How to Write a Document Based Question (DBQ)

It is essential to learn how to write a DBQ because you are bound to take one. Initially, you would only find Document Based Questions (DBQ) in Advance Placement (AP) history exams. Now, they appear across all levels in social sciences classes.

how to write a document based question

Therefore, this article will help equip you with the tools you need for writing a good DBQ.  

What Is a DBQ?

A DBQ essay tests your understanding and analytical skills. It is an academic paper that is part of the AP U.S. History exams set by the USC Board. A good DBQ thesis writer must have sufficient knowledge and evidence on a specific topic. Understanding the DBQ format and outline is crucial for success.

How Do You Format a DBQ?

Understandably, figuring out the DBQ format can be nerve-wracking. Below is an easy-to-formal format to give you a head start.


  1. Begin with a hook to captivate your readers.
  2. Background information on the topic. Here use historical references like figures or events.

Thesis Statement

  1. State the question that the DBQ will answer.
  2. Give descriptive details of the claims in your paper. Also, support them with credible evidence.

Note: Writing a thesis for a DBQ takes time. Analyse your topic well to come up with the best statement. Additionally, it should include all the arguments in the following body paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs

  1. State an argument and link it to your thesis statement.
  2. Draw on a credible source to relate to your argument.
  3. Conclude with a statement to summarise your central idea. 
  4. Write transition statements that link to the next paragraph.


  1. Summarise the arguments in your essay in a few concise words
  2. Restate the main points.
  3. Write a concluding sentence which can also include a question.

How many paragraphs for DBQ? It should be at least three. An introduction, a conclusion and body paragraphs are essential. Therefore, the number of DBQ body paragraphs depends on the topic.

Step-By-Step Guide and Tips

Here are some additional writing tips now that you have a basic format. DBQs can be tricky, but it would help to follow this guideline.

Step 1: Review the DBQ document. Suppose you are required to write a DBQ apush; read the prompt first. Examine it and develop an idea or concept.

Step 2: Understand the essay requirements and the evidence to look for in the document. Always note the task directives such as “compare and contrast”, “define”, and “examine.” Also, look out for keywords like “economic”, “political”, and “social.”

Step 3: Define your argument by developing a rough draft and outline. You must be decisive in your main argument. Then create claims that support the discussion. Also, list bullet points that support each claim.

Step 3: Cite your argument. Reliable sources must support all your claims. For quick references, have a notes section to help you stay organised.

Step 4: Draft your essay. Once you have all your arguments down, you are ready to start writing a good DBQ. Use the guidelines laid out in the previous section. Ensure that you write each argument in a different body paragraph. Also, consult reputable sources for procedures if you need more clarification.

Step 5: Proofread your work. An essential step that you may overlook is going through the essay. Here, read through your paper to check for errors.

Writing Guidelines on How to Write DBQ

In this section, this article will tackle some of the questions you may have. Firstly, how do you write a DBQ paragraph? Once you have an idea of the topic, writing becomes easy. You need to understand the essay question. This part is critical because it determines the content of your paragraphs. Next, be aware of the duration. T. You need to allocate enough time to each paragraph. Practice how to write a DBQ and the length of each paragraph. Once you have done enough practice, you are ready for the next time you write a Document Based Question (DBQ).

Another question that students often ask is, what are the 7 parts of a DBQ? Below are the different parts of writing a  DBQ that will help you in your essay.

  1. Analysis. Always remember to read between the line. Pick out what the passage implies more than what it says.
  2. Examine. Go through all the available sources before writing your essay. You need to be thorough.
  3. Read the outline. Always follow the DBQ format. A format helps in understanding the structure of your paper. 
  4. Categorise your points. Always arrange your ideas and topics. Being organised early will translate into your body paragraphs.
  5.  Note the author’s opinion. The author’s point of view is essential. This part shows that you took your time analysing the material.
  6. Have a thesis. A thesis statement is what ties everything. It is the foundation of your paper. Write it down before starting your essay.
  7. Look for an example. It does not hurt to see what others have done. While preparing to write a DBQ, look for examples to get a feel for it. Understand the basics of writing an essay.


These steps are a great way to get a head start on writing a DBQ. As noted, managing your time is vital to the process. Take your time and analyse the document before drafting your essay. Once you have a good idea, you will have more confidence as you proceed. Also, the DBQ format is critical. Without it, your paper will seem jumbled up without a direction. 

Your reader will appreciate a suitable format and structure. Moreover, paying attention to detail will go a long way. Identify the author’s tone and be aware of critical words. Lastly, practice makes perfect. Before writing a good DBQ, review previous work. You will notice that you are more confident once you know all the tips and tricks. 

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