THE HISTORIAN'S TEN COMMANDMENTS
(Revised and Enlarged)

Original attributed to
WILLIAM B. HESSELTINE (1902-1963)

Department of History
THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

  1. Thou shalt not use the passive voice.

  2. Thou shalt not use the present voice.

  3. Thou shalt not quote from secondary sources.

  4. Thou shalt not quote more than three lines--and never shalt thou use "block" quotations.

  5. Thou shalt not quote anything thou canst say better thyself.

  6. Thou shalt not quote to carry thy story.

  7. Thou shalt, in short, quote only to "season" thy story.

  8. Thou shalt not quote to establish a fact except when the word itself is the fact.

  9. Thou shalt not pass judgments on mankind in general nor shalt thou pardon anyone for anything.

  10. Thou shalt cite material to the standard source.

  11. Thou shalt combine footnotes whenever possible.

  12. Thou shalt not write the history of a wheat field regardless of how "naturally" it develops.

  13. Thou shalt not designate persons by their last names only.

  14. Thou shalt clearly identify any personality mentioned in the text--be it Jesus Christ or Abraham Lincoln.

  15. Thou shalt not mention secondary sources or writers in the main body of thy text.

  16. Thou shalt fight all thy battles in thy footnotes.

  17. Thou shalt write about thy subject and not about the documents concerning thy subject.

  18. Thou shalt not discuss thy methodology.

  19. Thou shalt strike thy reader hard with thy first sentence.

  20. Thou shalt not use slang--nor split thy infinitives.

  21. Thou shalt place thy time clauses first.

  22. Thou shalt not use the personal pronoun either explicitly or implicitly.

  23. Thou shalt not use the rhetorical question to avoid an intelligent transition.

  24. Thou shalt set down things as they happen; thou shalt have no references later in time than the subject thou'rt dealing with.

  25. Thou shalt be neither a "no-er" nor a "not-er"--i.e., thou shalt avoid negations whenever possible.

  26. Thou shalt never use THIS for THE, nor THE for A.

  27. (reserved for future revelations from the prophet)

I found these in some newsgroup years ago: it is not that I agree with these commands, but they are nice stuff for a good discussion about how a historian should write

George Welling

Professor Nauta, from our University, pointed me to the Basic Rules For Writing Narrative History by Horace Samuel Merrill from the History Department of the University of Maryland, which gives the background and updated view and includes the original 15 Commandments by Hesseltine.