQ uses evidence-based reading and writing strategies and critical thinking to make clear and historically nuanced arguments. Use evidence thoughtfully to corroborate, qualify (limit), or modify your claims and interpretations.

Evidence should include meaningful references to contextual information from the time period and the historical documents provided with the DBQ prompt.

Include observations and analysis of a document’s purpose, point of view, historical context, authorship, and intended audience when relevant to the historical context, the DBQ topic, or your claims.

The DBQ Scoring Rubric

Now that you've seen the qualities of a strong DBQ essay, understanding the scoring rubric can also help you target your efforts effectively.

DBQ Scoring

Essay Component and SkillsPoint ValueScoring Criteria
1. Thesis/Claim0–1 PointYour thesis responds to the prompt and is historically defensible
2. Contextualization0–1 PointYou connect your argument to broader historical events, developments, or processes that are relevant to the question
3. Evidence0–3 Points- One point for using at least three documents to address the topic - One point for using at least six documents to support the argument - One point for incorporating relevant outside information beyond the provided documents
4. Analysis and Reasoning0–2 Points- One point for sourcing at least three documents — explaining the author’s point of view, purpose, audience, and context - One point for demonstrating a complex understanding of the topic — discussing nuances, recognizing limitations of the documents, and connecting the topic to other historical periods or areas

Preparation for a DBQ is both an ongoing and intensive process . Here are some steps to help you get ready:

  • Understand the Format : Familiarize yourself with the structure of DBQs by reviewing practice questions and sample responses. The College Board website and various AP study materials and prep books are excellent resources. Pro Tip: Pay attention to common types of analysis required by different prompts, such as comparison, causation, or change vs. continuity.
  • Practice Writing : Regularly practice writing DBQ responses. Start with untimed practice to get a feel for the structure, then gradually work up to timed practice to simulate test conditions.
  • Analyze Sample Essays : Review high-scoring sample essays to understand what makes them effective. Pay attention to how these essays integrate documents and historical information.
  • Build Knowledge with Effective Study Habits : A strong background in the broader historical context will help you contextualize and support your DBQ claims and analysis, and should help you understand and integrate documents. Make use of timelines, summaries, and flashcards as study aids . Be sure to give yourself a long runway of consistent study time to build up mastery of your history curriculum.
  • Develop Analytical Skills : Work on skills that are critical for analyzing documents, such as identifying the author's perspective, understanding the historical context, identifying and analyzing causation, identifying influential concepts and their origins, tracking trends or movements over time (and how they progress, evolve, change, or stay the same).
  • If the AP history courses you want are not available at your school, or you need a more flexible option, the Crimson Global Academy has online AP courses across a wide range of subjects. Courses help you learn the required content and provide additional guidance, practice, and coaching for test items, including DBQs.

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PART II: How to Write a DBQ Essay


Writing a Document-Based Question (DBQ) response on the day of your AP History exam can be an intimidating task, but with a solid plan, you can tackle it confidently. Below are tips and strategies to help you navigate the entire exam-day writing process , from deconstructing the prompt, to developing a thesis, through writing and reviewing your essay.

1. Analyzing and Deconstructing the Prompt

Recommended Time Allocation: 5 minutes

Even if only takes 5 minutes, the first step in writing a strong DBQ response — thoroughly analyzing and deconstructing the prompt — is pivotal.

Before we show you exactly how to deconstruct a DBQ prompt, let's look at the most common types of DBQ prompts, reviewing the main types of analysis required by DBQs.

Common Prompts by Type of Analysis

  • Change and Continuity Over Time : Directs you to focus and analyze what has changed and what has remained the same across a specified time period in relation to a specified historical movement, trend, concept, or political or social policy.
  • Comparison : Asks you to compare different societies, events, processes, or policies to identify similarities or differences, or to rank them in terms of significance or impact.
  • Causation : Inquires about the causes and/or effects of a particular historical event or phenomenon.

Watch out for miscues when reading a prompt.

For example, the prompt "Describe the causes of the Civil War" requires you to explore and discuss causation .

But another prompt may mention causation but not be about analyzing causation. For example, the prompt "Among different causes of the US Civil War during the period 1818 to 1861, which played a bigger role in putting the North and South on a path to conflict, economic differences between the North and South or evolving views on social reforms?" This prompt refers to "causes of the US Civil War" but directs students to make a comparison of the relative importance and impact of two different kinds of causes.

How to Analyze the Prompt

  • Read the Prompt Carefully : Look for keywords and phrases to understand exactly what is being asked.
  • Identify the Task : Determine what the essay requires you to address—change over time, comparison, causation, etc.
  • Look for Time Periods and Geographical Context : Note any specific time periods or regions mentioned in the prompt, as these will guide your research and outline.

When deconstructing the prompt, write down the tasks and requirements. By writing them down, you’ll be super clear about them, can refer back, and won’t waste valuable brain cells as you proceed to tackle all the next steps of the essay!

Decoding DBQ Prompts

Prompt Type of AnalysisTime PeriodTasks
"Compare the political and economic effects of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and Japan during the 19th century."Comparison19th century1. Identify the political effects in both Britain and Japan. 2. Identify the economic effects in both Britain and Japan. 3. Compare and contrast these effects in the two countries. 4. Provide contextual information about the Industrial Revolution and its broader impact.
"Explain the causes of the American Civil War from 1848 to 1861."Causation1848-18611. Identify significant causes leading to the American Civil War. 2. Discuss the social, economic, and political factors that contributed. 3. Analyze how these causes are interrelated and their impact over time. 4. Provide background information on pre-war conditions in the United States.
"Analyze the changes and continuities in women's roles in society in the United States from 1900 to 1970."Change and Continuity Over Time1900-19701. Identify and elaborate on significant changes in women's roles from 1900 to 1970. 2. Identify and elaborate on aspects of women's roles that remained continuous. 3. Discuss social, political, and economic factors that influenced these changes and continuities. 4. Provide contextual information about key events and movements related to women's roles.

This chart should help you effectively decode DBQ prompts, enabling you to identify the type of analysis and the specific tasks required in preparation for planning your response.

Remember, after reading the prompt, check your understanding by writing down the specific kinds of analysis the prompt is asking you to perform.

This may seem like unnecessary effort, but under the pressure of a timed exam, it's easier than you think to misinterpret a DBQ prompt, steering yourself down the wrong path!

2. Review and Analyze Documents

Suggested Time Allocation: 10 to 15 minutes

Efficiently reading and analyzing the documents provided is crucial. You need to think about how they relate to the prompt, and how they might shape and/or relate to your thesis.

Skim the Documents : Quickly skim the documents to get an overview and look for initial patterns and how each document might be most useful.

Annotate Key Points : While reading each document more carefully, underline or highlight key points, authorship information, and any relevant dates.

Make critical historical assessments of each document related to:

  • the author’s perspective, intentions, or bias
  • the purpose of the document
  • the intended audience
  • the historical context

Assess the evidence and formulate your thesis. Identify which documents corroborate or support your thesis and if any qualify or challenge your thesis, or indicate you need to adjust your thesis before proceeding.

Align the documents and evidence with key elements of your essay ahead of writing an outline. Group the documents into categories based on the topic, the analysis required, and the key supporting arguments for different points of your thesis.

3. Make an Outline

Suggested Time Allocation: 5 to 7 minutes

Planning your response before diving into writing is critical for a well-structured essay.

Create an Outline that includes the following:

  • An introduction that includes your thesis statement
  • Two to four body paragraphs presenting 2-3 main points or arguments
  • A conclusion that reiterates or adds nuance to your central claim and highlights any key insights or understanding you've uncovered

Incorporate and Align Evidence : Note where each document fits into your outline. Indicate where you’ll bring in outside information.

4. Write the Essay

Suggested Time Allocation: 25 to 30 minutes

When you're ready to write, follow your outline, keeping these tips in mind:

  • Style & Voice: Use your best academic diction, spelling, and punctuation possible; keep the voice and style formal.
  • Concision: Avoid unnecessary detail or digressions; focus on clarity and supporting each claim with evidence and analysis
  • Topic Sentences : Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph and ties it back to your thesis.
  • Document Integration : Incorporate evidence from the documents in a way that supports your argument. Make sure to reference the documents appropriately (e.g., "Document A suggests...").
  • Outside Evidence : Include relevant historical facts, events, or processes that aren't covered in the documents but support your thesis.
  • Analysis : Go beyond just summarizing the documents. Discuss the significance of the evidence and what it shows. Analyze the point of view, purpose, historical context, and audience of the documents.
  • Sourcing : For at least three documents, include a discussion on the author's perspective, the document’s purpose, and its audience. Reflect on how these elements affect the document's reliability or viewpoint.
  • Introduction & Conclusion Paragraphs : Provide context in your introduction and present your thesis. Reiterate the conclusion and highlight key insights from the essay.

5. Checking Over Your Work

Suggested Time Allocation: 3 to 5 minutes

  • Review Thesis and Arguments : Ensure your thesis is clear and that all body paragraphs consistently support it.
  • Check for Completeness : Make sure you have used and appropriately cited all or most of the documents. Verify that you’ve incorporated outside information effectively.
  • Accuracy : Double-check facts and dates. Ensure all your information is historically accurate and relevant to the prompt.
  • Clarity and Coherence : Read through your essay to ensure it flows logically. Each paragraph should seamlessly transition to the next.
  • Grammar and Spelling : Quickly scan for any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Proper language use can make your argument more persuasive and easier to understand.

7. Managing Your Time

Time management on test day is vital. Here’s an efficient way to allocate your time:

  • Deconstructing the Prompt : 5 minutes
  • Reviewing and Analyzing Documents : 10-15 minutes
  • Outlining the Response : 5-7 minutes
  • Writing the Essay : 25-30 minutes
  • Checking Over Your Work : 3-5 minutes

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what a DBQ is, its format and purpose, how to prepare for DBQs, and how to approach a DBQ, and even exactly how to write a DBQ essay, you can use these insights to guide how you prepare for the DBQ and feel much more confident about your next steps.

If you want more support for high stakes tests, or for other university admissions challenges, Crimson Education Advisors can answer any questions you have. And, they'll be happy to explain our personalized approach and why Crimson students get amazing results. Finding out more is as easy as booking a free consultation . Hope to hear from you today!

