Source Analysis Example Essay

I. Specific Essay Requirements

  • A. Length: This essay should be about 3 pages long (between 450-750 words). It may be longer, if you need more space to develop your ideas.
  • B. Format: The essay should be written to conform with the following
  • structure:
    • 1. Introduction: A brief description of the historical period or of the issue which the essay will address.
    • 2. Thesis: Your "Answer" expressed in 1 or 2 sentences. This is what you will try to prove in the body of the essay.
    • 3. Evidence: The essay should consist of one or more of the following
    • evidential paragraphs. The purpose of such paragraphs is to support the thesis.
      • a. Topic Sentence: a sentence that gives a reason why the thesis is
      • correct. The "Reasons" from your Argument Sketch.
      • b. Evidence: the inferences you have drawn from the primary sources supplemented by information drawn from the textbooks, other secondary readings, class discussions or other sources that support the topic sentence.
      • [c. Transition: if applicable, a sentence that both concludes the
      • paragraph and introduces the next evidential paragraph.]
    • 4. Conclusion: A restatement of the argument which restates your thesis, refined in light of the evidence you have presented.

Note: Attached is a sample Basic Argumentative Essay for your reference. This should be looked upon as one way of organizing the essay.

II. Evaluation

A chart similar to the one below will be attached to your essay.  On it I will place an "x" on the part of the chart which, in my judgment, best reflects your essay.  I will total the points from the chart.  This will give you a "Raw Score."  I will then convert that raw score into the total points earned based on how many points the essay is worth.


A (4 Points)

B (3 Points)

C (2 Points)

D (1 Point)

F (0 Points)


Insightful thesis which creatively addresses the question, supported by a sound argument backed by evidence

Clear thesis which addresses the question, supported by a prima facia argument.  Evidence for some points may be weak.

Although the paper meets the requirements of the assignment, the thesis may be vague or, at times, the paper may not support the thesis.

The paper does not argue a thesis; instead it tends to summarize information.  The paper may not fully address the assignment.

The paper does not address the assigned topic.  The paper has no discernible thesis.

Essay Organization

The paper has a clear, effective organization.  Transitions effectively direct the course of the argument.  Each paragraph argues a clear point and has logically ordered sentences.

Generally, the paper is effectively organized, but a point of argument may be misplaced.  A paragraph may digress from its proposed topic.  Transitions are present but occasionally may be lacking or ineffective.

The paper shows weaknesses in paragraph unity or organization.  Topic sentences may be weak or missing. Transitions may not be effective.

Organization is suspect.  The writer does not effectively structure the paragraphs.

The paper lacks paragraph unity and/or an overall coherent structure.

Use of  Sources.

The essay shows critical insight into both primary and secondary sources and uses those sources to convincingly support the argument.

The essay shows an understanding of both the primary and secondary sources and uses them effectively to support the argument.

While the essay demonstrates some understanding of the sources, the sources are not used effectively in supporting the argument

While primary and secondary sources are mentioned, the sources do not support the argument or are misunderstood.

The essay does not refer to either primary or secondary sources.

Sentence-Level Writing

The paper's prose is clear and meets the expectations of standard written English.  It shows evidence of an advanced stylistic level.

The paper is free of sentence-level errors, but may not be stylistically advanced.

The paper's prose is clear, but may suffer from infrequent sentence-level errors.

Frequent writing errors mar the effectiveness of the paper.

Writing errors affect much of the essay.

Historical Understanding.

The essay shows a superior understanding of the historical theme.

The essay shows a good understanding of the historical theme.

The essay shows some understanding of the historical theme.

The essay does not demonstrate an under-standing of the theme

The essay misunderstands the theme.



Raw Score: ________  Possible Points :  ________  Total Points Earned: ________

Please remember that evaluating an essay is not an exact science and that I can, and do, make mistakes.  Please do not hesitate to talk to me if you have a question about your grade or would like to have a better idea how to improve.

Analytic Primary Source Essay


Anon E. Mouse

GS 2010

Fall 1996

Maintaining Imperial Power

The ancient Near East began to undergo a radical social evolution beginning around 3000-2000 B.C. During that period of time, many individual city-states began to unite under common leadership. The formation of empires was rooted in the needs for military security, natural resources and access to trade and commerce. Creating an empire presented a unique challenge to those attempting the task. However, maintaining power and controlling the new empires provided its own problems. [Thesis:] To resolve these issues, ancient empires used various means to control their holdings and citizens including; codified laws, military force, and religious empowerment.

Although common in contemporary societies, a formal code of law was not a part of most empires. In fact, many societies found alternative ways of maintaining internal harmony. However, there are examples of some early forms of codified law being used to guide behavior and administer justice. The Hebrews, had a set of laws given to them by their god as described in the book of Exodus Chapter 20. The Babylonians also had a set of laws given to them by their god. "The Code of Hammurabi" outlines not only what type of behavior is acceptable, but also the required punishment for each offense. In these situations, the people of the societies were given an exact definition of acceptable versus non-acceptable behavior. [Topic Sentence and First Point of the Argument:] The principle of justice was a useful way of regulating society. [Transition:] Often, however, additional support was needed.

