American Revolution Lesson: Using Balanced Sources

This is the third in a series of lessons that teach research and writing skills around the topic of the American Revolution. Also, don’t forget to have students cite their sources in MLA formatAPA format, or Chicago style.


 

Overview

In this lesson, you will learn the importance of using balanced sources in your research.

You’ve Found Your Sources…Now What?

Once you find several relevant sources, you must evaluate them to see if they are sources you want to use for your research.
man268.pngYou can do this by:

  1. Assessing the relevance of the source to your task
  2. Identifying the original purpose and audience of the source

This information will help you understand more about the argument the source makes (the claims) and the evidence that it uses.

Assessing Sources – Task

The task is your mission. It shapes the question you are asking and the sources you will choose to answer that question.

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You only want to select sources that are relevant to your task.

Task: Example

For example, your task is to find sources to answer this question:

How did economic factors contribute to the start of the American Revolution?

This task requires you to discover sources that discuss both the American Revolution and economics in each of two areas:

  1. the start of the war
  2. the conduct and progress of the war.

A source that discusses the social or religious motivations of the Revolution would not be relevant.

Assessing Sources- Purpose

Sources need to match your task but they also have their own purpose.

The task the source addresses is the purpose of the source. In other words, it is the reason the source exists. This may be to answer a specific question or address a particular issue.

Sometimes the source’s purpose will not match your own. Despite this, the source may still contain useful evidence, or provide an argument useful to your own writing. You should use the source, but keep in mind its limitations.

Purpose: Example

Different types of sources have different purposes. There are three main categories of purpose:

  1. to inform
  2. to persuade
  3. to entertain

H​ere is an example of a source that is meant to inform.

Assessing Sources- Audience

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You should also consider the intended audience of a source as you assess it. The audience is the individual or group for whom the source was created.

The intended audience affects the tone of the source, the type of information shared, and more.

For example, you would explain the causes of the American Revolution differently to a third-grader than you would to a meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

Audience: Example

Here are three examples of how sources vary depending on the audience.

Title “The Pat​riot” “Was the American Revolution​ Fought Over Economics and Greed?” “Economic​ Causes of the Revolutionary War”
Source Type This is a movie meant for a general public’s entertainment. This is a persuasive blog post by an amateur historian. This is an informative article by a retired economics professor.
Audience As entertainment, this movie emphasizes drama over facts, and is intended for general audiences. Movie goers have responded positively to emotional intensity of the Patriot cause. Those
trained in history have cringed at the inaccuracies.
The author intends this site to be “attractive to new and intermediate students of the American Revolution period, not just the scholars….” The audience is history buffs, with limited time
to read long or in-depth pieces.
This article appears on EH.net, the online publication of the Economics History Association. The audience is “scholars in economic history and related fields” who desire a longer, more
technical article with citations.

 

Balanced Sources

As you gather and evaluate sources, remember that sources should be balanced. Balance should happen in two places:

  1. The source itself should provide an even-handed discussion of a topic and provide reliable evidence in that discussion.
  2. All of your sources together, which may be limited in their points of view or use of evidence individually, are combined to present a well-rounded view of the topic.

Balanced Sources: Example 1

​Listen to the clip below:

Here is an example of an unbalanced source.

The Life of General Francis Marion (1824) by
Mason L​ocke Weems.

“[H]ow can I ever forget Marion, that vigilant, undaunted soldier, whom thy own mercy raised up to scourge such monsters, and avenge his country’s wrongs…The Washington of the south, he steadily pursued the warfare most safe for us, and most fatal to our enemies.”

Balanced Sources: Example 2

​Listen to the clip below:

Here is an example of a balanced source.

“The Swamp Fox,” by Amy Crawford on
Smithsonian.com (2​011).

“Most heroes of the Revolution were not the saints that biographers like Parson Weems would have them be, and Francis Marion was a man of his times: he owned slaves, and he fought in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians. While not noble by today’s standards, Marion’s experience in the French and Indian War prepared him for more admirable service.”

Conclusion

In this lesson, you learned why using balanced sources is an important part of research and writing.