We’ve had a lot of messages about Modern History source analysis questions. They’re a really tough part of the course, and walking out of the exam it’s often really difficult to tell how you’ve gone. I remember countless times where I thought I did terribly, and ended up with a 7/8/9, and others where I thought I did quite well and barely passed the section. In this article, I’m going to go through some frequently asked questions, summarise the method I used, and provide a source analysis that I wrote in my half-yearlies, word for word, including teacher’s comments!

Here are the types of questions we’ve been receiving.

How much time should I be spending on the Source Analysis section in Part A?

Remember that you should be spending about 45 minutes on the whole of Part A (Multiple choice, short answer, Source Analysis). Whilst the actual allocation of time is 25 minutes for everything but the Source Analysis, 20 minutes for the Source Analysis, I would probably try to reverse those figures if not just allocate way more time for the Analysis section. You can smash out the multiple choice questions in a few minutes; you can spend 5 minutes on each short answer (of which there are usually two), leaving you upwards of 30 minutes to spend on your Source Analysis! Basically, I would spend as long as you feel you need to, in order to adequately answer the question.

Do I analyse the sources concurrently, or individually?

Always analyse sources individually, and then add a collaborative sentence at the end. What I mean by this is that, in any Source Analysis, you should be analysing the whole of Source A, and then the whole of Source B, and then writing a single sentence saying something like “in collaboration, these sources are useful because” or “in collaboration, these sources are not very useful because” etc.

But which acronym do I use?!?!?!?!?!

We have received countless messages about various acronyms that different schools use. Some of my favourites are:

TOMACPRU (Type, Origin, Motive, Audience, Content, Perspective, Reliability, Usefullness)

CARMOPU (Content, Audience, Reliability, Motive, Origin, Perspective, Usefulness)

COMBAT (Content, Origin, Motive, Bias, Audience, Tone)

ONCAMPRU (Origin… Nutmeg? Content, Audience, Motive, Perspective, Reliability, Usefulness)

MHSAATISUIBNAOTASIOSABNA (Modern History Source Analysis Acronym That Includes Some Useful Information, But Not All Of It, And So Is Only Sometimes Applicable, But Not Always)

That last one is a little bit tough to remember, so I probably wouldn’t bother unless you’re looking for a Band 7.

My answer to which acronym you SHOULD be using is always going to be the same: you should be using

PRU (Perspective, Reliability, Usefulness).

And that’s it! Within each of those points may be (and almost certainly will be) things like type of source, audience, potential bias, origin etc. However, a Source Analysis should be like any other MH essay you write; building a thesis. What helps to establish the perspective of the individual writing the source? Things like the content of the source, the tone of the source, the type of person that they were. Many things cross over between perspective, reliability and usefulness, which is great, because you’re not building three thesis’, you are building one!

What do I even need to include in my Source Analysis then?

Below, I’ve tried to create a quick rundown of what I think are important features of a Source Analysis. Like I’ve explained above, there is never a set number of things, or a set amount of information, you need to include. This is because every source is different, and every question is different. However there are certainly some general structural tips I can give you, as well as some ideas as to what you should be looking out for when reading a source.


–     Discuss the significance of the author. Are they a soldier? A commander? If they are someone you know more information about (Ludendorff etc.) then bring some outside information in.

–     Tone: How are they writing? Does that work in collaboration with what you know about the author?

–     Type of source: Are they writing in the time period? Are they are historian? If so, how might historiographical period influence their writing?


–     Date and authorship details: Are they provided? Are they within the correct time period?

–     Bias: Are there clear anti-German sentiments? May perspective suggest that the author would benefit from stretching the truth in the source? Who are they talking too in the source?

–     Does the source resonate with what you already know of the time period? Try to bring in some outside stats, quotes or knowledge if you can.

–     Has there been a lot of editing in the source (ie. Elipses etc.)? Is the image clear?

–     Are all quotes etc. sourced?


–     Is the source useful FOR THE REASON SPECIFIED IN THE QUESTION? Be very specific about usefulness.

–     How does reliability and perspective inform usefulness?

–     What does this source ADD to a historian’s understanding of the time period?

–     Something with clear bias/propaganda etc. can still be very useful. For instance, for studying popular sentiment on the home front.

–     How is usefulness limited? Are there specific details? Is the source static (ie. An image?). Does the source ignore important aspects of the problem?

