Effective Source Analysis

Rob Johnston advises that we adopt a questioning approach.

‘Document questions’, without doubt, cause the greatest headache for students. So what strategies can be adopted to make one’s performance as effective as possible? How can a successful answer be constructed?

Obviously, it would be impossible to provide a model for every topic covered, but there are principles that can be applied. Like the rest of the historian’s craft, there are certain skills to master, and they take practice. ‘Narrative’ answers, or those that present a ‘shopping list’ of factors which have not been prioritised, will not attract high grades. When it comes to documents, you will be expected to offer an evaluation and a selection. However, there needs to be a genuine attempt to interrogate the past too; only then can the documents be made to ‘speak’, to give up their secrets, so that a thorough and effective analysis can be made. In other words, taking a ‘questioning’ approach to the sources you are presented with is always the best way.

Throughout the process of reading the sources, it is important to keep questioning the material. The questions we usually ask of sources are: 

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