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Primary Sources

This guide is to help users to identify, locate, and use primary sources in their research.

Evaluating Sources

Whether using primary or secondary sources, in print or online, an essential step in the research process is evaluating your sources.  Good scholarship requires careful reading and critical analysis of information.

Basic evaluation criteria for all sources include include the following questions:

Adapted from The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007):

Author Authority Poster of a man and a boy sitting by a tent pitched near a lake. Both figures are reading books. Yellow text at bottom of poster reads "Take along a book."

  • Who created the item? 
  • What is his or her affiliation? 
  • What is his or her relationship to the information contained in the source?

Audience and Purpose

  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Why was the item created?

Accuracy and Completeness

  • Is the evidence reliable? 
  • Are the important points covered? 
  • How does the source compare to other similar sources? 
  • What may have been left out?

Footnotes and Documentation

Are the author's sources in secondary and reference literature clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?

Perspective and Bias

How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?

Image: "Take Along a Book."  (191-) 1 print (poster) : color ; 53 x 34 cm. Call Number: POS - US .N65, no. 2 (B size) [P&P].  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.  Bookmark:  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002720076/