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HIS 1200 American History: What is My Information Need?

Guide to resources for the study of American life and culture.

1. Determining the Needed Content Knowledge

Once you have selected a preliminary topic or research question you would like to explore, think about what type of information you need to research and know in order to make a well-rounded, thorough research paper.

For example, you might want to know:

  • How was an event portrayed in primary source material from the time period? Does this align with how secondary source discuss the event?
  • What were the causes/effects surrounding a particular event?
  • What was society like given a particular time period?
  • What are the traditions of a certain culture and have they changed over time?
  • What social, political, and economic factors were at play surrounding an event or period in history?

Thinking through what type of information you want to find can help you in determining not only what you search, but also what types of sources might answer your information need and where to find them.

2. Different Types of Secondary Sources

This chart shows what level of information you can find in different types of sources. Click the link following the image to view a larger image of the chart.

Types of Sources Infographic

Types of Primary Sources




Books Speeches Photographs
Letters Interviews Paintings
Diaries Oral Histories Maps
Newspapers Music Coins
Government Documents   Movies
Laws   Architecture
Literary Works   Artifacts


3. Connecting Need with Source

Connect what you want to know with what types of sources would have that information. Below are some examples of considering which sources would best fit the given information needs.

Information Need Source Type
Historical Context Books, Encyclopedias, History Databases, Newspapers
Biographical Information Biographical Databases, Books
Critical Responses Journal Articles, Scholarly Blogs
Historical Reader Response Newspapers (from time period), Journal Articles (from time period)
Contemporary Reader Response Book reviews in magazines and journals, credible websites
Resources written about author Bibliography