History Day Workshop

How can I use primary sources in my research?

Primary sources are invaluable tools for understanding how and why events happened. It is essential to evaluate the source, however, and understand the motive behind its creation and how it can alter the value of the informational content.

 Questions to ask should include:  

  • Who created the source and why?
  • What sorts of information does the source supply?
  • Under what circumstances was the source created?  How would this influence the content of the source?
  • For whom was the source created?
  • Was the source meant to be public or private?
  • Did the creator wish to inform, persuade, or deceive his or her audience?  What did the creator hope to accomplish by writing the source? Can you trust the source's content at face value?
What were the opinions, motivations, or interests of the creator?  How does his or her point of view compare to other writers of the period?  What kind of impact would this have on the content of the source?

Defining X Beginning X Locating X Evaluating

Comments: Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Head, Special Collections Department
Copyright 2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.
Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library