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how to write a thesis in dbq

How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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

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

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

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

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP World History

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

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

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

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

1. Read the prompt first

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

2. Skim the document titles

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

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

how to write a thesis in dbq

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

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

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

3. Formulate a tentative thesis

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

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

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

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

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

4. Actively read the documents

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

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

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

how to write a thesis in dbq

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5. Make an Outline 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

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

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

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

how to write a thesis in dbq


How to Write a DBQ Essay: The Ultimate Guide

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

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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 a thesis in dbq

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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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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Document-Based Question (DBQ)

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


Analysis & Sourcing

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

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

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7 documents

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

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

Excerpt / Written Document


Graphic, Diagram, Map, Cartoon

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General Tips

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

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

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

Does it support or refute your thesis?

Which side of the prompt does it cover?

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

Any document with written paragraphs

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

Special tips:

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

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

Write a few notes summarizing the doc

Figure out how the doc relates to the prompt

Does it argue one side or another?

Does it provide evidence for a specific geographical region?

Does it refute your thesis?

Which sub-category of the prompt does it answer?

Any document that is a photo

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

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

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

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

Does it represent a historical development?​

Does it represent an artistic movement?

Look for all signs of bias in the photo

Is it depicting a specific point of view?

Does it portray a certain culture as superior?

Does it portray a certain culture as inferior?​

Does it represent a military victory?​​​

This would mean one side is better than the other​

Does it portray something as bigger or exaggerated?

Means that the exaggerated thing is depicted as superior

Does it portray something as smaller?

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

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

Does it support / refute your thesis?

What aspect of the prompt does it answer?​

Any document that is a man-made photo

Graphic, diagram, political cartoon, map, etc.

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

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

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

Does it represent the views of one side or another?

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

Cartoons are generally biased

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

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

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

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

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

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

Involves comparing & contrasting 2 different things

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

How to use the documents:

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

Some docs might cover both comparands

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

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

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

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

Generally, 2 causes and 1 or 2 effects

Some docs might explain the event

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

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

Try to mention which causes were more significant than other causes

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

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

Some docs might describe the changes

Some docs might describe the continuities

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

How to Earn all 7  Points:

Contextualization (1 point).

Examine the historical context of the story

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

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

How to write one

Always include the time period & possibly the location​

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

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

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

Sample Contextualizations

Topic: Related to the industrial revolution​

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

Topic: Related to imperialism​

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

Thesis (1 point)

This is your argument

Must be something that can be opposed​

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

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

Better to have a concession

Useful for complexity point

Format of Thesis & Examples

Color Key: 

Concession / Counterargument*

Similarities / Continuities / Causes

Difference for Comparand 1 / Changes / Effects

Differences for Comparand 2

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

Prompt: Compare & Contrast

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

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

Prompt: Change & Continuity over Time

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

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

Prompt: Cause & Effect

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

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

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

Evidence (3 points)

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of How to Write your Evidence

How to earn the first point:

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

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

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

How to earn the second point:

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

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

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

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

How to earn the third point:

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

Think of what evidence or what viewpoint is missing

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

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

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

Analysis (2 points)

This is the hardest part

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

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

Explained in more detail below​

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

This is the most confusing

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

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

Historical Context

Point of View

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

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

Historical Context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point of View:

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

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

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

The Complexity Point

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

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

How to Start Writing the DBQ:

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

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

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

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

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

Start writing. Good luck!


Find what you need to study

AP World Document-Based Question (DBQ) Overview

19 min read • november 18, 2021

Melissa Longnecker

Melissa Longnecker

Mixed AP Review

Endless stimulus-based MCQs for all units

Overview of the Document-Based Question (DBQ)

The one thing you need to know about this question:

Section II of the AP Exam includes the one required Document-Based Question (DBQ.) Unlike the other free-response sections (SAQ and LEQ), there isn’t any choice in what you write about for this essay.

You will be given a prompt and a set of seven documents to help you respond to the prompt. The documents will represent various perspectives relating to the prompt, and they will always include a mixture of primary source text documents and primary or secondary source visuals . Your task is to use these documents, and your knowledge of history, to answer the prompt.

The DBQ is designed to test your knowledge of history, your ability to analyze a variety of sources, and your skill in crafting and supporting a clear and complex argument. It is the single most complicated task on the exam; however, it is very doable with practice and preparation.

