A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Table of Contents | Reference Sources | Exhibit Introduction
Previous Page Next Page
A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

Evaluating the Source

It is important to evaluate every source you use in your research. Not all reference sources are equal and the same is true for secondary and primary source materials. You must ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who wrote the source?
  • When was the source written?
  • What sources does the author use to support his writing?
  • Are there book reviews about the source? What do they say?

By identifying the answers to the questions above, you can better determine if the source will provide useful, accurate, and scholarly information. It is wise to examine the references and bibliography the author uses to support his research - does the author list similar sources to those in other bibliographies you have found? Does the author include a wide array of both secondary literature and primary source literature to support his research?

In book reviews, scholars will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a particular work and comment on the overall impact and quality of the source. By gathering several book reviews about the same source, you can make informed decisions about the validity of the source and narrow the number of secondary sources you actually consult in this next phase of your research.

To locate book reviews, you can use one of the many electronic databases that include book reviews. Firstsearch/WorldCat lists book reviews as do Book Review Digest and EbscoHost (ask a Reference Librarian for assistance in using these resources).

Table of Contents | Reference Sources | Exhibit Introduction
Previous Page Next Page
Introduction | Essay | Timeline | 10 Accounts | Biographies
Maps & Views | Research Guide
© Copyright 2003. The Massachusetts Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Terms and Conditions.