How to research historical sources

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Once you know what three sub-questions you need to answer, start finding primary and secondary sources that provide quotes that will help you answer these questions. 

When finding good sources, you will need to do wide reading. Take the time to look through any of the following in order to collect a wide range of primary and secondary sources:

  •  textbooks
  • academic journals

  • museum artefacts

  • educational websites

  • books written by experts

  • accounts written by eyewitnesses


Try not to waste time reading things that are not going to help you. A good idea is to skim through an article or book chapter first to work out whether it is useful. Do not spend all your time reading entire books when only a chapter or two may be useful.

Need help finding sources?

History Skills provides a range of links to help you find quality primary and secondary sources in this section of the website.

How to collect quotes

Once you have established that a source is useful, read it carefully and take notes as you read. This means that you write down:

  • the full bibliographical details of the source

  • the page numbers where you find your quotes and;

  • mark down which sub-question the quote helps you answer.


If you find that you cannot think of any sub-question it helps answer, then the quote probably is not useful for you essay. Do not waste your time on quotes that are not going to help you.


Finding sources and recording quotes does require time and effort, but if it is done well, it will save you wasting a lot of time when you come to write your essay!

Source analysis and evaluation

Once you have taken information from a source, you need to take some time to analyse and evaluate the source. Use as many of the skills to provide a critical summary of why this source is useful to your research. If you do this well during your research, you can incorporate your findings into your written essay.


Example of a source collection, analysis, and evaluation:

Source 1
Bibliographical Reference

 Spalinger, A. J. (1980). Historical Observations on the Military Reliefs of Abu Simbel and Other Ramesside Temples in Nubia. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 66, 83–99.


Kind of source

Secondary source

Evidence from the source

(Not counted in word limit)

"To the west-this time flanking the entrance corridor to the second hall-are two further traditional scenes. At the north the king is shown leading defeated Hittites to Re-Harakhty and 'Iws-r.s (the figure of the deified Ramesses was clearly added to the scene subsequently). Unlike the texts on the eastern wall, the inscriptions accompanying this ritual act are more precise - Hatti is specifically mentioned twice and the captives are defeated Hittites. The inscription on the southern half of the west wall mentions Kush. The bound captives that are led to Amen-Re and Mut (again, the figure of the deified Ramesses is a later addition) are southerners. The entire north wall is devoted to the battle of Kadesh and is connected, of course, with the scene on the northern half of the west wall. This scene presents a terminus a quo of Year 5 for the carving of these reliefs, whereas the others so far covered cannot be dated simply on the basis of Ramesses II's career as sole Pharaoh.”

[pg. 86]


Analysis and Evaluation

This source is an academic article from Emeritus Professor, Anthony Spalinger. He is an Egyptologist at the University of Aukland in New Zealand who specialises in military campaigns of Ramses II. It was written in 1980 at the conclusion of his close analysis of military reliefs on the temple walls at Abu Simbel in an effort to share his findings with other academics in his field. 


This article is written by an expert in the field of Egyptology, by an academic who specialises specifically in Ramses II. Therefore, this is a very reliable source of information about the military campaigns of the pharaoh. However, this was published in 1980, which is more than 40 years old now. Since much more research has been conducted by other researchers since then, Spalinger’s findings may now be out-of-date, which could potentially lower its reliability somewhat. Regardless, despite its older information, its summary and descriptions remain relevant, so is still a predominantly reliable source of information. 


The article provides explicit detail about the regions and conquests of Ramses during his early reign. It specifically identifies “Hati” and “Kush” as the peoples that were the victims of his early expansion. It also alludes to the fact that the battles depicted were glorified representations and probably do not provide entirely accurate descriptions of individual battles. 


As a result, this is a very useful source in answering my inquiry question about the success of Ramses as a military leader. Since it states that “the king is shown leading defeated Hittites”, it provides clear evidence of Ramses’ participation in victorious military campaigns in the northern and southern regions of the Egyptian empire.

Your research journal

A research journal will be given to you to record this information. It is in your best interests to write as much as possible into the journal so that your teacher can see where your information is from.


An empty research journal indicates laziness and may be a warning sign of plagiarism! Since one third of your marks come from your research, keeping a record of your quotes helps your teacher to give you the best marks.


Use your research journal to store all of your quotes and information.

What's next?

Need a digital Research Journal?

Historical Research Journal
A ready-to-use digital student research journal that follows the same 9-step research process from the History Skills website. Each research stage has explanations, blank tables and hyperlinks to examples to aid with the completion of essay ... (Read More)