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The Expert’s Guide on How to Write a DBQ like a pro

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Are you preparing for your AP history exam? Writing a Document-Based Question (DBQ) involves analyzing historical documents and crafting an essay that responds to a specific prompt or question.

It first got introduced in the 1973 AP United States history exam and from then it keeps on evaluating student’s knowledge and potential in May every year.

Working on such an assignment gets very challenging, especially for students who are not fully aware of the requirements of this academic activity. That’s why we have shared this guide to simplify things in the process of how to write a dbq essay.

Table of Contents

Who Needs To Know About the DBQ Essay Guide?

Students that are preparing for the AP History exam are in dire need to learn about the DBQ essay. The most challenging part about this exam is the limited time and the number of materials given to analyze.That’s why it’s important to know about the possible problem that one might encounter while writing DBQ essays.

Why is the DBQ Essay Important?

DBQ essays are an important part of the American AP history exam. They are usually conducted to evaluate the knowledge of students regarding their subject. Another purpose of this essay is to evaluate the critical analysis, problem solving, and time management skills.

Passing the AP history exam is very important for being a professional historian. They are important to judge the knowledge level and the point of view of a student over history.

The author writing this comprehensive guide shared, “I was always interested in history but it got very challenging when I prepared for my AP history exam. The DBQ essay took the most of my time in analyzing the materials and organizing my thoughts and then actually writing them down with complete accuracy.

It took a lot of time to learn how to write a dbq essay and to manage my time but I made it with constant practice. I faced many problems and that’s why I compiled the easy steps to save students from struggling later.”

Common Problems Students Encounter While Writing a DBQ

  • Misreading the question might cause you to give an answer that isn’t relevant.
  • Difficulty in comprehending and analyzing provided documents affects argument construction.
  • Figuring out how to assemble arguments using documents and extra info can be tricky.
  • Developing a weak outline for DBQ that lacks content flow.
  • Crafting a clear thesis that incorporates documents and addresses the prompt can be tough.
  • Picking out evidence from documents and other sources and using it in the right way is really important.
  • Figuring out how to write a dbq and juggle analyzing, planning, and getting your writing done before the deadline can be stressful.

Scoring Trends Of AP US History Exam

Let’s take a look at the scoring trends of the past five years by a US History to see how passing DBQ is becoming more challenging.


From these above mentioned statistics, we can see the passing percentage is decreasing every year. It peaked only during the 2020 pandemic and the reason was the online testing which is quite easier than traditional testing.

Not more students are passing the AP exam and that’s why we need to revise how to write a dbq essay.

How To Prepare For APUSH?

Following are some resources that are going to be helpful to know more about how to write a DBQ essay and pass APUSH exams. 

The American PageantA book series by David M and Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen 
A People’s History of The United States A book by Howard Zinn
Khan Academy Online courses to take for preparation.
Crash CourseOnline courses to learn more about US history. 
College Board’s AP US history course page Provides material for preparation. 
Barron’s AP US HistoryA review book
The Princeton Review: Cracking APUSH exam A detailed review book for preparation. 
Albert.io Online Test Prep Platform

Steps to Write a Perfect DBQ

We have discussed a detailed breakdown of the steps below, to help you encounter the challenges effectively.

Get a Good Understanding of the Prompt

Thoroughly Read the Prompt:  For your essay, you need to figure out the time period, the background history, and the exact question you’re trying to answer. Read the dbq essay template to get a clear idea.

Example Prompt:

“Evaluate the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the workforce in the United States. Analyze at least five documents and your knowledge of the time period to develop your argument.”

  • Understanding the Prompt
  • Identify Key Elements

Historical Context:  World War II in the United States.

Time Frame:  The period during and immediately after World War II.

Specific Task/Question:  Evaluate the impact of the war on women’s roles in the workforce.

  • Breakdown of the Prompt

Topic:  Impact of World War II.

Focus:  Women’s roles in the workforce.

Requirement:  The most important step of how to write a dbq is toanalyze a minimum of five documents and incorporate outside knowledge of the time.

Task Verb:  “Evaluate,” meaning assess or judge the impact.

  • Understanding the Scope

Think about how the war changed women’s roles in the workforce – not the war’s wider implications or other elements.

  • Developing the Approach

Documents and Outside Knowledge:  You should take information from at least five of the given documents and combine it with your own understanding of the period. To understand the content approach, read the dbq sentence starters in the paragraphs.

Analytical Perspective:  The emphasis is on evaluating and analyzing the impact, which requires critical thinking and interpretation of the sources.

Application to Writing

For this essay, it’s essential to get a handle on women’s roles in the workforce during World War II. Breaking down the documents should focus on how they show changes, difficulties, or changes in women’s jobs during that time.

For example, there could be government materials advocating for female workers, numbers on how many women are employed, stories from ladies about what it’s like to work in a factory, or pieces discussing people’s opinions of women joining jobs that are usually held by guys.

Analyze the Documents

Struggling with the process of how to write a dbq? uplift your analysis process. Interact with the given sources, taking into account their background, who wrote them, who they were intended for, and their importance in history. Sort them into categories based on shared themes, points of view, or arguments.

Example Documents:

Document 1:

Type:  Government propaganda poster encouraging women to work in factories during WWII.

Context:  Produced in 1943 by the U.S. government to address labor shortages.

Authorship:  Created by a government agency.

Intended Audience:  Targeted at women to persuade them to join the workforce.

Historical Significance:  Illustrates the government’s efforts to mobilize women for wartime production, portraying them as patriotic contributors to the war effort.

Document 2:

Type:  Newspaper article published in 1945 discussing post-war employment trends.

Context:  Written towards the end of WWII.

Authorship:  Written by a journalist for a mainstream newspaper.

Intended Audience:  General readership interested in post-war developments.

Historical Significance:  Provides insights into societal expectations regarding women’s roles post-war and reflects on potential changes in employment patterns.

Document 3:

Type:  Personal diary entry from a female factory worker in 1942.

Context:  Written during the peak of wartime production.

Authorship:  Authored by an anonymous factory worker.

Intended Audience:  Intended for personal reflection, not public consumption.

Historical Significance:  Offers a firsthand account of the challenges and experiences of a woman in the wartime workforce, capturing the emotional and practical aspects.

Analyzing the Documents

  • Understanding Context, Authorship, and Audience

Contextual Relevance:  To understand how to write a dbq essay, It’s really important to know where the documents come from and how long they’ve been around for to get the full picture of their importance with regards to World War II.

Authorship Impact:  By figuring out who wrote the document, whether it’s from a government agency, a reporter, or an individual, it can help you understand if there might be any underlying bias or purpose.

Audience Influence:  Figuring out who the document is meant for gives you an idea of what it’s trying to say and why.

  • Categorizing Based on Themes or Perspectives

Common Themes:  Look for any similarities among the documents. They could be patriotism, societal expectations, or the difficulties women face in the workplace.

Perspectives:  Organize documents that have different or similar points of view. For instance, government-issued material and people’s personal stories might provide different outlooks on women working during wartime.

How to Apply this Step

In the essay, these documents would be analyzed based on their unique contexts, biases, and perspectives. Government propaganda might highlight the state’s efforts to mobilize women, while personal diaries could reveal the emotional toll or day-to-day realities of working women.

Organizing documents by similar topics or points of view makes it easier to study them. For example, if you put together papers that talk about how women’s roles were seen after World War II, it could help you form ideas about how standards shifted.

Develop a Thesis Statement

Formulate a Clear Thesis:  To eliminate most problems regarding how to write a dbq, create a brief thesis statement that answers the question asked and outlines what your essay will be about.

Coming up with a good thesis statement is really important for a DBQ essay. To help illustrate this, let’s check out an example based on a prompt about how World War II changed women’s roles in the US.

Example Prompt

Developing a Thesis Statement

Key Focus:  Impact of WWII on women’s workforce roles.

Specific Task:  Evaluate and analyze using provided documents and additional knowledge.

  • Crafting a Thesis

Sample Thesis Statement:  “World War II significantly transformed women’s roles in the American workforce by catalyzing increased participation, altering societal perceptions, and setting the stage for long-term economic and social changes.”

  • Breaking Down the Thesis

Clear Response:  The thesis directly addresses the prompt by acknowledging the transformative impact of WWII on women’s roles.

Three Key Arguments:

Increased Participation:  Highlighting the rise in women joining the workforce during the war.

Societal Perceptions:  Discussion on how perceptions of women’s capabilities shifted due to their wartime contributions.

Long-Term Impact:  Indicating that these changes extended beyond the war, affecting the economy and society.

  • Evidence and Analysis

Supported by Documents:  The process of how to write a dbq strengths when the thesis aligns with the analysis of the provided documents. For example, government propaganda may support increased participation, while personal accounts could reveal societal shifts.

Room for Analysis:  It sets the stage for in-depth analysis in body paragraphs, allowing examination of specific document evidence to support each argument.

You can take help of the  thesis statement generator  if you need to.

This Step Application in Writing

In the essay, each body paragraph would focus on one aspect mentioned in the thesis. For instance:

Paragraph 1:  Analyzes how women’s participation in the workforce increased during WWII using specific document evidence.

Paragraph 2:  Explores societal perceptions through various document perspectives and contextualizes these changes.

Paragraph 3:  Discusses the long-term impact, drawing connections between wartime changes and post-war societal shifts using a blend of document evidence and external knowledge.

Structure Your Essay

Organize your Thoughts:  improve how to write a dbq process by creating an outline that includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Introduction:  Set the context, present your thesis, and briefly outline the main points you’ll address. It’s an important section and you need to be careful while writing it. Don’t use  English phrase that make no sense  at all.

Body Paragraphs:  Each paragraph should focus on a specific aspect supported by evidence from the documents. Use topic sentences, evidence, and analysis to support your argument.

Conclusion:  Summarize your main points, restate your thesis, and provide a broader historical context or implications of your argument.

Let’s create an outline for a DBQ essay based on the prompt about World War II’s impact on women’s roles in the American workforce:

Develop Outline for DBQ Essay

Here are complete details on the dbq structure or dbq outline:

  • Introduction:

Context Setting:  Discuss the historical background of women’s roles pre-WWII and the societal norms regarding women in the workforce in specific DBQ body paragraph example and arrangement.

Thesis Statement:  Introduce the thesis that highlights the transformative impact of WWII on women’s roles in the American workforce.

