About the Teacher | Course Outline and Grading Policy | Homework Assignments | How to Write a DBQ Essay | Links of the Week | Projects and Assignments | Unit Objectives | Manifest Destiny | The Constitution
Wenzel's World
How to Write a DBQ Essay

What is a DBQ question?

Beginning in June 2001, the 8th Grade Social Studies Examination will require students to respond to a DBQ question. While similar to a traditional essay in many respects, the DBQ question also has several unique characteristics. Quite simply, a DBQ question:

1._____Requires that students analyze a series of documents from Part A of the DBQ question and answer a specific short answer question about each document.

2._____Presents a specific task in Part B which must be addressed in an essay response using information obtained from the documents presented in Part A and the student's knowledge of social studies.

3._____Is graded using a rubric which is made available to students during the test in the exam booklet.

How do I answer a DBQ question?

DBQ questions are composed of two sections. In Part A, documents are provided for students to read, analyze, and then answer questions about each one. In Part B, students are provided with a specific task which must be addressed in an essay response. The essay response can be organized into three sections: the introduction, body, and conclusion. Below is a visual representation of this division:


Step 1: Answer each question in Part A.

Carefully read or view each document in Part A of the DBQ question, and answer the question that follows each document. Use factual information and base your answer to each question on the specific document to which it is related, and be sure to compose each answer using complete sentences.

Step 2: Read through the grading rubric.

A DBQ essay question will always be accompanied by a grading rubric which explains how the essay response will be graded. Pay close attention to this rubric and be sure to meet all of the requirements so that your essay response can earn the maximum number of points. Be sure to read through the entire rubric so that you can discover not only what you should do to earn points, but also what you shouldn't do so that points will not be deducted from your response. Once you have an understanding of these criteria, begin writing your essay in Part B.

Step 3: Compose a thesis statement.

Read the task section in Part B of the DBQ essay question and analyze it in order to figure out what it is asking you to do. Key words used in the task may include:


means "to make observations about something using facts, reasoning, and argument; to present in some detail."


means "to illustrate something in words or tell about it."


means "to point out; to set forth clearly a position or idea by stating it and giving data to support it."


means "to make plain or understandable; to give reasons for or causes of; to show the logical development or relationships of"

Once you understand what the task is asking you to write about, compose a thesis statement that addresses these issues.

Step 4: Organize the essay.

Organize the information that you want to use in your essay through the use of an outline. During this pre-writing step, you should brainstorm as many facts as possible that could be used in your essay. Also make sure that you are addressing the task as well as the requirements from the rubric.

The box format outline.

The box method visually divides the essay into sections . Ideas that support each of the sections are placed in the appropriate box. These are main ideas and sometimes have less detail then the outline method. An example follows:


Step 5: Write the introduction.

A._____Revisit the historical context and determine if you can use part or all of this statement in your introduction.

B._____Insert your thesis statement from step three.

C._____If your thesis does not address the body paragraphs that will follow, compose a sentence that briefly introduces each topic.

Step 6: Write the body paragraphs.

Write the first body paragraph. Be sure to include all of the following components: topic sentence, supporting evidence in the body sentences, and a closing sentence. Follow this same format as you write the additional body paragraphs. Compose additional paragraphs if necessary in order to completely answer the essay question.

Be sure to use most of the documents provided in Part A in order to provide evidence which proves your thesis statement, and to meet the criteria in the rubric to earn a full credit for your essay.

Step 7: Write the conclusion.

Summarize the subject of the essay. You can often do this by restating the question in a different way. Explain what you concluded about the essay question. Summarize how the information in the body of your essay proves your point.

A sample DBQ essay grading rubric.

To earn a 5, the DBQ essay:

*___Thoroughly addresses all aspects of the task by
accurately analyzing and interpreting most of the documents

*___Incorporates relevant outside information

*___Richly supports essay with relevant facts, examples, and details

*___Is a well-developed essay, consistently demonstrating a logical and clear plan of organization

*___Uses information from the documents in the body of the essay, but does not copy document

*___Includes a strong introduction and conclusion

To earn a 4, the DBQ essay:

*___Addresses all aspects of the task by accurately analyzing and interpreting most of the documents

*___Incorporates relevant outside information

*___Includes relevant facts, examples, and details, but discussion may be more descriptive than analytical

*___Is a well-developed essay, demonstrating a logical and clear plan of organization

*___Includes a good introduction and conclusion

To earn a 3, the DBQ essay:

*___Addresses most aspects of the task or addresses all aspects in a limited way; uses some of the documents

*___Incorporates limited or no relevant outside information

*___Uses some facts, examples, and details, but discussion is more descriptive than analytical

*___Is a satisfactorily developed essay, demonstrating a general plan of organization

*___Restates the theme in the introduction and concludes with a simple restatement of the theme

To earn a 2, the DBQ essay:

*___Attempts to address some aspects of the task, making limited use of the documents

*___Incorporates no relevant outside information

*___Presents few facts, examples, and details; simply restates contents of the documents

*___Is a poorly organized essay, lacking focus

*___Has vague or missing introduction and/or conclusion

To earn an 1, the DBQ essay:

*___Shows limited understanding of the task with vague, unclear references to the documents

*___Presents no relevant outside information

*___Attempts to complete the task, but essay demonstrates a major weakness in organization

*___Uses little or no accurate or relevant facts, details, or examples

*___Has vague or missing introduction and/or conclusion

To earn a 0, the DBQ essay:

*___Fails to address the question

*___Is illegible

*___Is missing; a blank paper is handed in


Links to Essay Writing

Oswego High School Writing Guide

The Writing Process from Oswego School District