Day 26: Analyzing Primary Sources

During community college, I took a humanities course and a Western Civilization course with a professor who really loved using primary and also highly valued argumentative writing. Even our essay test prompts were persuasive in nature instead of merely calculated to show our knowledge. Both classes were quite challenging, but by the end, I had learned so much about analyzing someone else’s argument and constructing a good argument of my own.

This professor had us follow the P.A.P.E.R. method of analyzing primary sources. We would read a primary source and then write an essay on it using the following five sections.

  1. Purpose of the author in preparing the document
  2. Argument and strategy she or he uses to achieve those goals
  3. Presuppositions and values (in the text, and our own)
  4. Epistemology (evaluating truth content)
  5. Relate to other texts (compare and contrast)

For part one, we would consider why the author had written it and what his goals were. In part two, we would use what we knew of logic or argumentation to analyze the author’s argument. We would analyze the structure, the reasons the author gave, and any fallacies or rhetorical devices he used. For part three, we would discuss presuppositions. Presuppositions are, put simply, the author’s beliefs. Is the author writing from a Christian viewpoint or another religious viewpoint? Maybe a political viewpoint? Part four requires a discussion of the truth contained in the source. How do the author’s claims hold up against other sources we have consulted? What parts of the text are his opinion and what parts are facts? In part five, we would relate the text to another similar source we had recently read on the same topic.

I highly suggest you construct a few primary source analysis writing assignments for your junior high or high school students using this format. For a much better and more thorough explanation of the P.A.P.E.R. method, read “How to Read a Primary Source.”


31 Days of Teaching Homeschool History: Analyzing Primary Sources