Preview of Main Points:  Briefly outline the main arguments that will be explored in the body paragraphs. This practice will strengthen how to write a dbq essay process.

  • Body Paragraphs:
  • Increased Participation:

Topic Sentence:  Women’s increased participation in the workforce during WWII was a notable shift in societal norms.

Document Evidence:  Reference specific documents, like government propaganda or statistical data, showcasing the rise in female employment.

Analysis:  Discuss the significance of this increase, its implications, and its portrayal in the provided documents.

  • Societal Perceptions and Changes:

Topic Sentence:  The war prompted a shift in societal perceptions about women’s capabilities in the workplace.

Document Evidence:  Utilize personal accounts or editorials from the provided sources reflecting changing attitudes towards women in traditionally male-dominated roles.

Analysis:  Examine the evolution of societal views depicted in the documents and analyze their historical significance.

  • Long-Term Impacts Beyond the War:

Topic Sentence:  The changes initiated during WWII had lasting effects on the role of women in the post-war American workforce.

Document Evidence:  Extract examples from documents discussing post-war employment trends or societal adaptations.

Analysis:  Explore how the changes during the war era influenced the trajectory of women’s employment and societal roles in the subsequent years.

  • Conclusion:

Summarize Main Points:  The best trick you can learn for how to write a DBQ Recap the key arguments presented in the body paragraphs, emphasizing their significance. The DBQ sentence starters should be used to compel the audience.

Restate Thesis:  Reinforce the thesis statement while demonstrating how it’s supported by the evidence analyzed.

Broader Historical Context:  Provide a brief discussion on the broader implications of these changes, connecting them to larger historical trends or societal impacts beyond the scope of the prompt.

Application of this Step

This dbq outline or structure ensures a well-organized essay that adheres to the prompt’s requirements.

Each dbq body paragraph example information focuses on a specific aspect of the thesis, supported by evidence from the provided documents and followed by insightful analysis.

The conclusion summarizes the key points while expanding on the broader implications of the arguments presented.

Interesting Note

Many students hire a professional  thesis writing service  provider just to make them an outline for their DBQ essay.

Use Evidence from the Documents

Cite Document Evidence:  If you want to add credibility in how to write a dbq essay process, incorporate specific examples and quotes from the provided documents to support your arguments.

Analyze the Documents:  Offer critical analysis of the documents, explaining how they support or contradict your thesis.

Let’s explore how to use evidence from documents and analyze them within the context of a DBQ essay about the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the American workforce:

Incorporating Document Evidence:

Document 1:  Government Propaganda Poster

“Join the Women’s Land Army – Help Farmers Win the War!”

Incorporating Evidence:  The poster portrays women as vital contributors to the war effort by encouraging them to join agricultural work.

“Rosie the Riveter” by J. Howard Miller (1942)

Incorporating Evidence:  The iconic “Rosie” poster symbolizes women’s participation in industrial work, urging them to take up factory jobs.

Document 2:  Newspaper Article from 1945

“Post-War Employment Trends: Women Expected to Return to Domestic Roles”

Incorporating Evidence:  The article reflects societal expectations, predicting a return of women to traditional domestic roles post-war.

Document 3:  Personal Diary Entry from a Factory Worker (1942)

“Today was exhausting. Worked 12 hours at the factory. Proud to contribute, but worried about balancing home and work responsibilities.”

Incorporating Evidence: The diary entry provides a personal perspective, revealing the challenges and pride associated with working in the wartime industry.

Analyzing Document Evidence

Analyzing Document 1 – Government Propaganda Poster

  • Support for Thesis:  The poster supports the thesis by illustrating the government’s effort to mobilize women into various sectors of the economy during wartime.

Contradictions:  It might contradict the societal norms of women’s roles as homemakers, highlighting a shift in perceptions.

  • Analyzing Document 2 – Newspaper Article

Support for Thesis:  The article aligns with the thesis by depicting societal expectations of women returning to traditional roles, showcasing the societal pressures women faced post-war.

Challenge to Thesis:  However, it might challenge the notion of a long-term impact by suggesting a potential regression in women’s roles.

  • Analyzing Document 3 – Personal Diary Entry

Support for Thesis:  The diary entry corroborates the thesis by portraying the challenges faced by women in balancing work and home responsibilities during the war.

Emotional Impact:  It adds a human element, illustrating the emotional toll of working women during the wartime period.

How Can We Apply This One

In the essay, incorporating evidence involves seamlessly integrating specific examples from the documents into each body paragraph. For instance:

Paragraph on Increased Participation:  Reference the “Rosie the Riveter” poster to illustrate the government’s push for women’s involvement in industrial jobs.

Paragraph on Societal Perceptions:  Cite the newspaper article to depict societal expectations that contradicted women’s sustained participation in the workforce.

Paragraph on Long-Term Impacts:  Utilize the diary entry to showcase the personal struggles faced by working women and its implications for their roles post-war.


Provide Historical Context:  To uplift how to write a dbq process,integrate broader historical context beyond the provided documents to strengthen your argument and showcase a deeper understanding of the topic.

In a DBQ essay about the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the American workforce, integrating a broader historical context beyond the provided documents is crucial to offer a comprehensive understanding and strengthen the argument.

Contextualizing Historical Background

  • Pre-WWII Women’s Roles

Traditional Gender Roles:  Pre-war society primarily depicted women as homemakers, limited to domestic responsibilities.

Limited Work Opportunities:  Women had limited access to professional jobs and were often confined to specific roles, such as teaching or nursing.

  • The Impact of World War II on Society

Shift in Labor Dynamics:  The war created labor shortages, prompting industries to recruit women to fill positions traditionally held by men.

Rise of Propaganda:  Government campaigns like “Rosie the Riveter” aimed to mobilize women into industrial and agricultural sectors to support the war effort.

  • Societal Changes Post-War

Expectations vs. Reality:  Post-war, societal expectations often pressured women to return to traditional roles despite their proven capabilities during the war.

Long-Term Impacts:  Despite the post-war societal pressure, women’s increased participation in the workforce during WWII set the stage for gradual changes in societal perceptions and employment opportunities for women.

Integration into Writing

How to write a dbq with high credibility? By incorporating this broader historical context into the essay strengthens the argument by providing a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing women’s roles during and after WWII.

Introduction:  Briefly touch upon the pre-war societal norms regarding women’s roles to set the stage for discussing the revolutionary changes brought about by WWII.

Body Paragraphs:  Use the historical context to explain the significance of the wartime changes in contrast to pre-war expectations. For instance, contrast the limited opportunities for women before the war with the unprecedented employment opportunities created during the war.

Conclusion:  Summarize how the war acted as a catalyst for altering perceptions of women’s capabilities and briefly discuss the lasting implications of these changes in the post-war era. The closure statement is the most important part of how to write a dbq essay process.

In a body paragraph discussing societal perceptions, you might incorporate the broader historical context:

“Contrary to pre-war societal expectations that confined women to domestic spheres, World War II served as a watershed moment. The labor shortages prompted a seismic shift in employment dynamics, challenging the traditional roles assigned to women. This unprecedented recruitment of women into various sectors previously dominated by men, as evident from the provided documents, laid the foundation for a fundamental reevaluation of women’s capabilities and their contributions to the workforce.”

Be Clear and Analytical

How to write a dbq essay? The specific answer is to write in a clear, concise, and organized manner, ensuring your ideas flow logically. Use historical reasoning to analyze the documents critically and offer insightful interpretations.

This might be very challenging but you can practice on a good dbq essay template to polish your skills.

Writing with clarity and adopting an analytical approach is pivotal in crafting a successful DBQ essay. Let’s explore this with examples in the context of the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the American workforce:

Clarity in Writing

  • Clear and Concise Expression

Example:  “The rise in female workforce participation during WWII challenged conventional gender roles, ushering in a new era of women’s contributions to the nation’s economy.”

Explanation:  This sentence succinctly summarizes a significant impact of WWII on women’s roles, avoiding unnecessary complexity while conveying a clear message. This is a vital step in how to write a dbq essay process.

  • Logical Organization

Example:  Using clear transitions between paragraphs to maintain a coherent flow of ideas.

Explanation:  Smooth transitions help readers follow the essay’s progression, ensuring a logical and organized presentation of arguments.

Analytical Approach

  • Critical Document Analysis

Example:  “The government’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’ campaign symbolized the pivotal role women played in industrial work, challenging societal norms.”

Explanation:  This analysis goes beyond describing the document; it interprets its significance in challenging societal perceptions, offering a deeper understanding.

  • Historical Reasoning

Example:  “The wartime surge in female employment not only addressed labor shortages but also reshaped societal attitudes towards women’s capabilities in non-traditional roles.”

Explanation:  By connecting historical events to broader implications, this analysis demonstrates a deep understanding of the historical context.

Using This in Our Writing

Incorporating clarity and an analytical approach into how to write a dbq essay involves crafting clear and concise sentences while providing insightful interpretations of the provided documents and historical context:

Clear Writing:  Ensure each sentence contributes directly to the argument, avoiding vague or ambiguous language.

Analytical Analysis:  Go beyond summarizing the documents; instead, interpret their implications and connections to broader historical contexts. For instance, explore how the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign challenged gender norms and impacted societal perceptions of women’s roles.

Proofread and Revise

Proofreading:  Review your essay for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors to level up how to write a dbq essay process.

Content Revision:  Ensure that your arguments are coherent, well-supported, and directly address the prompt.That’s the crucial part of how to write a dbq process.

Proofreading and revising are crucial steps in writing a DBQ essay. Let’s delve into these steps with examples in the context of the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the American workforce:


  • Spelling and Grammar

Example:  “The government’s propaganda played a vital role in mobilizing women.”

Revision:  “The government’s propaganda played a vital role in mobilizing women.”

  • Punctuation

Example:  “Women’s participation increased during WWII government propaganda played a crucial role.”

Revision:  “Women’s participation increased during WWII; government propaganda played a crucial role.”

Content Revision

  • Coherence of Arguments

Example:  Incoherent argument sequence: Discussing post-war changes before explaining wartime impact.

Revision:  Reorganize paragraphs to present arguments logically, starting with wartime impact and leading into post-war changes.

  • Support for Arguments

Example:  Making claims without documented evidence or analysis to support them.

Revision:  Incorporate specific examples and analysis from the provided documents to substantiate each argument.

