How to analyse a source?

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Analysing a source at first often feels like a daunting task, especially because it is unseen material, but it needn’t be! If you simply focus on what the question if asking you to do and structure it in an effective manner, then there is no reason to be worried. A source based question can be separated into four main parts which can also be used for the basis of a solid essay structure.

How to structure my essay

1) Context - The W’s

Why was the source written?

Who was the source written for?

Who was the source written for?

When was the source written?

What does the source say? (be brief)

Answering all of the aforementioned questions in your first paragraph will give a solid basis of the background and context of the source.

2) Providence

This part links directly with the previous part and does not always warrant a new separate paragraph. In this part you should question whether the source is biased or not and whether the source is factually accurate. Is the source an example of propaganda? This should all be addressed. Do not be afraid to critique the source, as long as you can back up your opinion with evidence.

3) Analysis

This is the most important part of your essay and you should spend the most time here. You should pick two or three main points of interest from the source you wish to discuss. You should quote directly from the extract, but only segments never full sentences. You should then analyse this quote discussing the implications and significance of the quote. Remember not to just simply reword what the source already states.

A simple formula for your sentences you may follow could be:

‘The source states… which implies… and this is significant because…’

4) Wider implications

If you have the time, this is a great opportunity to show off your knowledge. In this part you should place the source into the wider context and the significance of the source as a whole. For example, if the source is an extract from the Communist Manifesto this source at the time of its publication was not that important, it was not until later that the text became incredibly important. This should all be acknowledged and is an integral part of analysing a source.

Top tip

Timing is incredibly important! Make sure everything you write is relevant to the question, answer what the question is asking of you, not what you want the question to ask! This will help ensure you pick up as many marks as possible. 

Matthew L. GCSE History tutor, A Level History tutor, GCSE English La...

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is an online GCSE History tutor with MyTutor studying at Newcastle University

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