Some Preliminary Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources
The following questions are intended to help you think like a historian. These questions will guide
you in your reading, analyzing, and interpreting of the primary sources written by people in past
I. Reading (or observing, or listening to, in the cases of visual or sound-recorded sources)
A. Read the source(s) carefully.
B. Reread the corresponding text chapter to see how the primary source fits within the
broader historical context.
C. Try to get a preliminary understanding of the sources.
D. Circle words that are not clear and look them up or ask the instructor for help.
E. Reread the sources after you have looked up the words that were not clear.
F. Write a brief summary of what the document said to you.
A. For subsequent sources, use the same procedure described above.
B. Compare the evidence of the sources (in the case of multiple sources on one
1. Do the sources agree on the subject they describe?
2. If not, how do they differ?
3. When were the sources composed?
4. Were the authors of the sources equally close in time to the historical event
they are describing?
5. Who were the authors of the sources?
6. Were the authors eyewitnesses to the events they are describing?
7. If they were not eyewitnesses, did they know an individual (or individuals)
who participated in the event(s) they are describing?
8. How do your answers to questions 1-7 aid in your choice of what you
consider to be the most reliable source?
9. What criteria did you use to determine which of your sources is most reliable?
10. After you have read, reread, and analyzed the primary sources, write brief
summaries of the authors' main ideas.
11. What biases might the authors have toward the subject about which they
12. List these possible biases.
13. How might these biases have affected their interpretation of what happened
in the histories they wrote (or created, in the case of visual sources)?