Applying the Concept in Our Writing

Proofreading:  After completing the essay, review it carefully for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Use tools like spell checkers but also read the essay aloud or have someone else review it for better accuracy. Proofreading will always help students learn how to write a dbq essay.

Content Revision:  Ensure that each argument directly addresses the prompt and is supported by evidence from the documents. Revisit each paragraph to verify that it contributes to the essay’s central thesis and maintains a logical flow of ideas.

Sample Integration

“During World War II, women’s roles in the American workforce underwent a profound transformation. The government’s propaganda, such as the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ poster, served as a catalyst in reshaping societal perceptions about women’s capabilities. Women’s increased participation in traditionally male-dominated industries, as evidenced by government campaigns, directly countered pre-war societal norms.”

Revising for Clarity and Coherence

“The ‘Rosie the Riveter’ poster is an iconic symbol of the seismic shift in women’s roles during WWII. Its depiction of a confident female worker challenged traditional gender roles, exemplifying the transformative impact of the war on societal perceptions. Moreover, personal accounts, like the diary entry of a factory worker, highlight the challenges and pride associated with women’s contributions to the wartime economy.”

Practice and Time Management

Practice Writing DBQs:  The best answer to how to write a dbq essay is to practice. Familiarize yourself with the format and practice analyzing documents to enhance your skills. Start with  300 words essay format guide  and then increase the word limit with time.

Time Management:  Practice writing within the allocated time frame to ensure you can effectively complete the essay section in the given time.

Developing proficiency in how to write a DBQ essay process involves practice and effective time management. Here’s a breakdown with dbq example in the context of analyzing the impact of World War II on women’s roles in the American workforce:

Practice Writing DBQs

  • Familiarizing with the Format

Example:  Analyze various DBQ prompts on different historical topics, such as the Civil Rights Movement or Industrial Revolution, to understand the varied approaches and required analyses.

Practice Task:  Answering a prompt on the Civil Rights Movement, exploring documents related to key events and societal changes.

  • Enhancing Document Analysis Skills

Example:  Engage in document-based activities by examining historical texts, images, or speeches to sharpen document analysis skills.

Practice Task:  Analyzing primary sources related to women’s suffrage movements and their impact on societal changes.

Time Management

  • Setting Time Limits for Practice Essays

Example:  Allocate a specific time frame (e.g., 45 minutes) to complete a practice on how to write a DBQ essay, mirroring the time constraints of the actual exam.

Practice Task:  Answering a DBQ prompt on the impact of technological advancements on society within the given time limit.

  • Effective Planning during Practice Sessions

Example:  Devote a set time for reading and analyzing the documents, outlining the essay, and writing the actual response.

Allocating 15 minutes for document analysis, 10 minutes for outlining, and 20 minutes for writing a practice DBQ on the Civil War’s economic effects.

Using it in Your Writing

Regular Practice:  Engaging in frequent DBQ practice sessions hones document analysis skills, improves writing coherence, and familiarizes you with effective time management strategies.

Simulation of Exam Conditions:  Replicate exam conditions during practice sessions, including time limits and adherence to the DBQ format, to simulate the actual test environment.

Integrating the Sample

“I dedicated 15 minutes to analyzing the provided documents, and identifying recurring themes and perspectives. Then, I spent 10 minutes outlining the essay, and organizing arguments based on document evidence. Finally, within the remaining 20 minutes, I crafted a well-structured response to the DBQ prompt on the Industrial Revolution’s impact on urbanization.”

Seek Feedback

Share your practice essays for constructive feedback to improve how to write a dbq essay and your analysis skills.

Approximately 470,000 students take the AP exam and go through the document based question essay. But not all of them succeed and the reason is not writing what they are asked for. This guide has revised solutions for the challenges faced by students previously regarding how to write a DBQ. You can take the advice from the experience and mistakes of former applicants and craft your essay while avoiding such mishaps.

Still Confused?

How to write a DBQ? This process can get very confusing. So if you are still in sixes and sevens about this writing, don’t hesitate to consult our  paper help  for assistance and valuable tips. 

Now, You’ve Got All the Answers For DBQ Essay

You finally made it to the end of this comprehensive guide and now you are equipped with the steps of writing a great DBQ essay. Practicing these steps are going to help you write the best essay in the given time limit.

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How to Write a DBQ Essay for APUSH


The Document Based Question (DBQ) essay is a key feature of the APUSH exam. And at 25% of your total score, it’s an important feature! Keep reading and you will get some great tips on how to write a DBQ for the APUSH exam.

What is a DBQ essay?

As I stated in a previous post on what the APUSH exam is all about , the goal of the exam is to test your historical thinking skills. Historians write arguments based on documents, and for this exam, you will, too.

For a DBQ essay, you will receive several documents of varying length. You will be asked to respond to some historical prompt that will require you to use the documents as evidence in your response. The great thing about a DBQ is that a lot of information you need to answer the question is in the documents themselves – score! However, you do need to have some background knowledge to make sense of the documents (we will practice this later in the post). The documents could be tables, charts, personal letters, or any other source that the exam creators believe would help you answer the question. Generally speaking, the documents will represent multiple perspectives on one topic.

It will be your job to synthesize those various perspectives into a coherent response.

Let’s walk through a sample DBQ topic for the APUSH exam.

Before we get too far into this, it’s important that you note that College Board, the organization that writes the APUSH exam, has made some major changes starting in 2015. I will be taking you through the 2015 sample the College Board provided for students to practice, but, as you will see in a second, it’s important that you practice as much as possible in order to read the documents quickly. Just make a note that the format may be slightly different if you review an exam prior to 2015.

Let’s say that you come across this prompt for a DBQ question:

Compare and contrast views of United States overseas expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Evaluate how understandings of national identity, at the time, shaped these views.

Before you Read

You have 7 documents to read in the suggested time of 15 minutes. How is that even possible?!

Well, no one ever said it was going to be easy. But it is possible. When you get that prompt, or any other DBQ prompt like it, what you do before you read the documents will be just as important as what you end up writing. Before you even read the content of the documents, you should:

  • Recall what you know about the time period.
  • Read the source information for each document.
  • Recognize the possible opinions that could be compared and contrasted.

Let’s dig into each of those steps.

1. Recall what you know

This DBQ is interested in U.S. overseas expansion in the late 19th and early 20th century. What do you know about U.S. overseas expansion during that time period? Perhaps you remember something about the Spanish-American War of 1898, which falls into our time period. Perhaps you remember that the U.S. got some territory as a result of that war. Even if you can’t remember exactly what territory, this puts you in a much better position to get started.

2. Read the source information

Take these two documents below as an example.

Jane Addams speech for “Democracy or Militarism

Before I read the document, I see that Jane Addams titled her speech “Democracy or Militarism.” Based on the title alone, I can begin to make some inferences that this document is not likely to be positive about any overseas expansion that would most certainly require military force.

William Jennings Bryan campaign speech

Before I even read this document, I can see that William Jennings Bryan is campaigning for the presidency. However, I cannot recall there ever being a President Bryan, meaning that he was unsuccessful in his campaign. Perhaps what he was saying was not popular enough to get enough votes.

These inferences help me make sense of the document later on.

3. Recognize possible opinions

Again, before I read the documents closely, I recognize that this is a compare/contrast question. Before I even read this document, I’m going to make the following table so that I can group documents later on.

1,2,3,etc 1,2,3,etc 1,2,3,etc

This table will help me more easily write my essay.

I know that your instinct will be to see the clock and think, OH MY GOSH, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO BE DOING ALL THIS PREP WORK, MS. BERRY!!!!

Fight that instinct, because these steps will help you write a more coherent essay.

While you read

This part is tough. You have quite a few documents to make sense of in a short amount of time. But, as you are reading as fast as you can, you should be actively annotating the document for the following:

  • Words, phrases, and/or visual cues that help you place the document into a group that helps you answer the question .
  • Words, phrases, and/or visual cues that help you activate background knowledge .
  • Words, phrases, and/or visual cues that help you understand the document’s bias .

You will have to practice this multiple times to get good at it; there’s really no way around that. But you have a plan of attack. So work your plan to make your plan work!

As you write

When you are writing your DBQ, use the five paragraph essay to your advantage. I am sure you know lots of other things that could turn this answer into a novel, but the most important thing for this task is to make sure that you get enough of your ideas on the page so that your APUSH exam scorer knows that you know.

  • First paragraph: introduction with a thesis statement
  • Second paragraph: documents FOR expansion (As you write, make sure to mention who is for expansion and compare/contrast that with who is against it.)
  • Third paragraph: documents AGAINST expansion (As you write, make sure to mention who is against expansion and compare/contrast that with who is for it.)
  • Fourth paragraph: documents with ambiguity or complicated arguments (You should compare these documents to BOTH groups.)
  • Fifth paragraph: Conclusion that reiterates your argument

You may be thinking, why do I need that fourth paragraph? That seems needlessly complicated, to look for documents that are complicated.

Well, you are trying to score well on this DBQ, right? (Remember: it’s 25% of your overall score!)

You get a point for being able to do the following:

“Develop and support a cohesive argument that recognizes and accounts for historical complexity by explicitly illustrating relationships among historical evidence such as contradiction, corroboration, and/or qualification.” AP Scoring Guide

You will want that point!

I’ve given you a lot of information; but this information will become more like second nature the more you practice! For a summary, look at the table below.

And happy studying!

In summary: Strategies for writing the DBQ Essay

While you Read As you Write
what you know about the time period.

the source information for each document.

the possible opinions that could be compared and contrasted.

Allena Berry

Allena Berry loves history; that should be known upfront. She loves it so much that she not only taught high school history and psychology after receiving her Master’s degree at Stanford University, she is now studying how students learn history at Northwestern. That being said, she does not have a favorite historical time period (so don’t bother asking). In addition to history, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and scouring Craigslist for her next DIY project or midcentury modern piece of furniture.

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How to Write a DBQ Essay: A Comprehensive Guide

how to write dbq essay

Welcome to The Knowledge Nest's comprehensive guide on how to write a DBQ essay. Whether you are a student learning the ropes or an experienced writer looking to polish your skills, this guide will provide you with invaluable insights and techniques to excel in your DBQ writing.

