Data Capture for Source ID and Evaluation


17 March 2014

Good historical researchers follow the Good Reporter Principle: For every source we use, we ask (in every conceivable way) those basic 5 questions that guide every good reporter: Who? What? When? Where? and Why should I believe it?

Answering this last question means that we record, in our working notes, a description and evaluation of our source. We note whether it is an original record or a copy--as well as the *type* of copy that it is. We note whether it is in good condition or barely legible. We evaluate whether the source was created contemporaneously with the information that it gives and whether the informant was speaking from first-hand (primary) knowledge.

All these matters affect the reliability of every source we use. All should be a part of the basic identification and evaluation we capture at our contact point with each source.

How much of this information we later use at publication time is a judgment call we will make then. We'll base that decision upon our evaluation of everything we've found and whether there are contradictions in the body of evidence we have assembled. For certain, if we don't record that information in our working notes, at point of contact, the conclusions we later reach will suffer from the lack of it.