WORKING WITH DOCUMENTS
1. Is it a Primary Source or a Secondary Work?
2. Do not assume that a Primary Source (eye witness, participator etc.) is more useful
than a Secondary Work
3. Why was it written? (Motive) Other information may be of as much or more value than
the primary or original purpose of the document
4. What type of document is it? (A letter; a diary; a newspaper an official document; a
business document.) Truthfulness, completeness & accuracy will vary according to the
type of document & also the writer/editor/copier of the source.
5. Was the document written for a limited readership or for a more general audience?
6. Is it reliable – how do you know?
7. How useful is it?
8. Does its information fit in with what we expect? Just because it does not may indicate
its unreliability but it may give us a new historical insight into the topic.
9. Is it unique?
10. Do not dismiss a document as having limited value because it is biased; its bias may
be a useful insight into how people thought & felt at the time.
WORKING WITH MANUSCRIPT DOCUMENTS
Do not use a pen use a pencil. (For handling many old documents it is necessary to wear
special gloves.) Dirt, heat, moisture & light can all damage either the writing or the
Read the whole document through at normal reading speed – skim over any difficult
words & letters – get a feel for the whole document
Then read more carefully and systematically; when you can not distinguish a letter or
word look for a similar shaped letter(s) in a word you can recognise
Be aware of differences in letter shape and/or spelling in past times
Look for clues such as dates.
Look for apparent inconsistencies or errors, mistakes may have been made especially if
copying is involved.
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