In this part of the test, you will be expected to demonstrate your ability to analyze documents and to write an essay based on those documents. Your goal: a unified essay that clearly analyzes a majority of the 10 to 12 documents provided and that responds directly to all parts of the question that is asked. The documents are chosen both for the information they convey about the topic and for the perspective they offer on the other documents that are provided. Read all the documents with care before formulating your DBQ essay and refer to at least a majority of them in your essay. Depending on the topic and focus of a particular DBQ, the question may or may not require you to discuss change over time. You may include accurate and relevant historical information not included in the documents, but you do not have to do so to achieve a top score.

Document-based questions usually begin with a short passage describing the historical background of the documents. This can be helpful to remind you of the context of the question, but you should not quote extensively from it. It is not considered a document. Documents are numbered and the author and source are provided for each document. You should make appropriate interpretative use of this information within your essay. Throughout your essay, you may show that you are referencing a document by identifying its number in parentheses, e.g., (Doc. 1). There are no irrelevant or deliberately misleading documents. 

Readers will look for a crucial historian’s skill when scoring the DBQ: Your awareness that documents are not statements of facts, but are instead descriptions, interpretations, or opinions of events and developments made by particular people at particular places and times, and for specific reasons. Apply critical thinking skills to the documents; assess their reliability and the ways in which they reveal authors' points of view (POV). The author and source are provided for each document. You should make appropriate interpretative use of this information within your essay.

In addition, you must group or juxtapose (to place side by side, especially for contrast or comparison) documents in a variety of ways (e.g., according to their ideas or points of view); suggest reasons for similarities or differences in perspective among the documents; and identify possible biases or inconsistencies within or between documents. Pay attention to the tone of each document as well as to the identifications of authors, the documents' purpose or intended audience, and the date when each document was written.

A DBQ essay should include the following:

THESIS: Your essay should have a clear thesis that responds to all parts of the question and is based on the documents.

MAJORITY OF DOCUMENTS: Correct interpretation of a majority of the documents and use of these documents to support the argument in the thesis.

GROUPING: Your analysis will be revealed by grouping the documents in at least THREE different ways that relate to the question. Each group will consist of at least two documents that you will discuss within a single paragraph. When you go on to a new group, make sure you start a new paragraph by indenting or skipping a line. You may use a document more than once for grouping if you like. 

POINT OF VIEW: Another skill you must demonstrate is an assessment of the bias or point of view (POV) represented in the documents; in other words, why is this specific author making this particular statement? Here you should consider the following: in what way(s) does the class, nationality, gender, official position, ideology, or other characteristic of the author influence his or her thinking on the topic at hand? How does the type of document (e.g., public speech, private letter or diary, government report) affect its purpose and content? You need to give at least THREE good examples of POV in your DBQ essay.

RESPOND TO THE QUESTION. Make sure that your DBQ provides a clear response to all parts of the question.

Here are the specific instructions for the Document-Based Question (DBQ):

Write an essay that:

  • Provides an appropriate, explicitly stated thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question and does NOT simply restate the question.
  • Discusses a majority of the documents individually and specifically.
  • Demonstrates understanding of the basic meaning of a majority of the documents.
  • Supports the thesis with appropriate interpretations of a majority of the documents.
  • Analyzes the documents by explicitly grouping them in at least three appropriate ways.
  • Takes into account both the sources of the documents and the authors’ points of view.
  • You may refer to relevant historical information not mentioned in the documents.