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What is DBQ Essay?

A DBQ essay should be written based on documents questions and information from the text provided. Outside general knowledge that you have already gathered from coursework is allowed to be included as well, but generally specific facts or statistics from your text books will not be included. Use as many of the charts, maps, articles and photographs as possible, in your DBQ packet, to enhance your essay.

Description by Allison D. (English and Fashion Merchandising major at University at Buffalo)

A DBQ essay is a Document Based Question. This is a key piece of the AP History Exams. In these types of essays the test taker is asked a question with the requirement of using their own knowledge and the provided documents to support their thesis. The integration of the documents and your own knowledge is critical. You want to use the documents to support your own historical knowledge rather than as your only information. The documents each include the author and the date which allows for the test taker to gather information on the bias of the information. There are examples of previous DBQ questions on the AP website.

Description by an InstaEDU tutor

DBQ stands for Document Based Question. You see these a lot in some History classes. In these essays, you are given a series of about 10-12 short documents. You are then expected to answer a question based on what can be learned from the documents. This is sort of like a research paper, only your research has already been given to you.

Description by Hayley C. (Audio Engineering Technology major at Belmont University)

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question. A DBQ essay is an essay that synthesizes information from numerous primary source documents and answers a prompt with that essay synthesis. DBQ essays are common on many AP exams like AP US History and AP European history--a sort of mini-preparation for the college long research paper!

Description by Divya R. (Psychology and Hispanic Studies double major with a minor in Creative Writing major at University of Pennsylvania)

DBQ Essay refers to the current use of data based questions in the subject area of social studies in which students are asked to write an argumentative essays based on primary and secondary documents provided to them.


A Document Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay based on a series of documents, data, or information and is typically used in a History or Social Studies course. The focus in a DBQ is the thesis, which should directly relate to both the essay question and the documents provided. DBQ Essays are designed to encourage students to think critically about a certain period or event in History, and expect students to draw on their historical knowledge as well as the information provided in the sources to successfully formulate an argument to address the question.

Description by Elizabeth M. (Secondary English Education major at Juniata College)

A DBQ Essay stands for a Document Based Question Essay. Basically, in order to compose a well-written paper, you need to concentrate on the direct text. Teachers and professors typically give you a set amount of material to use as primary and secondary sources, and then you must follow the prompt to answer the question. The good news is you have all the answers to write an awesome paper!

Description by Elizabeth G. (English/Psychology/ 9-12 Licensure major at Meredith College)

A "Document Based Question". These questions are often found on AP tests such as AP US History. This question is not created to stump your or test your knowledge on the material. It is more or less there to see if you can synthesize (combine) various articles into a well written essay. Background knowledge with obviously aid in the ability to write a good essay however you may be able to score well on an essay of this form without knowledge just by reading the provided articles/photos/graphs. My advice, practice this type of essay. It could very well be a great way to rack up some points on that AP test!

Description by Jenna E. (Elementary Education; Sociology major at Stonehill College)

A DBQ is a document-based question. You'll often find them on standardized tests. In order to write a DBQ, read the provided documents, analyze the question you are being asked, and the synthesize the given information into a cohesive essay.

Description by Jenna M. (Childhood/Special Education major at New York University)

Why study DBQ Essay?

A DBQ essay is a document based question essay that appears on AP History and AP English Lang exams. They require you to use multiple sources that are given to you during the exam to craft an argument based on the question they give and support it with the documents given. It's the APs way of testing your ability to write a research-style paper in which you support an argument with evidence you have found. The AP exam will give you a reading period to look through all of the materials given and brainstorm/outline your paper, and then give you a set amount of time to write.

Description by Caroline H. (Computer Science major at University of Virginia)

Document-based questions, or DBQs, involve critical thinking as applied to a primary document. DBQs are commonly seen on required school exams and, as such, it is imperative to master them.

Description by Diana S. (Childhood/Special Ed 1-6 major at The College of Saint Rose)

DBQ (Document Bases Question) essays allow for an analytic perspective on writing. It ensures a complete understanding of the document(s) being analyzed and folds deeper than a summary of the document. In a way, it allows the writer as well as the reader to become familiar with the document more efficiently.

Description by Julietta M. (Political Science major at Coastal Carolina University)

DBQ's are a great way to study the meatier topics of history. Too often people think history is the memorization of names and dates. This simply isn't the case. Names and dates and facts are the foundation of the study of history, and a great way to test knowledge for large groups, but not the best way to understand history in depth. DBQ's allow you to apply these facts and figures to arrive at an interpretation of history. By studying various documents related to the past, you can see differing viewpoints and draw your own conclusions. This teaches you invaluable critical thinking and analytic skills, and is vital for understanding the past on a deeper level.

Description by Sarah P. (US History major at University of California, Los Angeles)

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