How to analyse historical sources

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© History Skills

When using sources for evidence, you need to be able to demonstrate your knowledge of them by identifying their historical background.


To do this, you need to analyse your sources.

What is 'source analysis'?

Analysis is the ability to demonstrate an understanding of the elements that contributed to the creation of a historical source.


It answers the question: 'Why does this source exist in its current form?'


There are six analysis skills that you need to master:

How do you analyse a source?

In order to demonstrate a knowledge of the six analysis skills, you need to do two things:

  1. Carefully read the source to find information that is explicit and implicit
  2. Conduct background research about the creator of the source

After completing these two steps, you can begin to show your understanding about the six features of historical sources.


Based upon what you found in your reading and background research, answer the following questions for each of the six analysis skills.

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What is the explicit meaning of the source? (Comprehension)

What is the implicit meaning of the source? (Interpretation)

How does this source corroborate the information from another source?

How does this source contradict the information from another source?




Who created the source? 

What kind and type of source is it?




From what point of view is the source created? 




When was the source created?

What historical events happened at this time that are important to the creation of this source?




Who was the intended audience of the source?




For what purpose was this source made?

How do you write an analysis paragraph?

Once you have been able to answer all of the question above, you are ready to demonstrate your complete source analysis.


An analysis paragraph should demonstrate your awareness of all six analysis skills in a short paragraph.

Example analysis paragraph:

This letter was written by John Smith to record the events of the battle for his family at home. It is from the perspective of an Australian soldier who had just experienced the Gallipoli landing on the 25th April, 1915, and specifically mentions “running like hell” for survival.

Colour key:
Information Origin Perspective Context Audience Motive

What do you do with your analysis?

Your source analysis becomes a vital step in your ability to evaluate your sources in your assessment pieces.


This is most important in written essays, source investigations and short response exams.


You will use different parts of your analysis to help justify a source's usefulness and reliability.

Test your learning

No personal information is collected as part of this quiz. Only the selected responses to the questions are recorded.

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