How to Write a dbq (Document Based Question) What is a dbq?

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Name: ____________________ Date:_________

US History I Ms. Didyoung

How to Write A DBQ

(Document Based Question)
What is a DBQ?

DBQ stands for Document Based Question. It is a type of essay that provides you with documents to serve as sources of information for your writing. Each DBQ you take will look very similar. There are certain things that are always given to you:

  • Historical Context: This is a paragraph that tells you some background information about the topic of the essay. This will help you write your introduction.

  • Task: This is the actual question that you are attempting to answer in the essay. This will help you to write your THESIS, or last sentence of your introduction

  • Documents and Scaffolding Questions: There will typically be 5-7 documents that will be used to help you write your essay. Each document will also have 1-3 questions that you must answer before writing the essay. These questions will help get you thinking about how to shape your essay.

Writing a DBQ: A step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Read the Historical Context and write the first sentence of your essay.
This step will let you know what the essay is about and give you ideas for writing your introduction. Let’s look at the historical context for this essay together.

Historical Context: After the Mexican-American War, Mexico lost about one third of its territory to the United States. This land, called the Mexican Cession, attracted American settlers. What happened to the Mexicans who now found themselves living in a different country?

Sometimes, the most difficult sentence to write in an essay is the first one. The historical context will help you do this. From that paragraph, we need to find the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of this essay.

  • WHO:

  • WHAT:

  • WHEN:

  • WHERE:

Now, we need to combine those four pieces of information into one “Historical context statement.” Give it try below. Write one sentence that states all four: Who, what, when, and where.

Historical Context Statement: ___________________________________________


Step 2: Read the task and write your thesis.

This step is one of the most important in writing a DBQ. Your thesis is the last sentence of your introduction, and it is the most important sentence in the entire essay.

How to write a basic thesis:

  1. Start with an “I believe” statement that expresses your opinion.

For example: I believe The Walking Dead is the best show on TV.

  1. Add reasons why, based on documents given to you (if no documents are given, use your own knowledge)

Example: I believe The Walking Dead is the best show on TV due to its graphic but well placed violence, outstanding make up, and credible actors.

  1. Remove the “I believe” statement, and you have a very basic thesis statement that gives your opinion and explains why your opinion is correct!

To write a thesis, you have to know what task you are being asked to complete. Let’s look at the task together. For this thesis statement, use the information given in the DBQ.

Task: Use your knowledge of American history and evidence from the documents to explain your answer to the following question.

  • What were the most important long-term consequences of the Mexican Cession?

Now that you know what you have to do, you are ready to write your thesis statement. This is your one-sentence answer to the task question. In other words, you need to answer all parts of the question in one sentence so that the reader knows basically what you will say in your answer. Give it a try.

Thesis Statement: ___________________________________________________

You now have the first and last sentence of your introduction. That, however, is NOT an entire introduction. You still need the sentences that come in the middle and get you from your historical context to your thesis. There is not one correct way to do this, but many. We will come back to this step later.
Step 3: Read the documents and answer the scaffolding questions (additional questions that make you think critically about the topic. There are not always going to be scaffolding questions!)
This step will take some time, but it is important because this is where you will get most of your information for the essay. As you read and examine each document, you must do three things:

  1. Answer the scaffolding question(s) attached to the end of each document.

  1. Fill out your outside information box (this can be bullet points, but the information must be something that is NOT in the document but is related. Use materials from class to fill in the outside information boxes!).

  1. Label each document based on which topic you think it would fit best with.


“Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico…shall be free to continue where they now reside…In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolably respected.

…The Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic… shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States and be admitted at the proper time…to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the mean time, shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.”

-Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848

Outside Information

Scaffolding question:

1. According to Document B, Mexican residents in the Mexican Cession:

a. were required to surrender to American forces

b. were forced to sell their lands

c. would enjoy equal rights

d. would have to move to Mexico

“That ultimately the whole of Mexico will be embraced in our Union, there is very little room to doubt. That dislike to Americans of the North, which was a characteristic of the Mexicans, founded on prejudice, has to a very remarkable extent given away to admiration, and a desire for closer intimacy…”

-“Mexico and the Mexicans,” The United States Democratic Review 1850

Outside Information

Scaffolding question:

2. What does this document state will happen to Mexico and the Mexicans?


“What a difference between the present time and those that preceded the Americans. If the Californios could all gather together to breathe a lament, it would reach heaven as a moving sign which would cause fear and consternation in the Universe. What misery!”
-Mariano Vallejo, late 1800s.
Scaffolding Question:

3. How does Mariano feel about his/her current situation?


“Unlike earlier [American] colonists, these new settlers came as conquerors. In most areas they were vastly outnumbered by Mexicans who had recently been given citizenship and, supposedly, equal rights. The Anglo settlers most likely felt insecure as a minority and so they, the conquerors, set out to subdue the conquered. Mexican Americans soon found that they were discriminated against and treated like aliens in lands they felt rightfully belonged to them. Their land was taken from them; their political power, or the potential for it, usurped, and their social position threated.”

-A History of the Mexican-American People, Julian Samora, 1977

Scaffolding Questions:

4. Who’s view is this document written from? How is this account different from that of the account from the United States?

5. Which of the following pairs of documents express similar main ideas?

a. B and D

b. C and E

c. C and D

d. D and E
Step 4: Outline your essay.
Before you can begin your essay, you should always create an outline. You do not need to follow the format of the outline below, but you should have an outline containing all of the same parts. In your body paragraphs, you should use at least 3 out of the 4 documents. That would equal out to one document for each of the body paragraphs.

Historical Context Sentence:


Body Paragraph #1:

Document #’s: Outside Information:

Body Paragraph #2:

Document #’s: Outside Information:

Body Paragraph #3:

Document #’s: Outside Information:


Related Thesis:
Step 5: Write the essay
Start by writing your historical context sentence. This is the first sentence of your introduction. Now, you need 2-3 sentences to get to your thesis. A good idea is to set up the examples that you plan to talk about in your essay. These should be in your outline, so you don’t have to think them up from scratch. For this essay, it might be good to have one sentence setting up long-term results for the United States and another setting up the long-term results for Mexico. The last sentence of your introduction should be your thesis. Remember, your thesis is ALWAYS only ONE SENTENCE. If your thesis is more than one sentence then it is wrong. It should answer all parts of the task question within that one sentence.
Body Paragraphs:
You should have at least one body paragraph for long-term effects for the United States and one body paragraph for long-term effects for Mexico. Your third body paragraph you can choose a document that supports either side. Your body paragraphs will consist mostly of information from the documents, however, you will also need outside information (that is why we put it on the outline).

Each body paragraph should start with a topic sentence. Think of a topic sentence as half of your thesis. Instead of addressing all aspects of the task, your topic sentence addresses one aspect of the task.

After your topic sentence you will get into the substance of your essay. It is recommended to use the “rule of 4s.” The rule of 4s means that you should have 4 sentences any time that you use a document and 4 sentences when you bring in an example of outside information. You must also remember to use transition sentences when changing topics. Any time you change topics, ALWAYS, use a transition sentence. You should also be sure to not end abruptly. Have a sentence at the end to wrap-up the big topic of the whole paragraph.
Your body paragraph will be structured something like this:

  • Topic sentence

  • 4 sentences of document information

  • Transition sentence

  • 4 sentences of outside information

  • A sentence to wrap-up the paragraph

Conclusions should be easy because you don’t have to say anything new. Basically you start by just restating your thesis in different words. Next, summarize each of the topics you discussed (long-term effects for the U.S. and long-term effects about Mexico). A good way to do this is to write one sentence for each document that you used. Finally, wrap-up the entire essay with one good concluding sentence.

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