[Topic Sentence and Second Point of the Argument:] Military force proved to be an effective tool for both keeping intruders out of and subduing the people within the empire. The Assyrians, whose empire lasted from approximately 800-612 B.C. depended almost entirely on military force. In the "Inscription of Tiglathpileser I" the Assyrian ruler describes himself as....... the terrible, destroying flame, which like the rush of the storm sweeps over the enemy's country; who ... has no adversary." In the picture, "The Assyrian Army Attacks a City" warriors and weapons dominate the scene. Likewise the Egyptians relied very heavily upon military might to control the people. In "The Palette of Narmer" we can clearly see the figure of the Pharaoh pounding a stake into the skull of another figure. We also see two figures running away, probably in fear. The degree to which military force was used varies from empire to empire. It is likely that most, if not all, relied upon it at one time o another. However, a much more universal approach to managing the masses did not involve aggression.

[Topic Sentence and Third Point of the Argument:] Religious authority was probably was the most widely used method for controlling an empire. Not only could religion be used to establish the initial authority of the government, but it could be used as a powerful force to keep people in line with the ruling class. Every one of the great empires used religion as its power base. The Egyptians believed their rulers to be half-god and half-human. In "Hymns to the Pharaohs" the new pharaoh Rameses IV is described as, "The son of Re." The Egyptians also used the pyramids to express their belief in the supernatural nature of their rulers. An example of another empire using religion is, "Inscription of Tiglathpileser I" in which the Assyrian king claims to have received his power directly from the god Ashur. Although the Persians did not perceive themselves to be gods, they certainly felt their power to rule originated with divine empowerment. "Inscriptions of Cyrus and Darius I" talks about the relationship with the creator god Ahuramazda and both the king and his son. In one passage, a direct transfer of power is apparent between god and mortal: "A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth ... who made Darius king." The remaining great empire, Babylon, also found moral authority in religion. "The Code of Hammurabi" shows the god Shamash, (god of justice) conversing with the ruler and presumably imparting to him the wisdom and power to enforce the legal code. Thus religious empowerment played a significant role in the success of an empire.

[Conclusion:] The creation of empires represented a major step in the evolution of societies. It is likely that many needs and factors combined to push civilizations towards forming united civilizations. Just as the underlying needs and reasons for creating an empire differed, so too did the methods for maintaining its authority. [Restatement of the Thesis:] The ancient empires used codified laws, military force, and religious authority to establish their governments and keep their power. Religious authority was the most common method used. In fact, it was used in some form by each one of the great empires. With such a widespread application, religious authority was probably the most effective way to control an empire.


Copyright 2005-2016 by ThenAgain All rights reserved.

Guidelines for Writing a Critical Analysis of a Primary Document

The process. In the process of critical analysis, a student closely examines a single text (in this case, a primary document) written by a single author in an attempt to understand why the author wrote the particular text, in a particular way, to a particular audience, and for what purpose. Thus, the student seeks to determine: 1) what the author argued or described, 2) how the author presented his/her argument or interpretation, 3) why the author chose that method of presentation and persuasion (in other words, what did the author view as the evidence and arguments that would most likely persuade his/her audience, what assumptions did the author expect his/her audience shared, and what assumptions did the author challenge), and 4) what the author ultimately hoped to achieve by writing the text.

A critical analysis might be considered the first step in reading a document that might later be used as evidence in a research paper. A student engaged in critical analysis probes for underlying assumptions, perceptions, values, and biases—elements that are present in all texts. Once the author’s perspective, method, and purpose have been identified, a scholar can determine how those shape the “evidence” (the author’s descriptions, ideas, concerns, arguments) that the text presented. Some texts present a “narrative” rather than a clearly defined argument. Yet even those texts are influenced by particular values and concerns, and most offer some message, whether implicit or explicit.

In the process of critical analysis, the student is not evaluating or judging the accuracy, the validity, the logic, or the persuasiveness of an author’s evidence, ideas, or interpretation. Since the student is not the author’s intended audience--the author was writing to an audience of his/her contemporaries--the analysis does not focus on whether the author has convinced the student of the argument and/or ideas presented, nor should the student search for present-day relevance in the text. Similarly, this is not a research paper. Instead of considering and using the information that the document contains as “evidence” to explore broader historical issues or contexts, the student’s focus stays squarely on the author and the text.

