A. The source: the document

  1. Form/Genre: What is the form or genre of this source? (e.g. Newspaper article? Diary? Letter? Drawing? Photograph? Advertisement? Legislation?)
  2. Author: Who authored this document? What were their goals? Has somebody changed or altered it since it was created?
  3. Audience: How was this source distributed and who was its intended audience?
  4. Origin/Historical Context: When/where was this source created and when/where did it first appear? What is the historical context relevant to understanding this document? To what degree is this source typical of its time period (is it like other sources of the same kind or by the same author within this era)?

B. Its message: what it's trying to say & how it says it

  1. Content: What does this source explicitly say and how does it communicate this message? What does it argue?
  2. Organization: How is this source organized? If it has multiple parts, how do these parts interrelate?
  3. Language & images: How does this author use language (or visual language) to communicate its message? What do these elements communicate implicitly?
  4. Tone and bias: What is the tone of this source? Is it serious, ironic, funny, sincere? How does the tone communicate its meaning? Is this source reliable? What is its bias?

C. Its big ideas: why is this source important?

  1. Surprising/Interesting/Coolness: What about this source is surprising or unusual? What about this source do you find interesting?
  2. Big Questions/Conclusions: What “how” and “why” questions does this answer? How does this primary source contribute to our understanding of history? What is this source missing or what other source might you need to gain a deeper understanding of the topic?
  3. Application: How might you use this source to deepen your knowledge of course readings or topics? How does this relate to other sources we've studied in this course? How might you use this in one your assignments (e.g. blog posts or final project)

2016 Lindsey Passenger Wieck
Guide adapted from Annie Gilbert Coleman's Cool Source Hunt