The History Research Process


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Kristina Claunch
Library (NGL) Room 223G

Feasibility: Primary Sources

Part of determining the feasibility of your research is gauging the existence and availability of primary sources. This graphic poses some of the important questions you should think through. I also strongly encourage you to do some sample searches for primary sources before you become too deeply committed to your topic, just to be sure that there is a strong enough source base. However, walking through the steps illustrated below is meant to serve as a mental exercise, a kind of reality check before you spend time performing actual searches.


The first step is to imagine what kind of sources might serve as evidence for your topic. You may not yet know what is available, but think critically about what types of sources are likely to contain the sorts of evidence you would need. For example:

  • Should you be in search of personal diaries and letters?
  • Would your research question be better answered by contemporary newspaper accounts?
  • Is this an issue to be discussed via government reports?
  • Could historical maps or photographs contribute to your arguments?


Based on your "ideal" list of hypothetical sources, ask yourself about the other criteria that the sources would need to meet, and apply your common sense and reasoning skills to determine how much each criteria will affect the quantity of sources available.


The next two tabs, "Example Assessment of Primary Sourcebase" #1 and #2," will walk through this process with sample research questions.

Primary Source Feasibility Evaluation Graphic

© This graphic is copyright 2013 by Erin Cassidy


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