Evaluating sources, whether they are primary or secondary, is an important part of the research process. Consider the following questions in order to effectively evaluate and gain a more critical understanding of your sources.
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?
Perspective and Bias
How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?
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?
Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide and The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Maps should be evaluated like other sources, but they can require you to ask different questions.
Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide
Images require the same kinds of evaluating questions as other texts, but different types of images require additional questions.
Where was the image first displayed or published?
Do the angles, lighting, or cropping suggest a particular bias?
Is it a single work or part of a larger movement?
Where was it first displayed and what was the critical reception?
In what type of publication was the cartoon published?
When? What is the historical significance?
What is its message?
Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide and A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 6th ed. by Mary Lynn Rampolla (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009).
For more information on evaluating primary sources:
ALA's Evaluating Primary Sources on the Web
Lafayette College Library's Evaluating Primary Sources
University of Toronto Scarborough Library
1265 Military Trail, Toronto, ON M1C 1A4 Canada
About web accessibility. Tell us about a web accessibility problem.
About online privacy and data collection.
© University of Toronto. All rights reserved.