HISTORY: Studying Sources

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An EXTRACTION question challenges the student to get as much out of the source as they can.

Typical questions:

  • What can we learn from Source A about...?
  • What does Source D tell us about...?


  • Write down at least 3 things the source tells you
  • Write down what you can infer, if there are any messages, or if the source is trying to create an impression by making you think in a certain way
  • Write down what the source tells you about when it was created, the situation in which it was created and/or what the source tells you about the author
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A SIMILARITY/DIFFERENCE question asks a student to compare and contrast a number of sources.

Typical questions:

  • Do the sources agree about...?
  • In what way do Sources A and B differ about...?


  • HOW - compare simple things, e.g. what they agree/disagree on,  and similarities/differences in tone, approach, message etc.
  • WHY - look at the label on the source, e.g. who wrote it, when, in what context or situation and why it was written
  • Wherever possible use quotes from the source to back up your points
  • Make a conclusion summing up how and/or why they are similar or different
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RELIABILITY questions want students to judge how accurate and reliable a source is.

Typical questions:

  • How accurate is Source C as a source of information...?
  • How reliable is...?


  • Find out if the source is biased or exaggerated by looking at the language used. See if the source gives you an accurate picture and compare to other sources
  • Look at the label to find out who wrote it and when. Work out if the author is well respected or has motive to lie
  • Back up all of your points with evidence in your conclusion
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UTILITY questions ask how useful a source is.

Typical question:

  • How useful is Source D to a Historian studying surgery in the Middle Ages?


  • QUALITY and QUANTITY - How much information it gives you and how reliable it is
  • See if it is the type of information you need in relation to the question
  • Look at sufficiency - see if the source gives you the whole story and identify its limitations and explain what it is used for
  • Say whether you can trust the source, who wrote it, and why
  • Remember the source reveals a lot about something, whether it is the individual's opinion or the organisation that produced it
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CONCLUSION questions usually ask students to debate a particular issue and to use the sources to back up the conclusion they come to.

Typical questions;

  • Use all the sources to debate...
  • Do all the sources agree that public health improved at different times for different reasons?


  • Look through all the sources with the question in mind
  • Remember the sources have been selected to support both sides of the argument
  • Make sure you account for accuracy and reliability in your conclusion
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