Ten Commandments of Good Historical Writing

by Theron F. Schlabach

With apologies to the Author of the original ten

I.Thou shalt begin with an outline that buildeth thy entire paper around thy central ideas.

II. Thou shalt avoid self-conscious discussion of thy intended purposes, thy strategy, thy sources, and thy research methodology.

III. Thou mayest covet other writers' ideas but thou shalt not steal them.

IV. Thou shalt strive for clarity above cuteness; thou shalt not use jargon when common language will serve, nor a large word when a small one will serve, nor a foreign term when an English one will serve, nor an abstract term where a vivid one is possible.

V. Remember thy paragraph to keep it a significant unity; thou shalt not fragment thy discussion into one short paragraph after another, and neither shalt thou write a paragraph that fails to develop a topical idea.

VI. Thou shalt write as if thy reader is intelligent--but totally uninformed on any particular subject: hence, thou shalt identify all persons, organizations, etc., and shalt in every way try to make thy paper a self-sufficient unit.

VII. Thou shalt use quotations sparingly and judiciously, only for color and clarity; if thou must quote, quotations should not break the flow of thine own language and logic, and thy text should make clear whom thou art quoting.

VIII. Thou shalt not relegate essential information to thy footnotes

IX. Thou shalt write consistently in past tense, and in other ways keep thy reader firmly anchored in time.

X. Thou shalt not use passive voice.