Understanding the DBQ Essay

A DBQ (Document-Based Question) essay is a unique type of academic writing that tests your ability to analyze historical documents to form a coherent, well-supported argument. This essay format is commonly used in history and social sciences courses, and mastering it will greatly enhance your ability to evaluate historical sources and construct persuasive arguments.

The DBQ Essay Writing Process

Writing a successful DBQ essay requires careful planning and execution. To ensure your essay stands out from the rest, follow these step-by-step instructions:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Prompt

Before diving into the document analysis, thoroughly read and understand the prompt. Identify the historical context, main question, and any sub-questions that guide your analysis.

2. Analyze the Documents

Begin by examining each document provided, paying close attention to the author's perspective, purpose, and bias. Take notes on key points, themes, and connections between the documents.

3. Develop a Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement should be a clear and concise argument that addresses the main question of the prompt. Use the evidence from the documents to support your thesis.

4. Organize Your Essay

Create an outline that organizes your essay into logical sections. Each paragraph should address a specific aspect of your argument, supported by relevant evidence from the documents.

5. Introduce and Analyze the Documents

In your essay, introduce each document by providing context and explaining its significance. Analyze the content and purpose of each document, relating it back to your thesis statement.

6. Address Counterarguments

To strengthen your argument, acknowledge and address counterarguments. Anticipate opposing viewpoints and provide compelling evidence to refute them.

7. Craft a Strong Conclusion

End your essay with a powerful conclusion that summarizes your main points and restates your thesis in a compelling way. Leave the reader with a lasting impression and a sense of closure.

Tips for Success

Acing your DBQ essay requires more than just following the steps. Here are some additional tips to help you excel:

1. Practice Time Management

Allocate enough time to read, analyze, and write your essay. Be mindful of the time limit and aim to complete each section within the allocated timeframe.

2. Use Primary and Secondary Sources

Expand your research beyond the provided documents. Incorporate additional primary and secondary sources to strengthen your argument and showcase your knowledge.

3. Develop Strong Analytical Skills

The key to a successful DBQ essay is the ability to analyze and interpret historical documents effectively. Practice extracting essential information and identifying bias and historical context.

4. Revise and Edit

Once you have finished writing your essay, take the time to revise and edit it thoroughly. Ensure your argument flows logically, and there are no grammatical or spelling errors that could distract the reader.

Writing a DBQ essay may seem daunting at first, but with the right approach and preparation, you can excel in this format. By understanding the prompt, analyzing the documents, and constructing a well-supported argument, you will showcase your historical knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you engage with DBQ essays, the better you will become at crafting compelling arguments and drawing meaningful insights from historical documents. So, start applying the strategies outlined in this comprehensive guide and embark on your journey to becoming a DBQ essay writing master!

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DBQ Essay Writing Guide

  • Essay Writing Guides

DBQ Essay Writing Guide

DBQ essays are a type of history exam or course where students analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources to construct an argument. They consist of components such as historical context, thesis statement, evidence from provided documents, analysis of evidence, and synthesis of information. Mastering DBQ essay writing skills is crucial in history education as it assesses students’ ability to analyze historical documents, think critically, and construct cohesive arguments. 

Writing a DBQ essay fosters transferable skills such as analytical reasoning and effective communication, which are valuable beyond the classroom. This article aims to provide practical writing tips for students to write a DBQ essay , equipping them with the tools and strategies necessary to tackle these essays confidently and successfully.

DBQ Essay : Definition

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay is an academic writing style commonly used in history courses and exams, where students analyze and interpret historical documents to construct an argument or response to a specific prompt. Originally developed by the College Board for Advanced Placement (AP) history exams, DBQ essays have become a staple in history education, challenging students to engage critically with primary and secondary sources.

A DBQ essay consists of five components: historical context, the thesis statement, evidence, analysis, and synthesis. Historical context refers to the broader circumstances, events, or conditions surrounding the topic or issue being examined. The statement serves as the central argument or claim that the essay will defend or support, guiding the writer’s analysis and providing a clear focus for the reader. Evidence in a DBQ essay includes information and insights drawn from primary sources (e.g., letters, speeches, photographs) and secondary sources (e.g., historical analyses, scholarly interpretations).

Analysis is the process of interpreting and explaining the significance of evidence in relation to the thesis statement and overall argument. The analysis demonstrates the writer’s critical thinking skills and ability to draw connections between the documents, historical context, and thesis statement. Synthesis is the integration of multiple sources and perspectives to develop a nuanced and cohesive argument, addressing the complexity of the historical topic or question.

Preparation Process for DBQ Essays 

To write a BBQ essay, students should familiarise themselves with the prompt, understand the rubric and scoring criteria, review relevant historical content, and develop a strong thesis statement. The prompt provides a specific question or task that guides the response, and understanding the prompt helps break it down into key components. The rubric outlines the criteria for evaluation, including thesis development, evidence use, analysis, organization, and writing mechanics. Aligning with the rubric allows students to tailor their writing to meet grading criteria and maximize their scores.

Researching relevant historical content is essential for providing informed analysis and interpretation. Strategies for reviewing historical content include reading textbooks, primary sources, and scholarly articles. A strong statement serves as the foundation of the essay, providing coherence and focus while guiding the organization and development of the argument. By following these steps, students can write DBQ essays to the best of their ability. 

DBQ Outline

To assist you in this endeavor, we present a structured outline for writing a DBQ essay. This DBQ essay outline provides a roadmap for organizing your thoughts, analyzing documents, and constructing a compelling argument.

  • Introduction: Hook, background information, and thesis statement.
  • Historical Context: Brief overview of the historical period or event.
  • Document Analysis: Summary of document content, analysis of perspective or bias, and connection to the thesis statement.
  • Synthesis of Documents: Identify common themes, discuss conflicting viewpoints, and analyze how documents support or challenge the thesis statement.
  • Outside Evidence (if required): Incorporate additional historical evidence or examples not provided in the documents.
  • Conclusion: Restate the thesis statement, summarise the main points, and offer a concluding thought on the topic’s significance.
  • Citations: Properly cite each document and outside evidence, following the citation style specified by the instructor or institution.

Remember to adapt this DBQ outline as needed based on the specific requirements of your DBQ prompt and the instructions provided by your teacher or professor. 

DBQ Essay Structure

To know how to write a DBQ essay, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of a topic or event. It begins with an introduction, which introduces the topic and provides an engaging hook. The body paragraphs then follow, focusing on the main idea or argument of each paragraph. Evidence is used to support the writer’s argument and demonstrate their understanding of the historical context. Strategies for incorporating evidence include introducing relevant quotes or paraphrases from the documents, citing the source and providing brief context if necessary.

The analysis process involves examining and interpreting the significance of the evidence in relation to the thesis statement. The components of analysis include explaining how the evidence supports the argument, considering any biases or limitations of the source, and discussing its broader implications for understanding the historical context or topic.

In conclusion, the DBQ essay restates the thesis, summarising the main points, offering a closing thought or call to action, and encouraging further exploration or discussion. The thesis serves as a reminder of the main argument and reinforces its significance in light of the evidence presented. The summary provides closure and reinforces the key arguments made throughout the essay. The essay encourages readers to reflect on the topic’s significance and encourages further exploration or discussion.

DBQ Essay Topic Ideas

Here, we present a curated list of compelling topic ideas to write a DBQ essay , each ripe for research, discussion, and debate. 

  • The Impact of Industrialization on Society: Examines how the Industrial Revolution transformed economies, societies, and daily life.
  • The Rise of Social Media and Its Influence on Communication: Analyzes how social media platforms have reshaped communication dynamics, affecting interpersonal relationships and societal discourse.
  • The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: Investigates the applications of AI in healthcare, including diagnostic tools and personalized medicine.
  • The Global Refugee Crisis: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions: Explores the root causes of forced displacement, challenges faced by refugees, and efforts to address their needs.
  • The Rise of Populism in Contemporary Politics: Analyzes the factors contributing to the rise of populist movements and leaders.

Remember, the journey of discovery often begins with a single question, a spark of curiosity, or a desire to understand the world around us more deeply. Happy exploring!

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Here are some tips on writing the DBQ essays: 

  • Prioritise Time Management: Allocate specific time for each stage of the writing process, including reading, analyzing documents, outlining, writing, and revising.
  • Practice Document Analysis: Develop skills in analyzing historical documents by practicing with various sources.
  • Use Outside Knowledge Wisely: Incorporate outside knowledge to enhance your argument but be selective in choosing which evidence to include.
  • Utilise Transitions Effectively: Smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas are crucial for maintaining coherence and flow.
  • Address Counterarguments: Anticipate potential counterarguments or alternative interpretations of the evidence presented in the documents.

And finally, be confident in your analysis. Trust your analytical skills and interpretation of the documents.

Citation Style

Students may wonder how to cite these sources within their essays appropriately. This guide explores various DBQ format styles suitable for DBQ essays and provides tips on when and how to use them effectively.

  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS): CMS is a widely used citation style in history and humanities disciplines. In-text citations typically employ footnotes or endnotes, providing full bibliographic details for each source cited. For example, “The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.”
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) Style: MLA is commonly used in English and literature disciplines but may also be suitable for history essays. In-text citations use parenthetical citations, including the author’s last name and page number within parentheses. For example, “The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln in 1863 (Lincoln 45).”
  • Document Descriptor: In DBQ essays, especially in standardized tests like the AP exams, it’s common to refer to documents by their designated numbers or brief descriptors. In-text citations use document numbers or descriptors within parentheses to reference specific documents.

In conclusion, choosing the right citation style to write DBQ essays in is crucial for accurately referencing the provided documents. By properly citing sources, students demonstrate integrity in their research and analysis, enhancing the credibility of their DBQ essay.


In conclusion, with the correct resources and methods, producing a successful DBQ essay can be mastered. Through adherence to the useful DBQ layout provided in this manual and comprehension of the proper citation styles for sources, students can proficiently address DBQ questions and get exceptional results in their history assignments or tests. 

Recall that the secret is in careful document analysis, concise thesis construction, and well-supported argumentation. You may write a DBQ essay that demonstrates your critical thinking abilities and historical knowledge with dedication, practice, and attention to detail — all of which will ultimately lead to academic achievement. So take on the challenge, put these tactics to use, and let your creativity run wild as you masterfully tackle DBQ essays.