A critical analysis presents a careful examination of one author’s rendition of an event, an experience, an issue, an argument, or some aspect of his/her society. The analysis should not attempt to recreate the author’s experience or to establish whether the author was “representative” of his/her society.  Indeed from one document alone you cannot make such generalizations about either the author or the larger society. Finally, the student engaged in critical analysis attempts to determine how the author viewed and understood his/her society, rather than explore “the reader’s” perspective about or reaction to that society. The text itself does not provide evidence of how the author’s contemporaries read and responded to it. Rather than focusing on your reactions as a reader, use your reactions as you read the text to lead you to new questions about the author’s purpose and perspective.

The essay. Try to choose a text (a primary document) that has a clear argument or message. (While some primary documents offer intriguing evidence or insights into the writer’s thoughts or experience, these documents might be more difficult to subject to critical analysis.) After you have carefully read and analyzed the text, you should be ready to write the first draft of your essay. More than likely your first draft will be preliminary, for only in the process of writing do most students finally commit themselves to an argument and interpretation about the author and text. Indeed, as you write, you may find that your argument becomes clearer and more persuasive. In either case, you should revise the first part of your essay to reflect the discoveries you have made by the end of your essay.

Begin your essay with a sentence or two about the author, the date and title of the text, the occasion for which the text was written, and the general subject of the document. In a footnote or endnote, provide a full citation for the text (see below). You might offer a very brief statement about the author at the time during which the text was written. In your introductory paragraph, present a brief summary of your interpretation of the author’s perspective, method, and purpose in writing the text. The summary might contain a series of statements that lead up to your thesis statement. You do not need to describe the process of critical analysis; your essay should present the results of that process.

In the body of your essay, you may find that the most efficient and effective way to discuss and analyze the text is to move step by step through the text. After all, that is how the author intended the text to be read or heard. As you present the points that the author makes (offer quotations from the text as evidence for your discussion), begin to construct your analysis, and continue to build and develop your interpretation as your essay progresses. In your essay, use the simple past tense to describe what the author wrote: this serves to remind both you and your readers that the author wrote for an audience of his/her contemporaries. Whenever possible, use sentence constructions with the active voice rather than passive voice (the verb “to be”). Active verbs reiterate the author’s active role in creating the text and the argument, and they encourage you to make connections and draw conclusions about the author and the text.

      *      *      *      *      *

OptionalAfter you complete and conclude your analysis of the text, you should have a clear understanding of the assumptions, perceptions, and perspective that shaped the author's discussion and argument (whether explicit or implicit), as well as the author's method of persuasion.  How might you use this text as evidence in a research paper about the era?  For what questions about historical issues or contexts might this text provide answers?  In this optional section, you are welcome to discuss your evaluation of the accuracy, the validity, the logic, or the persuasiveness of an author’s evidence, ideas, or argument.  You may also present your understanding of the larger historical context in which the author wrote the text.

Citations. Historians use either footnote or endnote citations, following the Chicago Manual of Style format for Notes and Bibliography, rather than parenthetical citations and Works Cited pages. For most of the primary documents selected for critical analysis, the first citation of the source will contain reference information for two sources: the primary document and the collection (the secondary source) in which it is reprinted (see footnote 1 for example). The reference information for subsequent citations (e.g., quotations from the document) should be shortened, using the last name of the author of the document and an abbreviated title, followed by the page number (see footnote 2 for example). When you cite information or commentary written by the editor of the collection, cite that author and text (see footnote 3 for example). In general, place the footnote reference number at the end of the sentence; it should follow all punctuation marks (see footnote 2 above). If you need to provide a footnote in the middle of a sentence for reasons of clarity, place the reference mark at the end of a clause and its punctuation.

  1. Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God . . . Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (Boston, 1682), reprinted in Charles H. Lincoln, ed., Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1675-1699 (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1913), 122.
  2. Rowlandson, Sovereignty, 125.
  3. Charles H. Lincoln, ed., Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1675-1699 (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1913), 120. (shorten for subsequent citations: Lincoln, Narratives, 120.)

For additional information on citations:

  • Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide from the Chicago Manual of Style
  • Bowdoin Library Chicago Quick Guide for the Notes and Bibliography style.
  • Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Manual to Writing in History, 3rd ed.
  • Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th ed.
  • Diana Hacker, Research and Documentation Online (Bedford/St. Martin's Press).
  • H-Net, A Brief Citation Guide for Internet Sources in History and the Humanities.
  • Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger, Online! A Reference Guide to using Internet Sources (Bedford's/St. Martin's Press, 2003).

Food for Thought:
[Giles:] “But don’t you see, Gwenda, that the way we must look at it now, we can’t depend on anything anyone says.”
“Now I’m so glad to hear you say that,” said Miss Marple. “Because I’ve been a little worried, you know, by the way you two have seemed willing to accept, as actual fact, all the things that people have told you. I’m afraid I have a sadly distrustful nature, but, especially in a matter of murder, I make it a rule to take nothing that is told me as true, unless it is checked. . . . You believed what he said. It really is very dangerous to believe people. I never have for years.”

Agatha Christie, Sleeping Murder (New York, Bantam: 1976), 252.

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