Your answer should include the following:

A valid thesis

A discussion of relevant historical context

Use of evidence from the documents (all) and evidence not found in the documents to support your thesis

A discussion of relevant factors that affect the document

Complex understanding of the topic of the prompt.

We will break down each of these aspects in the next section. For now, the gist is that you need to write an essay that answers the prompt, using the documents and your knowledge as evidence. You will also need to discuss some additional factors that impact your use of the documents.

Many of the skills you need to write a successful DBQ essay are the same skills you will use on the LEQ. In fact, some of the rubric points are identical, so you can use a lot of the same strategies on both writing tasks!

The topic of your DBQ will come from the following time periods, depending on your course:

AP World History: Modern - 1200-1900

AP US History - 1754-1980

AP European History - 1600-2001

The writing time on the AP Exam includes both the DBQ and the Long Essay Question (LEQ), but it is suggested that you spend 60 minutes completing the DBQ. You will need to read and analyze the documents and write your essay in that time.

A good breakdown would be: 15 min. (reading & analysis) + 45 min. (writing) = 60 min.

The DBQ is scored on a rubric out of seven points and is weighted at 25% of your overall exam score. We’ll break down the rubric next.

The DBQ is scored on a seven-point rubric, and each point can be earned independently. That means you can miss a point on something and still earn other points with the great parts of your essay.

Let’s break down each rubric component...

The thesis is a brief statement that introduces your argument or claim and can be supported with evidence and analysis. This is where you answer the prompt.

This is the only element in the essay that has a required location. The thesis needs to be in your introduction or conclusion of your essay. It can be more than one sentence, but all of the sentences that make up your thesis must be consecutive in order to count.

The most important part of your thesis is the claim , which is your answer to the prompt. The description the College-Board gives is that it should be “historically defensible,” which really means that your evidence must be plausible. On the DBQ, your thesis needs to be related to information from the documents, as well as connected to the topic of the prompt.

Your thesis should also establish your line of reasoning. Translation: address why or how something happened - think of this as the “because” to the implied “how/why” of the prompt. This sets up the framework for the body of your essay since you can use the reasoning from your thesis to structure your body paragraph topics later.

The claim and reasoning are the required elements of the thesis. And if that’s all you can do, it will earn you the point.

Going above-and-beyond to create a more complex thesis can help you in the long run, so it’s worth your time to try. One way to build in complexity to your thesis is to think about a counter-claim or alternate viewpoint that is relevant to your response. If you are thinking about using one of the course reasoning processes to structure your essay (and you should!) think about using that framework for your thesis too.

In a causation essay, a complex argument addresses causes and effects .

In a comparison essay, a complex argument addresses similarities and differences.

In a continuity and change over time essay, a complex argument addresses change and continuity.

This counterclaim or alternate viewpoint can look like an “although” or “however” phrase in your thesis.

Sample complex thesis: While some cultural traditions and belief systems, such as Confucianism, actively warned against the accumulation of wealth through trade, other societies reliant on trade used their belief systems to rationalize the behavior of merchants despite moral concerns. Still, others used religion as a means to promote trade and the activities of merchants.

👉🏾 Watch Patrick Lasseter break down the thesis and craft this sample here!


Contextualization is a brief statement that lays out the broader historical background relevant to the prompt.

There are a lot of good metaphors out there for contextualization, including the “previously on…” at the beginning of some TV shows, or the famous text crawl at the beginning of the Star Wars movies.

Both of these examples serve the same function: they give important information about what has happened off-screen that the audience needs to know to understand what is about to happen on-screen.

In your essay, contextualization is the same. You give your reader information about what else has happened, or is happening, in history that will help them understand the specific topic and argument you are about to make.

There is no specific requirement for where contextualization must appear in your essay. The easiest place to include it, however, is in your introduction . Use context to get your reader acquainted with the time, place, and theme of your essay, then transition into your thesis.

Good contextualization doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to go into a ton of detail, but it does need to do a few very specific things.

Your contextualization needs to refer to events, developments and/or processes outside the time and place of the prompt. It could address something that occurred in an earlier era in the same region as the topic of the prompt, or it could address something happening at the same time as the prompt, but in a different place. Briefly describe this outside information.

