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Writing Program

Evaluating Sources

Dominique Battles, English

Kinds of Sources:

  • Primary Source: a work that is itself the subject of study, a work written during the period under investigation (e.g. diaries, letters, speeches, eye-witness accounts).
  • Secondary Source: any commentary written after and about the period in question (e.g. history textbooks, a recent study of the Crusades). Secondary sources incorporate information gleaned from a variety of primary sources.

We have five teams today, and each team has a source in front of you. Your task is to determine whether this is a scholarly source, and how/when you might use this source.

To evaluate any source, begin by asking the following questions:

  1. What do we know about the author?
    • level of education
    • Type of position they hold (journalist? Professor? Editor?)
    • Other books or articles he/she has written (go to the back fly leaf or to the "about the author" page of the book).
    • Work/life experience
    • Biases he/she might have.
  2. Who is the audience for this publication? Popular audience? Academic audience? Children? Policy makers?
  3. Is this a primary or secondary source?
  4. What is the thesis of the work (either overt or implicit)?
  5. What type of evidence does the author use to support his/her study?
  6. How is that evidence documented?
  7. What is the date of the publication? How might that affect the way we would use it?
  8. What sources (both numbers and kind) does the author use to do this publication?
  9. Is the content of the piece primarily theoretical or practical?
  10. What is the tone of the work? Does it seem to offer an objective or subjective view?
  11. What is the scope of the work? Does it cover the entire topic or just one aspect of it?
  12. In what type of essay on the topic might you use such a publication?