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

How to write a DBQ Essay

The DBQ (document-based question) is a timed essay in a very unusual format on the AP History exams. It can be used for AP American History or AP European History . Many students are unaware of the DBQ format and don’t know how it works. Let’s learn how to write a successful DBQ essay for test day.

Don’t be afraid! YourAcademicWriter.com has a plethora of preparation strategies and tips for your exam.

After reading this guide, it will be clear how to create a perfect DBQ essay .

What is a DBQ Essay?

You should take as many Advanced Placement courses (AP) as possible as you prepare for college. These courses offer a challenge and can help you earn college credit. This can be a time-saving option. To get college credit, however, you must pass the AP exam . This may include a document-based query (DBQ).

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What is the Purpose of a DBQ Essay?

A DBQ (or type of essay question) requires you to respond in several paragraphs. These DBQs will require you to use historical documents in order to analyze a trend, or an issue from the past. You can typically find five to seven documents in each DBQ. These documents can come from primary or secondary sources such as maps, newspapers, and letters.

Essentially, answering a DBQ is a way to use all of the skills that you have learned in AP classes and become a historian. You will need to show that you can:

  • Examine the context of the documents, including the author’s perspective as well as the target audience.
  • Make connections between documents.
  • Make a strong thesis statement, and then analyze the documents to support it.
  • To build a stronger case, use your historical knowledge.

DBQ Essay Outline

It can be challenging for newbies to learn how to write a DBQ essay. Our professional writers have provided the DBQ format to help you prepare for the exam. This format is similar to all essays and includes an introduction, thesis statement, body, and conclusion.


The introduction includes a hook sentence that will grab your audience. It also describes the background of your topic. This can be done by referring to a historical event or figure.

The thesis describes any claims in your paper that can be supported with evidence. This can be written as a short description of the evidence you will include in the body paragraphs. For the thesis statement , you need to write a paragraph about the DBQ essay question.

Body Paragraph 1

It includes the strongest argument. This argument should be related to the thesis statement. It presents an analysis of all references that relate to the strongest argument. Body paragraph 1 includes the statement that concludes the analysis from a different perspective that is required.

Don’t forget to include a link back to the thesis. Also, add a transition sentence between the body paragraphs.

Body Paragraph 2

Include a rational argument that links to the thesis and the first argument in each paragraph. Body paragraph 2 has an analysis of all references that relate to the strongest argument. It also contains a statement that concludes the analysis from a different perspective is required.

Include a link back to the thesis. It is better to add a transition sentence between the body paragraphs.

Body Paragraph 3

In this paragraph, a rational argument is presented that links to the thesis and the second argument in paragraph 1. It also includes an analysis of all references that relate to the strongest argument.

A statement that concludes the analysis from a different perspective is required that includes a link back to the thesis. You need to add a transition sentence to your conclusion.

Conclusion of DBQ Essay

It’s the summary of the entire paper, including the most important points and information in the sources. A concluding sentence, question or statement that challenges the view of these sources should be made.

Step By Step Instructions for DBQ Essay

Writing a DBQ essay can be difficult for some students. Don’t worry. These easy-to-read instructions will guide you through the most important points. They include how to write a DBQ thesis and analysis. To achieve the best results, it is important that you follow the DBQ outline when writing your paper .

The DBQ Essay includes:

Planning in 15 minutes

Writing takes 2 hours and 45 minutes

Proofreading takes 10 minutes

This type of exam requires time management to achieve a high grade. According to the DBQ, the time required for each question is three hours and fifteen minutes.

You should spend around 15 minutes planning, 2 hour and 45 minutes writing, 10 minutes proofreading, and about 15 minutes planning. These easy-to-follow steps will help you write a DBQ conclusion, body, and thesis.

Step 1: Planning (15 Minutes)

It is crucial to read the sources before taking the exam. It takes 3 hours to complete the exam so you should plan for 15 minutes. Analyze all key points in the provided sources during this time. Next, make a list of key points and then write them down under the titles: introduction, thesis and body.

Step 2: Introduction (5 Minutes)

First impressions count. Keep the introduction brief and to the point. Do not go directly to answering the question. A brief summary of the entire paper is necessary for a good introduction. A short introduction sentence is important.

Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes)

For the DBQ thesis, this essay must be separated into 3 paragraphs. The evidence that supports the claims in your paper should be described. The second paragraph should describe the paper.

The third paragraph should describe how you will answer the question.

  • The main difference between other essays and the thesis is that it plays an important part in the DBQ structure.
  • Two sentences should be sufficient for the APUSH DBQ thesis.
  • Your thesis should not exceed 2 to 3 paragraphs in length.

Step 4: Body (2 Hours and 15 Minutes)

Make sure to write well-organized, categorized paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one point. Do not mix ideas between paragraphs. Attach the documents that answer the question. It is important to read between lines. Every paragraph should be linked to the thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion (10 Minutes)

Your paper’s conclusion is the final section. Your conclusion is crucial in convincing your audience. Poorly written conclusions can lead to skeptical audiences. Summarize the entire paper to create a well-written conclusion. The conclusion should be linked to the thesis. Answer the question in a conclusion sentence.

Step 6: Proofreading (Approximately 10 Minutes)

At the end of each exam, spend around 10 minutes proofreading. To ensure that your work is error-free, proofread it. Writing errors can reduce one’s grade. The body paragraphs must answer the question and link back to the thesis. This is the most important section of the paper.

DBQ Essay Writing tips

We have provided a lot of information to you so far. Here are the main takeaways.

  • Do not forget to prepare: Create a baseline, build skills, practice DBQs, and repeat the skill-building if needed.
  • You will be able to remember all points on test day if you are well versed in the topic. You can easily lose points if you forget your wrap-up point.
  • Keep on time the day of your test

Although it may seem daunting, you can master your DBQ. You can achieve the score you want by combining preparation with a solid test-taking strategy. You will find that every DBQ feels more natural the more you practice it.

It is a great way of learning how to write a DBQ essay . Writing tips are also important. For a positive outcome, time management is key. Our advice will help you get a high grade.

It is important to learn the DBQ format. For any type of exam, practice is essential. Without practice, it is impossible to perform as well as one’s potential.

How to Get Qualified Writing Help

If you are still worried and have no time to write a DBQ essay. Don’t worry!

We are here and available 24/7 for your help. Our ‘ write my essay ‘ service allows you to quickly find custom essay writers. Expert essay writers know how to craft an excellent DBQ essay. Each essay that we send is 100% original.

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DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

Adela B.

Table of contents

As a student, you’ll come across different types of essays throughout your college journey. Essays provide a great way to portray your understanding of a topic and display your writing skills .

One of the most common types of essays in college is a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay. You’ll occasionally be asked to write these types of essays, and it’s therefore important to understand the essentials of writing them.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what DBQ essays are and the step-by-step process you can use to write the best DBQ essays in college.

What are DBQ Essays?

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document.

This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S. History exam.

To write a good DBQ essay, you must portray an understanding of the topic and link it to evidence from reliable sources.

How to Format a DBQ Essay?

Like any other essay, your DBQ essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Let’s review the components of each section and how to write them for the best performance.

1. Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay is the introductory paragraph . Here, you review the historical background of the document and the main idea covered in the essay. Take five minutes to write this section, and keep it short and brief. Include a brief statement that summarizes the points you are going to discuss in the essay body.

2. Thesis statement

The final paragraph of the introduction should be your thesis statement. A thesis is a concise statement or a claim that summarizes your overall argument. Identify the claims you’ll make in your paper, which shall be backed by evidence.

Your thesis should be one to two sentences long, describing your opinion or stand on the idea under discussion.

3. Body paragraph 1

After the thesis stamen, start writing the first paragraph of your essay. Here, you identify the strongest argument that links to the thesis statement, then provide supporting details from your evidence sources. Start with a topic sentence to let the reader know what this paragraph is about.

After the topic sentence, discuss your argument and cite each piece of evidence that supports every argument you make. Analyze the evidence in relation to the main idea rather than merely quoting it. Use direct quotes sparingly if you have to.

4. Body Paragraph 2

In the second paragraph, you identify the second relevant argument and link it to the thesis statement. The argument in this paragraph should be less superior to the first paragraph but still relevant to the main idea.

Make a logical connection between your second argument and the relevant sources of evidence. Remember to cite the evidence appropriately and demonstrate that you’ve understood what they mean and not just what they say.

5. Body Paragraph 3

In the third paragraph, identify your third relevant argument, and like the other arguments, link it to the thesis statement. State your argument in the topic sentence and explain it in subsequent sentences citing the evidence.

Your argument in this paragraph can be inferior to the ones in the first and second paragraphs but relevant to the thesis statement.

6. Concluding paragraph

After discussing all your argumentative points in the essay body, it’s time to conclude your DBQ essay. Weave your arguments together in a conclusion paragraph , which links back to your thesis statement and shows you’ve sufficiently proven your claims.

Summarize the main points in the essay and let the reader see that you’ve adequately responded to the essay prompt. Don’t use this section to merely rephrase the introduction and your thesis statement. Instead, provide a conclusive analysis that reconnects the historical context to the main idea and your arguments.

How to Write a DBQ Essay in 9 Steps

So, how do you write a DBE essay so that it flows effortlessly and satisfactorily answers the essay prompt? Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams.

1. Read and understand

Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt. Understand the document and develop your argument.

Identify all the key points and write them down as draft notes. As you analyze the main document, figure out how it relates to the other sources provided.

2. Identify the main idea

Once you’ve reviewed and understood the document, identify the main idea and note the keywords in the essay prompt. The keywords will help you understand what you need to accomplish in your assay and the type of evidence to look for in the provided sources.

For instance, the essay prompt may ask you to:

  • Compare and contrast

Also, take note of common keywords like ‘Social, Political, or Economic.’ Always keep the prompt in mind while writing to avoid being irrelevant and losing points. The prompts will also help you develop your arguments based on the main idea of the document.

3. Gather evidence

Now that you know the main idea, pick out the sources of evidence that support the main idea. Identify how each source relates to your essay prompt and categorize them based on the prompt.

Figure out how each source can support an argument. For instance, if you're comparing the attitudes towards women's rights in different historical times, you can categorize your sources of evidence based on the contrasting ideologies they represent.

4. Find external sources

When writing your DBQ essay, you’ll also need to cite other external sources that support the ideas in the main document.

