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Primary Sources: Evaluating Primary Sources

This guide contains resources and guidance to help students find primary sources

How to evaluate primary sources


It is important to evaluate primary sources with a critical eye since they represent unfiltered records of the past.

You should examine:

  • Who was the author?
  • When was the source created and why? What was its purpose?
  • What was the context (historical, social, religious, etc.) in which the source was created?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • How does the account compare to that in other sources (both primary and secondary)? 
    • Does it support others accounts or not? And why?

For more information on evaluating primary sources, check out Patrick Rael's chapter 'How to Read a Primary Source' from Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students (Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College, 2004).