How to evaluate historical sources

Statue of justice

Once you have successfully analysed your sources, you have enough information to start evaluating their value. The ability to evaluate a source is central to being a great history student.

What is 'source evaluation'?

Evaluation is the ability to reach an informed judgment about the value of a source to your historical topic. It answers the question: 'How useful, accurate, and reliable is this source?'


There are three evaluation skills that you need to master:

You need to use your source evaluation within your written arguments, overtly or subtly. You do not need to write a lot in order to do this.


It is possible to show sophisticated evaluation through only a few well-chosen words. The ability to seamlessly incorporate your evaluation into your writing, without sounding too long-winded or disjointed, will improve your results.

How do you evaluate a source?

In order to draw a judgment about a historical source, you need to have finished analysing it. 


Once you have completed your source analysis, you can use your findings to come to a conclusion about its usefulness, accuracy, and reliability.


Each of the two evaluation skills relies upon certain analysis skills to justify your judgment.


The best analysis skills to use for each evaluation skill is demonstrated in the table below:

Use these analysis skills... justify these evaluation skills.


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

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



How relevant is this source to the topic you are studying? 

How does this source corroborate the information from another source?


How does this source contradict the information from another source?


How correct is the information provided by the source?




Who created the source? 

What kind and type of source is it?



How trustworthy is the source?




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?

Watch a video explanation on the History Skills YouTube channel:

Watch on YouTube

How do you write an evaluation paragraph?

Once you have chosen which analysis skills you will use to support your judgments, you are ready to demonstrate your complete source evaluation.


An evaluation paragraph should draw upon as many analysis skills as you require to provide the strongest possible argument for the usefulness and reliability of your source.

Example evaluation paragraph:

The 1938 book Poisonous Mushroom by German Nazi Ernst Hiemer is very useful in answering the sub-question regarding how the Nazi party influenced young people in the 1930s. It provides a number of stories that explicitly describe the Jewish people as “dangerous” and “evil”, which feature German children as the main characters who are told this information. Since this source was created by Hiemer, who also worked as the chief editor for the Nazi propaganda newspaper, Der Stürmer, for German children to read, it is clear that it is a reliable record of how the regime sought to spread anti-Semitic ideology amongst young people.  

Colour Key:
Information Origin Perspective Context Audience Motive

What do you do with your source evaluation?

Your source evaluation is a crucial element to many assessment pieces. This is most important in written essayssource investigations and short response exams.

Additional resources