Identify at least one external source that's relevant to your claims and use the events in the document to support your arguments in the essay. Jot it down somewhere so you can refer to it later when you start writing.

5. Identify the writer’s point of view

As you analyze your document and prepare to start writing, identify the author’s point of view concerning the main idea.

Who influenced them to write the document and what did they intend to achieve with it? How do they feel and what’s their take on the documented events? Also, identify their intended audience and how his writing might have influenced them.

6. Write your thesis statement

Now that you have the main idea and your sources of evidence, it’s time to develop your argument and put it down as a thesis statement.

Review the essay prompt again and form your own perspective or opinion that responds to the prompt without simply restating it. Remember the claim you make should be specific and supported by your sources of evidence.

For instance, when writing a DBQ essay about The Effects of World War II on Women's Rights, your thesis statement can be:

“ The selfless efforts of women in World War II promoted their human rights and empowered them to a higher social status in the society. ”

Here’s a useful video by Heimler's History on writing DBQ essays.

7. Polish your thesis statement

Re-read your thesis statement and polish it to ensure it’s clear and concise. Delete any unnecessary words that do not impact the meaning of the statement.

A good thesis statement has no fluff and responds directly to the essay prompt without being too short or too long.

8. Start writing by creating an outline

Once you’ve encapsulated your arguments into a thesis statement, it’s time to start writing. You start writing by creating an outline of your arguments first.

An effective outline should include:

  • The introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • First argument
  • Second argument
  • Third argument

After creating the outline, explain your arguments and fill in the evidence while citing the sources.

Creating an outline will help you organize your points and make your work easier when you start writing the main essay. Following the outline will also save you time and help you finish writing your essay on time.

9. Proofread and polish

After you finish writing, spare 10 minutes to proofread and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. Identify and rewrite weird sentence structures, add missing words, and replace those that complicate meaning.

While proofreading, delete fluffy sentences that don’t add value to your essay. Also, check that you’ve appropriately cited the evidence sources and that your essay is well structured before submitting it.

Final Thought

DBQ essays will significantly contribute to your final grade. It’s, therefore, necessary to take time to learn how to write an excellent one and practice before the final exams.

Remember your DBQ essay test will be timed, and that doesn’t leave you much time to include fluff. Go directly to your points and explain them in clear and concise sentences.

If you’ve been having trouble writing these types of essays, use the tips in this article to make it hassle-free onwards.

Need more help? Writers Per Hour is here to assist you with this writing assignment of yours. Our professional writers can help you research, outline, write, revise and proofread high-quality DBQ essays that are sure to give your grades a boost.

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Home — Essay Samples — History — Imperialism — DBQ Imperialism Paper


Dbq Imperialism Paper

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Published: Jun 13, 2024

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Advanced Placement (AP)


Are you taking AP Euro and are wondering about the AP Euro DBQ essay? The DBQ is quite different from a typical school essay, and students often struggle with it during the AP exam. However, knowing what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ will go a long way towards helping you feel more confident, as well as getting a great score! Read this in-depth guide to learn all about what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ, what graders are looking for in your essay, a step-by-step guide to writing a DBQ, and three key tips to keep in mind when going over AP Euro DBQ example questions.

What Is the AP Euro DBQ? Why Is It Important?

The DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on three AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you'll need to analyze a historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources (the documents) as evidence. For AP European History, you'll generally be given about seven documents.

The purpose of the AP Euro DBQ is to put you in the historian's shoes as an interpreter of historical material and test your ability to:

  • Create a strong thesis and support that thesis with the aid of the documents provided
  • Analyze sources for characteristics such as author's point of view, the author's purpose, the audience, and context
  • Make connections between the documents
  • Bring in outside knowledge to strengthen the argument

For the AP Euro exam, the DBQ accounts for 25% of your total exam score, so it's definitely not something you want to overlook. It's also consistently one of the toughest parts of the exam. In 2021 , the average AP Euro DBQ score was just a 3.26 out of 7--less than a 50%! Fortunately, preparing in advance for the AP Euro DBQ can go a long way to helping you feel more confident and, ultimately, get a higher score.

What to Expect from the AP Euro DBQ

The AP Euro exam is broken into two main sections. The first section consists of the multiple-choice questions and three short-answer questions. The second section consists of the DBQ and the long essay. When you get to section two, you'll see the DBQ instructions, then the DBQ prompt, and finally the documents (there are typically seven). Here's what the DBQ instructions look like:


These instructions lay out exactly how you're expected to use the documents. You'll need to mention at least six and go into depth for at least three of them. Additionally, you'll have to come up with at least one other piece of historical evidence not found in the documents to support your argument.

Here's an AP Euro DBQ example from the 2021 exam :

"Evaluate whether or not British imperial rule in India during the 1800s was primarily influenced by liberalism."

 Seven documents follow (which you can see if you click the above link), and they're a mix of extracts from posters, newspaper articles, interviews, and other sources. Your job would be to write an essay that takes a side on the issue and uses both information from the documents and your own analysis to support your stance. We'll go over exactly how to do this throughout the rest of the article.

The AP Euro DBQ is worth seven points. You can see the full rubric here , but here's a brief overview of where those points are earned:

  • Thesis responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning. (1 point)
  • Essay describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.   (1 point)
  • Essay supports an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents. (2 points)
  • Essay uses at least one additional piece of specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt. (1 point)
  • For at least three documents, the essay explains how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument. (1 point)
  • Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question. (1 point)

As you can see, a lot of points are derived from clearly and accurately incorporating information from the documents into your essay.


6 Steps for Tackling an AP Euro DBQ Example

Writing a full-length DBQ essay can be a daunting task, but breaking it into smaller steps will help it seem more manageable and can make your writing more organized. Here are six steps to follow when writing your AP Euro DBQ essay.

#1: Break Down the Prompt

Your first step should always be to read the prompt that you need to answer. Mark it up or read it a few times, if necessary, to make sure you really understand what's being asked. For the 2021 prompt, "Evaluate whether or not British imperial rule in India during the 1800s was primarily influenced by liberalism," you might rewrite some of it in your own words, something like, "British rule in India: liberalism?" Whatever works for you.

Once you have a solid grasp of the prompt, you'll be much more focused when reading the documents because you'll know what information to be looking out for.

#2: Look Through the Documents

You can spend as much or as little time reading the documents for the AP Euro DBQ as you'd like, although 15 minutes is recommended for reading time. Depending on the length of the documents and your speed reading skills, that may or may not be enough time to read them all the way through. Some skimming might be necessary.

You'll also need to do more than just read through the documents: quick, targeted notes will help organize the documents and your thoughts. For each document, jot down a few bullet points, covering things like who it was written by, when it was written, and what its main 1-3 points related to the prompt are. This will make it easier to see patterns in the documents which will be necessary when you write your thesis in the next step.

#3: Write Your Thesis

Your thesis is the most important sentence in your DBQ essay: it's the main point of your essay and what everything else you write hinges upon. A good thesis will make a claim, respond to the prompt, and lay out what you will discuss in your essay. Suppose you are responding to a prompt about women's suffrage (suffrage is the right to vote, for those of you who haven't gotten to that unit in class yet): "Analyze the responses to the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom."

Included among your documents, you have a letter from a suffragette passionately explaining why she feels women should have the vote, a copy of a suffragette's speech at a women's meeting, a letter from one politician to another debating the pros and cons of suffrage, and a political cartoon displaying the death of society and the end of the ‘natural' order at the hands of female voters.

An effective thesis might be something like, "Though ultimately successful, the women's suffrage movement sharply divided the United Kingdom between those who believed women's suffrage was unnatural and those who believed it was an inherent right of women." This thesis answers the question and clearly states the two responses to suffrage that are going to be analyzed in the essay.

#4: Outline Your Essay

After you know your thesis, you may be tempted to dive right in, but creating an essay outline can end up saving you time and making your DBQ essay much clearer and more organized. Once you get good at outlining, you should be able to come up with one in roughly five minutes so you still have plenty of time to write the essay.

Here's a sample DBQ outline:

  • Introduction
  • Thesis. The most important part of your intro! It should be the last sentence of your introduction paragraph.
  • Body 1 - contextual information
  • Any outside historical/contextual information
  • Body 2 - First point
  • Documents & analysis that support the first point
  • If three body paragraphs: use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Body 3 - Second point
  • Documents & analysis that support the second point
  • Use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Be sure to mention your outside example if you have not done so yet!
  • Body 4 (optional) - Third point
  • Documents and analysis that support third point
  • Restate thesis
  • Draw a comparison to another time period or situation (synthesis)

Your ideal outline may include more or less information, so try out a few different ones as you work through AP Euro DBQ example questions to see which works best for you and still allows you to finish the essay on time.

#5: Start Writing!

Now it's time to get writing! If you've kept to 15 minutes for the reading period and 5 minutes for creating your outline, you'll have 40 minutes to write the essay . With an intro, conclusion, and four body paragraphs, that gives you about 6.5 minutes per paragraph --not much time, but doable if you keep your paragraphs short and to the point, which you want to be doing anyway! Remember to refer to the documents but also do more than just repeat what they say. Including your own analysis is key. If you find yourself doing a lot of "Source A says blah, and Source B says blah, and Source C says blah..." make sure you are using the documents to make a point , and not letting the documents use you.

#6: Review Your Essay

You may not have time to do this, of course, but even if you only have an extra minute or two at the end of the section, a quick readthrough can help you spot and fix any glaring errors or omissions. Graders won't dock you points over a misspelling or two, but keeping things as clear as possible makes it easier for them to see the point you're making, which in turn makes it easier for them to award you points. Basically, you want to use every minute you have in this section of the AP Euro exam, so don't let a few extra minutes at the end go to waste if you can use them to add a little final shine to your DBQ essay.


4 Tips for Your AP Euro DBQ Practice

You're now well prepared for the AP Euro DBQ, but a couple extra tips never hurt! Keep these four in mind throughout your studying and on test day.

#1: Find High-Quality Practice Questions

One of the best ways to measure your progress and learn which areas you need to focus on is to take practice exams. There are a lot of AP Euro History practice tests available; however, some are higher-quality than others. Taking a poorly written practice exam can cause you to study the wrong things and give you an inaccurate picture of what the real AP exam will be like. 