Then, connect it to your thesis/argument. The language from the College Board is that contextualization must be “relevant to the prompt,” and in practical terms; this means you have to show the connection. A transition sentence or phrase is useful here (plus, this is why contextualization makes the most sense in the introduction!).

Also, contextualization needs to be multiple consecutive sentences, so it’s all one argument (not sprinkled around in a paragraph). The introduction is the best place for contextualization, but not the only place. 

Basically, choose a connected topic that “sets the stage” for your thesis, and briefly describe it in a couple of sentences. Then, make a clear connection to the argument of your thesis from that outside information.

Sample contextualization: The period 1200-1600 saw the growth of centralized empires such as the Song in China or the Ottoman Empire. These empires promoted trade and growth as state policy, and this economic growth created new economic elites. In response to this change, religious leaders, thinkers, and scholars weighed in to promote, criticize, or simply comment on the moral aspects of trade and economic growth. 

👉🏾 Watch Evan Liddle break down contextualization and write an example here!

Evidence is the historical detail, the specific facts, and examples that prove your argument. In the DBQ, your evidence comes from two places: the documents themselves, and your outside knowledge of history. You should plan to use all seven documents as evidence AND bring in your knowledge on top of that.

Having evidence is important, and one of the rubric points on the DBQ is just about having evidence. Of course, it’s not enough just to know the facts. You also need to use those facts to support your argument/claim/thesis, and the other two possible rubric points for evidence on the DBQ are about using the evidence you have to support what you’re trying to say.

Evidence goes in your body paragraphs. In fact, the bulk of your body paragraphs will be made up of evidence and supporting analysis or commentary that connects that evidence to other evidence and/or to the argument you are making.

Good evidence is specific, accurate, and relevant to the prompt.

Don’t simply summarize the documents. Use a specific idea or argument from the document as your evidence.

Evidence from the documents should come directly from part or all of a document, ideally without quoting.

Paraphrasing allows you to transition directly into your argument without all the work of embedding a quote like you might for an English essay. Take a specific idea from the document, phrase it in your own words, and use it in support of your argument.

You earn a point of using evidence from at least three of the documents. There’s an additional point up for grabs for using evidence from at least six documents and supporting your argument with that evidence, which means you should always link your evidence back to your topic sentence or thesis.

Example: Ibn Khaldun observed that trade benefitted merchants at the expense of their customers, and he feared that participating in trade, though legal under Islamic law, would weaken the moral integrity of merchants.

Evidence from your outside knowledge is much the same, except that you won’t have a document to structure it for you. Describe a specific example of something you know that is relevant to the prompt, and use it to support your argument. Using course-specific vocabulary is a great strategy here to know that you are writing specific evidence.

Example: Muhammad himself was a merchant before becoming the Prophet of Islam, which accounts for the support of merchants and trade by Muslim societies.

👉🏾 Watch Caroline Castellanos break down the sample DBQ and pull out key pieces of evidence here.

Analysis and Reasoning: Sourcing

What is it? For at least three of the documents, you need to analyze the source of the document as well as the content. There are four acceptable categories of sourcing analysis:

Historical situation - this is like a miniature version of contextualization. Ask: when/where was this document created? How does that historical situation influence what the document is or what it says?

Intended audience - every document was created with an audience in mind. A document created for a king will likely be very different from a document created for a lover. Ask: for whom was this document created? How would that person have understood it? What did they know or understand that the creator could leave unsaid? What did they need to be explained?

Point of view - every document was created by someone, and that person has specific knowledge, opinions, and limitations that impact what they create. Ask: who created this document? How well did they understand the topic of the document? What would limit their understanding or reliability on this topic? What characteristics might influence them (race, gender, age, religion, status, etc.)

Purpose - all documents were created for a reason. Figure out the reason and understand why a document says or shows what it does. Ask: why was this document created, and how does that impact what it is?

Any of these characteristics will have an impact on how you use a document to support your argument. Sometimes a characteristic will weaken a document’s reliability. Sometimes a characteristic will strengthen a document’s usefulness. In addition to describing the relevant characteristic of a document, you should also explain how or why it impacts your argument.

Where do I write it? You should connect sourcing directly to your discussion of evidence from a particular document. This will occur throughout your body paragraphs.

How do I know if mine is good? Your sourcing should describe a relevant characteristic of the document and explain why/how that characteristic is relevant to your argument.

