The DBQ Essay – The Process is Critical!

What is a DBQ Essay?

In simplest terms, the document-based question (DBQ) essay asks the author to analyze specific documents and to develop a thesis based upon those documents. The thesis will generally be an opinion or a reaction in specific response to the question asked.
The DBQ essay is generally assigned in social science coursework because of the political, economic, and social aspects of these disciplines as well as the preponderance of documents that relate to them.

The Process for Writing a DBQ Essay

1. Be certain that you understand the DBQ essay questions. What are you being asked to address? Are you to provide a discussion/analysis in political, economic, or sociological terms? Are you to develop an opinion based upon the information/data/opinions stated in the documents? You cannot form a thesis for your DBQ essay until you accurately define the question.
2. Read each document thoroughly, taking notes as you read. Be certain that your notes relate to the DBQ essay questions asked. Are there important quotes you can use? Are there events that directly relate to the question? If there are graphs or charts, study them carefully. After reading each document, prepare a summary statement of what you have read. These summaries will help you synthesize the content into appropriate subtopics for paragraphs in the body of your essay. What is the basic thesis of the document? What is the bias of the author(s), if any?
3. Synthesize your thoughts regarding the documents as a whole, relative to the DBQ essay questions. This will allow you to form your thesis, which must be a clear, coherent, and strong statement. The remainder of your DBQ essay will focus on proving this thesis.
4. Organizing the information/data from the documents according to the points you plan to make is critical to writing a DBQ essay. You will use points from several documents so be certain to note from which document each piece of information comes.
5. Construct your DBQ essay outline, placing the points to be made in descending order of importance. A carefully constructed DBQ essay outline will allow you to review the subtopics you have chosen and to be certain that they answer the DBQ questions as well as support your thesis.
6. The rough draft is a crucial part of writing a DBQ essay. Your introduction must engage the reader immediately and present your thesis. Each of the subtopics from your outline will comprise a paragraph. Be certain to reference document numbers in parentheses after related statements or quotes or refer to the individuals responsible for the statements with the paragraph text. The conclusion should repeat your thesis, of course.
7. Review the rough draft with an eye toward the DBQ essay questions, your thesis, and the points that you included in your DBQ outline. If you have met these criteria, you are ready to polish the piece and compose the final draft.

A Few Additional Tips

1. Your essay should be formal in style. Do not use contractions; do not use the generic “you.”
2. Vary the length of your sentences. It is often a good idea to begin the introduction with a short “snappy” sentence that grabs attention.
3. Be careful about transitions between paragraphs. The reader should be lead smoothly to the next point.Becoming an expert on the DBQ essay is a process and part of that process may be studying such essays that others have written. If you are uncomfortable with a DBQ essay, do not hesitate to contact We can provide sample DBQ essay pieces or, indeed, provide a qualified writer to create one for you.