Collaborative Statement

–     How are the sources useful together? Are they more useful when taken together, or not?

Do you have any general tips for Source Analysis questions?

Other than the suggestions I’ve outlined above, I have a few more points that could help you get a better result in your half-yearlies and beyond. Firstly, if you have a written source, try to use a few quotes directly from the source. Students often assume that, because the marker has the source as well, they don’t need to refer directly to the text. This is just plain wrong: The more directly you refer to the source, the better!

Try to bring in outside information, when relevant. If you know a few dates, referred to in the source but not specified, throwing them in will really impress the marker. If you know any quotes, throw them in! Basically, if you can add relevant information, just do, as the marker will definitely think better of your response!

Lastly, make sure to read through the source at least twice before you start the analysis. Once, to take in the actual information, and twice, to think (quite deeply) about how you can fill out the PRU template. The more complex your thought process, the better mark you’ll receive. Sitting at your desk, and thinking for a few minutes, is not a waste of time.

Below, I’ve typed out my response in my half-yearly source analysis. Anything underlined was my teacher’s response. I would suggest reading it, and trying to improve on my answer in your own time, using the source provided.

Source Analysis

Assess how useful sources E and F would be for a historian assessing the reasons for the failure of the Ludendorff Offensives.

In your answer, consider the perspective provided by the TWO sources and the reliability of each source.

E: This source, a statement from Hindenburg (to?) directly follows the final collapse of the Ludendorff offensives and marks the moment when the German high command acknowledge (past tense) that their inferior numbers, lack of tanks and supplies required for them to sue for peace. Perspective can be established through the understanding of the importance of Hindenburg to the war effort, and the pragmatic nature of the statement to the then chancellor Max von Baden (what does the audience/reader tell us about the text) indicating that there was no longer any question as to the outcome of the war. The lack of any clear propaganda-like (?) sentiment, nor any attempt to justify the loss as anything but the “weakening of… [their] reserves” is a further way to suggest this source is reliable (but nor do they blame themselves?). There would be no reason for Hindenburg, the leader of the army, to admit defeat to his superior were it not necessary and accurate (does the High Command avoid blame? Is he ‘selling’ a particular perspective?). The document is dated and corresponds to the time period just following Ludendorff’s breakdown (28th Sept, 1918), and this occurrence would have been well documented given its importance. This source is extremely useful to historians studying the failure of the Ludendorff offensives as it offers to reasons, as the High Command understand it in Oct 1918 (IMPORTANT!), for the loss of the German army. The perspective too informs reliability, leading to its usefulness. Limitations arise as there are no specific details regarding the “heavy losses”, and no mention of US. Entry or improved enemy tanks. Ellipses also limit reliability.

F: Source F is written by a (well) known historian, Stevenson, in a novel (?) specifically discussing the Great War. The book cannot be dated, though, making it difficult to understand Stevenson’s background and context, which would aid in placing his historiographical time period. There are no clear anti-German sentiments, and rather appear as a factual secondary account of events. In fact, the source even seems to commend the nature of the “decision to halt to the war”. It outlines the differing opinions of Ludendorff and the Chancellor, as well as explaining the US. position. The lack of publication date limits reliability, as does the excess (?) of ellipses. Presumably primary quotes are used, but not sourced (in this extract, maybe), making the writings (reliability) problematic. This source is somewhat useful to historians studying the reasons for the failure of the Ludendorff offensives, suggesting that it was due to pressures on the home front, rather than a failure on the front itself, that caused the high command to sue for peace. Rather than evaluate the failure of the offensives, it describes Ludendorff encouraging his possible eventual success, an argument deemed irresponsible by the Chancellor.

These two sources are most useful when used in collaboration with each other. While source E justifies the failure as due to man power (or lack thereof) and resources, Source F puts forth an argument regarding the pressures of the Home front to sue for peace. As such, whilst the two sources discuss the same time period and yet not the same thesis, they can be used to understand the complicated reasons leading to the German high command seeking peace as a combination of revolutionary pressures and failures on the front.

(9) Not bad > Perspective for E was flimsily used, and reliability for both needed to connect with usefulness.

So there you have it! My tips and tricks for Source Analysis may not be as concrete as many of my other resources, but that’s just because of the nature of the task. You need to be ready to shape your structure, and your content, to the source itself.

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