Sample sourcing statement: As a Muslim scholar, Ibn Khaldun would have had a deep understanding of religious laws, but perhaps limited knowledge of common trade practices in his day and culture. This could factor into his low view of the morality of merchants, whom he saw as less moral than someone devoting their life to their faith.

The second part of the Analysis and Reasoning scoring category is complexity. This is by far the most challenging part of the DBQ, and the point earned by the fewest students. It isn’t impossible, just difficult. Part of the difficulty comes in that it is the least concrete skill to teach and practice.

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the DBQ, don’t stress about complexity. Focus on writing the best essay you can that answers the prompt. Plenty of students earn 5’s without the complexity point.

If you are ready to tackle this challenge, keep reading!

The College Board awards this point for essays that “demonstrate a complex understanding” of the topic of the prompt.

Complexity cannot be earned with a single sentence or phrase. It must show up throughout the essay. 

A complex argument starts with a complex thesis. A complex thesis must address the topic of the prompt in more than one way. Including a counter-claim or alternate viewpoint in the thesis is a good way to set up a complex argument because it builds in room within the structure of your essay to address more than one idea (provided your body paragraphs follow the structure of your thesis!)

A complex argument may include corroboration - evidence that supports or confirms the premise of the argument. A clear explanation that connects each piece of evidence to the thesis will help do this. In the DBQ, documents may also corroborate or support one another, so you could also include evidence that shows how documents relate to one another.

A complex argument may also include qualification - evidence that limits or counters an initial claim. This isn’t the same as undoing or undermining your claim. Qualifying a claim shows that it isn’t universal. An example of this might be including continuity in an essay that is primarily about change.

A final way to introduce complexity to your argument is through modification - using evidence to change your claim or argument as it develops. Modification isn’t quite as extreme as qualification, but it shows that the initial claim may be too simple to encompass the reality of history.

Since no single sentence can demonstrate complexity on its own, it’s difficult to show examples of complex arguments. Fully discussing your claim and its line of reasoning, and fairly addressing your counterclaim or alternate view is the strongest structure to aim for a complexity point!

Watch Melissa Longnecker break down documents and describe Analysis and Reasoning here.

Understanding the Process of Writing a DBQ

Before you start writing....

Because the DBQ has so many different components, your prep work before writing is critical. Don’t feel like you have to start writing right away. You are allotted a 15 min. “reading period” as part of your DBQ time - you should use it!

The very first thing you should do with any prompt is to be sure you understand the question . Misunderstanding the time period, topic, or geographic region of a prompt can kill a thoughtful and well-argued essay. When you’re practicing early in the year, go ahead and rewrite the prompt as a question. Later on, you can re-phrase it mentally without all the work.

As you think about the question, start thinking about which reasoning skill might apply best for this prompt: causation, comparison, or continuity and change over time. You don’t necessarily have to choose one of these skills to organize your writing, but it’s a good starting place if you’re feeling stuck.

Original prompt : Evaluate the extent to which cultural traditions or belief systems affected attitudes toward merchants and trade in the period 1200-1600.

Revised : How much did religion and culture impact attitudes about merchants/trade 1200-1600?

Once you know what to write about, take one minute to brainstorm what you already know about this time period and topic. This will help you start thinking about contextualization and outside knowledge as you read the documents.

Now it’s time to read the documents . As you read, pay attention to the source line that introduces the author, date, etc. about each document. It should contain information that will help you with your sourcing analysis. Mark this info with a symbol that is relevant for you, such as H for the historical situation, I for the intended audience, etc. 

If the source line doesn’t give you much, it’s ok to skip sourcing for some of the documents. Try to analyze each one though, since you have to choose at least three to write about sourcing in your essay.

Read the document for content next. Think about what the document is saying or showing. Summarize it briefly in the margin or in your head and note how it connects to the prompt and to other documents in the set.

Example (download modified DBQ prompts here ):

Documents that reject merchants on moral grounds: 2, 3, (4?)

Confucianism = mistrust of merchants: 2, 7

Documents that permit trade, despite dishonesty of merchants: 4, 6 Documents that see wealth a religious blessing: 1, 5

Islam = support of trade as a custom: 4, 6

Rationalizing/compromising morals in areas that rely on trade: 1, 4, 5, 6

Note: you wouldn’t use all of these groupings in one essay. This list shows a sample of different ways the documents might connect to build a thesis and structure an essay. The three bolded notations here correspond to the topics selected for the sample thesis.

