Steps to Primary Source Analysis

  1. Read any and all introductory information
    • Jot down notes that the editor found important enough to include
    • Pay attention to those "cues of importance"
    • Title, Author, and Date?
  2. Summarize the content
    • You guys have already experienced the difficulties of analyzing language that is unfamiliar and hard to decipher
      • At the end of every paragraph, write a 5-10 word sentence(s). You may also use bullet points, record key words, and list points of importance in the margin.
      • Do not note/highlight the entire paragraph, but only those words/sents. most important
  3. Ask questions
    • What is missing in the content?
      • For example, a slaveholder records illness amongst his slave population. You may ask "Who is in charge of health on a plantation? Slaves? The wife of the slaveholder?
  4. Make connections
    • Consider your prior knowledge on the subject/topic. This will help with providing context for your own understanding of the document.
      • You absorb information through certain scopes (or lenses) that have been developed over the course of your life. Your experiences have played a significant part in how you "see" things and understand information. Utilize those experiences in this process.
  5. Find/Make Inferences
    • What is the implied meaning of the text?
      • "Reading between the lines"
      • What speculations or conclusions do you draw from the text?
  6. Find Biases (if any)
    • Consider the author. Who are they?
      • Did they include any elements of prejudice for or against people or things?
      • Sweeping generalizations?
  7. Is there Intention?
    • Consider the author's audience.
      • Did the writing occur during an event, after?
  8. Talk about it!
    • After you've read the source and considered what is listed above, tell someone about the source. Provide as much information as you can about the author, the point of the text, and how it related to the larger topic/subject at hand.