Official practice exams are those that have been created by the College Board (the organization that develops and administers all AP exams). Here are the AP Euro free-response questions they've made available:

2021 free-response questions

1999-2019 free-response questions

These include old prompts for both the DBQ and the long essay, as well as answer explanations. The most recent questions will be the most helpful, particularly those from 2018 and later, since AP Euro underwent its last significant changes in 2018. However, older questions can still give you a sense of what AP Euro free-response questions will look like.

#2: Always Keep Track of Time

Time constraints are one of the toughest parts of the AP exam, including the DBQ. You can have all the information and skills you need to write an amazing essay, but if you run out of time halfway through, you won't get a high score. That's why it's crucial to always watch your time.

Part II of the AP Euro exam lasts for a total of 100 minutes, during which time you'll need to write two essays, the DBQ and the long essay. For the DBQ, it's recommended that you spend 15 minutes reading over the documents and 45 minutes writing your DBQ essay. The proctor may note when you have a certain amount of time left, but no one will make you finish your DBQ and move to the long essay at a certain time, so spending too much time on the DBQ can cause you to run out of time on the long essay as well. 

#3: Be an Active Reader, Not a Passive Reader

Many students, especially if they don't have a lot of experience with DBQs, will spend the 15 minutes of recommended reading time reading every word of each of the documents, then, when it comes time to begin writing their essay, have no idea how to craft an essay around all that information they just took in. This is one of the reasons DBQs can be so tricky.

So, how to avoid this problem? Don't just read through the documents. Instead, mark them up: underlining and circling important parts and jotting down helpful notes. We recommend reading the essay prompt before you begin reading the documents. Once you have a good handle on the prompt, then you can skim through the documents, focusing on the parts that relate most to the prompt.  

The DBQ prompt for 2020 was, "Evaluate whether or not the Catholic Church in the 1600s was opposed to new ideas in science." So, when going through the documents, the key thing you're going to want to be making note of is whether each document seems to support or disprove the Catholic Church being opposed to new ideas in science. Your notes for this can be as little as a plus or minus sign next to the document, or you can do some short bullet points (we'd recommend no more than three per document) that give an overview of the main viewpoint. If you actively read the documents, starting to write the essay is much easier because you can clearly see the cases the documents make and, therefore, how to make your own case.

#4: Remember to Cite the Sources

The final tip to keep in mind, which will make a big difference in your DBQ essay quality, is integrating document citations into your essay. You want to be able to reference the information in the documents in a clear, concise way that doesn't take too much of your time but makes it easy for graders to see where you're getting your facts from (as well as how well you're making use of the documents).

To do this, we recommend using the author or title of the document to identify a document rather than writing "Document A." So instead of writing "Document A describes the riot as...," you might say, "In Sven Svenson's description of the riot…"

When you quote a document directly without otherwise identifying it, you may want to include a parenthetical citation. For example, you might write, "The strikers were described as ‘valiant and true' by the working class citizens of the city (Document E)." Doing this throughout your DBQ essay will make it easier for graders to understand the major points you're making.


Summary: AP Euro Document-Based Question

Once you know what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ, it becomes one of the more straightforward parts of the AP exam. The AP Euro DBQ consists of a prompt that asks you to evaluate a statement, and it's followed by about seven documents. You'll need to mention at least six of those documents in your essay. Reviewing the AP Euro DBQ rubric can help you see where points are gained and lost, and running through AP Euro DBQ example questions is a great way to feel more comfortable with this essay. Review your course material over the school year and write several AP Euro practice DBQs to put yourself in a great place on exam day.

What's Next?

Interested in learning more about the AP Euro exam?  Our in-depth guide to the AP European History text explains everything you need to know!

Now that you better understand how hard AP Euro will be for you, get your hands on the best practice materials available!  Check out our guide on the best AP Euro practice tests and quizzes to help with your studying. 

Is AP Euro hard? How tough are the class and exam compared to other APs? We break down the five key factors in determining how hard is AP European History.  

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!

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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  2. How to write a DBQ essay by Joseph Mittiga

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  3. How to Write a DBQ Essay (with Pictures)

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  4. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Tips

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  5. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Tips

    how to write dbq essay

  6. How to write a DBQ essay by Joseph Mittiga

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  1. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Tips

    If you can't exactly pinpoint what's taking you so long, I advise you to simply practice writing DBQs in less and less time. Start with 20 minutes for your outline and 50 for your essay, (or longer, if you need). Then when you can do it in 20 and 50, move back to 18 minutes and 45 for writing, then to 15 and 40.

  2. How to Write a DBQ Essay (with Pictures)

    2. Identify the prompt's keywords and assigned tasks. Ensure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what your essay needs to accomplish. Circle or underline task-oriented words such as "evaluate," "analyze," and "compare and contrast.".

  3. How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

    Learn how to answer the DBQ essay question in AP history exams by following five steps: reading the prompt, skimming the documents, forming a thesis, actively reading the documents, and making an outline. See examples, tips, and rubrics for each step.

  4. How to Write a DBQ: Definition, Step-By-Step, & DBQ Example

    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.

  5. How to Write a DBQ Essay: The Ultimate Guide

    For each point, write down the main idea of the paragraph, summed up into two or three words, any historical buzzwords you plan to use, and the documents you plan to reference. That should provide enough of a skeleton to get you writing. Here's an example, from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam DBQ, released by The College Board.

  6. How to Write a DBQ Essay Step by Step + Example

    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.

  7. What is a DBQ? The Document-Based Question Explained

    The Document-Based Question Explained. The dreaded DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on the AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you will be asked to analyze some historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources, or "documents," as evidence.

  8. Where to Find the Best DBQ Examples

    One of the best ways to prepare for the DBQ (the "document-based question" on the AP European History, AP US History, and AP World History exams) is to look over sample questions and example essays. Doing this will help you to get a sense of what makes a good (and what makes a bad) DBQ response. That said, not all DBQ essay examples are created equal.

  9. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Full Guide by HandmadeWriting

    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.

  10. How to Write a New AP® US History DBQ

    3. Don't forget to contextualize. Things that happen in history are not isolated events, and the circumstances surrounding things matter. Don't forget to address that. 6. Wrap it up with a ballin' conclusion. Don't draw it out and don't introduce new ideas in the conclusion. Make it short and to the point.

  11. 3 Steps to a Perfect DBQ Score (AP World, APUSH, AP Euro)

    Resources from Heimler's History: AP ESSAY CRAM COURSE:+AP Essay CRAM Course (DBQ, LEQ, SAQ Help): https://bit.ly/3XuwaWN FREE DBQ WORKSHEETS:+APUSH DBQ Work... AP European History

  12. What Is a DBQ? Understanding DBQs and How to Write One.

    Essay Writing: To respond to the DBQ, you'll write a timed essay that addresses the kind of analysis task, the time period, and topic set forth in the prompt. Time Limits: The DBQ format provides a 15-minute period to review the prompt and historical documents and a 45-minute period for planning and writing your essay.

  13. The Expert's Guide on How to Write a DBQ like a pro

    Writing a Document-Based Question (DBQ) involves analyzing historical documents and crafting an essay that responds to a specific prompt or question. It first got introduced in the 1973 AP United States history exam and from then it keeps on evaluating student's knowledge and potential in May every year.

  14. How to Write a DBQ Essay for APUSH

    As I stated in a previous post on what the APUSH exam is all about, the goal of the exam is to test your historical thinking skills. Historians write arguments based on documents, and for this exam, you will, too. For a DBQ essay, you will receive several documents of varying length. You will be asked to respond to some historical prompt that ...

  15. How to Write a DBQ Essay: A Comprehensive Guide

    To ensure your essay stands out from the rest, follow these step-by-step instructions: 1. Familiarize Yourself with the Prompt. Before diving into the document analysis, thoroughly read and understand the prompt. Identify the historical context, main question, and any sub-questions that guide your analysis. 2.

  16. How to Ace the AP World History DBQ: Rubric, Examples, and Tips

    In other words: you'll be writing an essay on a topic and incorporating resources that you're given on the day of the exam! The DBQ tests over a wide range of skills, like writing, organizing thoughts, making arguments, making connections between different perspectives, and having a knowledge of world history. Yeah, the DBQs are definitely ...

  17. AP US History DBQ example 1 (video)

    AP US History DBQ example 1. Google Classroom. Microsoft Teams. About. Transcript. The document-based question (DBQ) is one of two main essays on the AP US History exam and usually requires analyzing changes or continuities over time in US history. In this video, learn about the structure of DBQs and tips and tricks to help you succeed on this ...

  18. PDF How to Write a DBQ Essay

    the essay. These questions will help get you thinking about how to shape your essay. Writing a DBQ: A step by step guide . Step 1: Read the Historical Context and write the first sentence of your essay. This step will let you know what the essay is about and give you ideas for writing your introduction.

  19. Winning DBQ Essay: Practical Writing Tips for Students

    How to Write a DBQ Essay. Here are some tips on writing the DBQ essays: Prioritise Time Management: Allocate specific time for each stage of the writing process, including reading, analyzing documents, outlining, writing, and revising. Practice Document Analysis: Develop skills in analyzing historical documents by practicing with various sources.

  20. How to Write a DBQ Essay

    Conclusion of DBQ Essay. It's the summary of the entire paper, including the most important points and information in the sources. A concluding sentence, question or statement that challenges the view of these sources should be made. Step By Step Instructions for DBQ Essay. Writing a DBQ essay can be difficult for some students. Don't worry.

  21. The Ultimate APUSH DBQ Guide: Rubric, Examples, and More!

    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.

  22. DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

    Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams. 1. Read and understand. Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt.

  23. DBQ Imperialism Paper: [Essay Example], 679 words GradesFixer

    Politically, imperialism was seen as a way to demonstrate national power and prestige. During the late 19th century, the competition among European powers was intense, and possessing colonies was seen as a sign of national strength.

  24. 6 Steps to a Perfect AP European History DBQ

    Create a strong thesis and support that thesis with the aid of the documents provided. Analyze sources for characteristics such as author's point of view, the author's purpose, the audience, and context. Make connections between the documents. Bring in outside knowledge to strengthen the argument. For the AP Euro exam, the DBQ accounts for 25% ...

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    All writing stems from inspiration. Having a wealth of reference material and content to look into can greatly enhance the research process, which remains immensely important to writing original essays. IPL's lengthy list of well-written, detail-oriented essays can form the backbone of your writing journey.