After reading all of the documents, take a minute to organize your thinking and plan your thesis. Decide which documents fit best to support the topics of your body paragraphs and choose your three or more documents for sourcing analysis.

Once you have a plan you like, start writing!

How to Write The DBQ

Your introduction should include your contextualization and thesis. Start with a statement that establishes your time and place in history, and follow that with a brief description of the historical situation. Connect that broader context to the theme

and topic of the prompt. Then, make a claim that answers the prompt, with an overview of your reasoning and any counterclaim you plan to address.

Body paragraphs will vary in length, depending on how many documents or other pieces of evidence you include, but should follow a consistent structure. Start with a topic sentence that introduces the specific aspect of the prompt that paragraph will address. There aren’t specific points for topic sentences, but they will help you stay focused.

Follow your topic sentence with a piece of evidence from one of the documents. This should be paraphrased in your own words, and you should explain how that evidence specifically supports your argument. 

After 1-2 sentences of evidence, make an argument about sourcing . This is where you explain the specific characteristic and how it impacts your argument (“because...” or “in order to…” are good phrases here.)

Follow the sourcing with additional pieces of evidence, sourcing, and explanation. Ideally, you would do this with 2-3 documents relating to one topic sentence per paragraph. Somewhere in your body paragraph, you should also introduce a piece of outside evidence and connect it back to your topic sentence as well.

Each body paragraph will follow this general format, and there are no set number of paragraphs for the DBQ (minimum or maximum.) Write as many paragraphs as you need to both use all seven documents and fully answer the prompt by developing the argument (and counter-argument if applicable) from your thesis.

If you have time, you may choose to write a conclusion . It isn’t necessary, so you can drop it if you’re rushed. BUT, the conclusion is the only place where you can earn the thesis point outside the introduction, so it’s not a bad idea. You could re-state your thesis with different words, or give any final thoughts in terms of analysis about your topic. You might solidify your complexity point in the conclusion if written well.

When you finish, it’s time to write the Long Essay Question (if you haven’t already), so turn the page in your prompt booklet and keep going!


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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 in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. 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 677,332 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 a thesis in dbq

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 a thesis in dbq

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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 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...


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

Frequently Asked Questions About DBQ Essay

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

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

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

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

3. Is a DBQ essay an LEQ with documents?

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

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

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


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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how to write a thesis in dbq

How to Write a DBQ

how to write a thesis in dbq

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

What Is a DBQ?

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

DBQ Outline

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

How to Write a DBQ


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

Body Paragraph 1

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

Body Paragraph 2

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

Body Paragraph 3

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

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?

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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.

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

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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6 APUSH DBQ Examples to Review

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How to Write a Thesis for a DBQ

Kathryn wagner.

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

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

Explore this article

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

things needed

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

1 Gathering DBQ-Related Documents

DBQ-based documents

2 Gather the documents

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

Original sources are best for DBQ essays

3 Compare primary and secondary sources

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

4 Write down the author's

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

5 Writing and Proofreading the DBQ

6 write out three to four tentative theses to.

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

Refine your thesis.

7 Rewrite and expand your DBQ thesis

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

Proofread your DBQ.

8 Proofread your DBQ thesis

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

how to write a thesis in dbq

About the Author

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

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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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Graduating Creative Writing Student Writes Thesis on Shakespeare, Directs Play

Lydia Babcock has taken a long journey to find her way at UToledo.

From musical theater to creative writing, Babcock has directed multiple musicals and plays, and will be graduating with her bachelor of arts degree in English on Saturday, May 4.

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: UToledo recognizes the Class of 2024 with a series of stories featuring students receiving their degrees at spring commencement .

Babcock began her first year of college at Mary Baldwin University with a major in theater arts, during which she continued to apply for other theater programs. This led her to SUNY Geneseo in New York; however, when her scholarships fell through, she was forced to withdraw.

During her second semester, she attended Bowling Green State University, but did not feel it to be a good fit there.

Babcock, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Ohio, decided The University of Toledo was her best and most cost-effective option.

“When I transferred, I was really concerned about graduating on time especially with so many musical theater credits at a school that doesn’t have that as a program,” Babcock said. “I consider my greatest success at UToledo to be that I am going to be able to graduate at the time that I initially planned despite so many difficulties.”

