"...the historian's basic task is to chose reliable sources, to read them reliably, and to put them together in ways that provide reliable narratives about the past."
Howell, Martha and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources and Introduction to Historical Methods. (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.), p. 2
7 Elements of Critical Analysis of a Document:
1. Genealogy of the document - is the document authentic; is it an original or a copy?
2. Genesis of a document - who created the document, where, and when?
3. “Originality” of the document - historian must know something about the tradition around a document in order to read it properly?
4. Interpretation of the document - deciphering the intended meaning of the document.
5. Authorial Authority - with what authority does the writer speak from?
6. Competence of the observer - factors particulars to the individual observer and competence pertaining to the time in which the observer lived?
7. Trustworthiness of the observer - does the observer have any bias?
Howell, Martha and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources and Introduction to Historical Methods. (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.), p. 61-68.
Analyzing source documents for authenticity and accuracy:
Documents may be authentic and accurate, authentic but not accurate, not authentic but accurate, or not authentic and not accurate. Researchers will need to examine documents to determine where they are within this range.
Once analyzed, documents are usually classified as follows:
Accurate and authentic: Sources about which there is no uncertainty regarding form or content.
Not accurate but authentic: Sources that are “false” in an intellectual sense, in that they were written to mislead contemporaries or to claim illegitimate rights or privileges.
Accurate but not authentic: Sources that are copies of official documents or source material, but not written by the stated author. Intended to fool the reader as to the origin of the document. The information within can be verified as accurate. Copies sometimes fall within this category if they were expressly made and notarized or otherwise authenticated at the time of issuance. As long as the intent of the copier was not to deceive the reader as to it’s origin.
Not accurate and not authentic: Sources that attempt to deceive the reader on both the origin of the document and the contents. These can be useful not in the event they describe so much as the intent and political background of the time. Documents such as the Elder Protocols of Zion, The Tanaka Memorial, and others tell us about the political and mental context of the writer and those that uncritically accept the texts than the intended content of the writing itself.
Howell, Martha and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources and Introduction to Historical Methods. (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.), p. 57-58.