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Tips for document-based questions
- Reference documents but don’t summarize them. When responding to document-based questions (DBQ), you are not just summarizing the provided documents. Instead, you should use these documents by paraphrasing relevant passages and providing brief quotes and examples to support your thesis. Do not simply write a list of document descriptions. Also, some students examine the documents in the order the test lists them, for example, documents A to G. That is usually a key that the student hasn’t done much analysis.
- Address the complex issues. Top-scoring essays demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of the documents. For instance, these essays show that while most of the evidence may point in one direction, some evidence points the other way. Acknowledging and addressing that contrary evidence will add a deeper dimension to your thesis.
- Cover all parts of a question. Document-based questions (DBQ) often suggest ways to organize your essay. Note whether the question asks for factors or categories. For example, suppose a question asked what political, moral, and constitutional factors shaped the U.S. government’s Indian policy between 1789 and 1840. A good answer would consider all three factors. If you would not feel comfortable enough to write an entire paragraph on each of the factors, then try to combine two into one paragraph. Never ignore a factor. A key element readers look for is your knowledge of how things changed over time. Make sure that you include specific examples and that your conclusion contains an analysis of the significance of your thesis. In other words, why is your thesis important?
- Reference all provided documents. Pay close attention to the organization and source information of each document. It is easier to understand a document if you can identify the author and his or her point of view. Consider all the documents and try to cite at least one fact, idea, or concept from each. As a general rule, you should reference at least two different documents in each supporting paragraph and several specific examples from outside the documents. Cite each document (e.g., Doc. A) at the end of the first sentence where the document is used.
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