Beginning her sophomore year at UToledo, Babcock decided that she needed a break from musical theater.

“I was reevaluating a lot about my future and my goals by looking at experiences from my past. I’ve been writing little stories and songs for as long as I can remember, and then became more seriously interested in poetry, specifically when I was in high school. Because of my previously very intense focus on musical theater performance, I hadn’t considered poetry or songwriting as more than a hobby until I got to UT and took a creative writing class.”

Photo of UToledo English and Honors student Lydia Babcock outside.

From musical theater to creative writing, Babcock has directed multiple musicals and plays, and will be graduating with her bachelor of arts degree in English on May 4.

This class was with Tim Geiger, a professor of English.

“I hadn’t taken any sort of creative writing class since high school, and taking his course reminded me why I love reading and writing poetry so much,” Babcock said. “So, it definitely had a lot to do with being able to work with Tim. He was the first person who encouraged me to consider going to graduate school for poetry, and that’s what I’m working towards doing now. “

Geiger said he has been impressed with Babcock as a writer, even from the beginning.

“Lydia is a go-getter. She arrived at UToledo already a strong writer, and in each of my classes she enrolls in she makes exponential improvements,” he said. “Partly, because she is a good reader, and partly it’s because she has clear grasp on what makes great writing, but mostly it’s simply that she dedicates herself to her craft. She has an innate understanding of the power of metaphor, and a natural lyricism to her writing style. It is clear she loves to shape, experiment with and play with language in all its forms.”

Babcock’s honors thesis focused on a subject that combined her passion for creative writing and theater: Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Her paper discussed the prevalence of witchcraft in the play during a time when witchcraft was a significantly more controversial topic.

A friend of Babcock’s from Oberlin College then offered her an opportunity to delve deeper into the play by co-directing a performance of it.

Lydia Babock performs in a production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale," which she also co-directed.

Lydia Babock in a production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” which she also co-directed.

“He told me that he wanted to put on one of Shakespeare’s plays as his winter term project, and he asked me if I would co-direct with him,” Babcock said. “I jumped at the offer and proposed that we direct ‘The Winter’s Tale’   since I was working on a thesis about it, and therefore, knew all of the ins and outs of the play already.”

Babcock has since directed multiple plays and musicals both in and outside of UToledo. Currently, she is working on a student-written musical called “The Haunting of Spoon River,” which will premiere at the end of this month.

This summer, she will be directing an area production of “The Sound of Music.”

“My current plan for after I graduate in May is to take a gap year to save money and focus on graduate program applications,” Babcock said. “I’d like to get a master of fine arts in poetry and also some sort of professional certification in book arts. Because of this, I don’t have any solidified plans yet, but there are a lot of goals that I am working toward.”

Despite many obstacles, Babcock said that she believes everything had worked out for the best to get her to UToledo.

“I feel like I’ve found a family in the English department here,” she said. “I feel like I’ve found friends that will be in my life hopefully for the rest of my life. I have also been so inspired by the work and enthusiasm of the professors that I’ve taken classes with over the past couple years. There are a lot of great people here that I have so much gratitude for.”


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    To answer the AP World History DBQ, you'll have to read through all seven documents and write an argumentative essay that answers the prompt. So not only will you have to come up with an arguable point, you'll have to prove that thesis using evidence contained in at least three of the seven documents.

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    As you read the document-based question, I recommend taking brief notes on the prompt and each document. Record what the prompt is asking, how each document relates to the prompt, and how the sourcing affects the document and/or a response to the prompt. Don't write too much, but you will find these notes useful when while composing your answer.

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    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.

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    This page details all aspects of writing a DBQ including how to earn the contextualization, thesis, evidence, analysis, and sourcing points, how to write a compare & contrast essay, cause & effect essay, and change & continuity over time (CCOT) essay. It also has a free downloadable worksheet linked to it to help you organize your DBQ.

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    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.".

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    Lydia Babcock has taken a long journey to find her way at UToledo. From musical theater to creative writing, Babcock has directed multiple musicals and plays, and will be graduating with her bachelor of arts degree in English on Saturday, May 4. CELEBRATING SUCCESS: UToledo recognizes the Class of 2024 with a series of stories featuring ...