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Historical Research – A Guide Based on its Uses & Steps

Published by at August 16th, 2021 , Revised On August 29, 2023

History is a study of past incidents, and it’s different from natural science. In natural science, researchers prefer direct observations. Whereas in historical research, a researcher collects, analyses the information to understand, describe, and explain the events that occurred in the past.

They aim to test the truthfulness of the observations made by others. Historical researchers try to find out what happened exactly during a certain period of time as accurately and as closely as possible. It does not allow any manipulation or control of variables.

When to Use the Historical Research Method?

You can use historical research method to:

  • Uncover the unknown fact.
  • Answer questions
  • Identify the association between the past and present.
  • Understand the culture based on past experiences..
  • Record and evaluate the contributions of individuals, organisations, and institutes.

How to Conduct Historical Research?

Historical research involves the following steps:

  1. Select the Research Topic
  2. Collect the Data
  3. Analyse the Data
  4. Criticism of Data
  5. Present your Findings
  6. Tips to Collect Data

Step 1 – Select the Research Topic

If you want to conduct historical research, it’s essential to select a research topic before beginning your research. You can follow these tips while choosing a topic and developing a research question.

  • Consider your previous study as your previous knowledge and data can make your research enjoyable and comfortable for you.
  • List your interests and focus on the current events to find a promising question.
  • Take notes of regular activities and consider your personal experiences on a specific topic.
  • Develop a question using your research topic.
  • Explore your research question by asking yourself when? Why? How

Step 2- Collect the Data

It is essential to collect data and facts about the research question to get reliable outcomes. You need to select an appropriate instrument for data collection. Historical research includes two sources of data collection, such as primary and secondary sources.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the original first-hand resources such as documents, oral or written records, witnesses to a fact, etc. These are of two types, such as:

Conscious Information: It’s a type of information recorded and restored consciously in the form of written, oral documents, or the actual witnesses of the incident that occurred in the past.

It includes the following sources:

  • Records
  • Government documents
  • Images
  • autobiographies
  • letters
  • Constitiutions
  • Court-decisions
  • Diaries
  • Audios
  • Videos
  • Wills
  • Declarations
  • Licenses
  • Reports

Unconscious information: It’s a type of information restored in the form of remains or relics.

It includes information in the following forms:

  • Fossils
  • Tools
  • Weapons
  • Household articles
  • Clothes or any belonging of humans
  • Language literature
  • Artifacts
  • Abandoned places
  • Monuments

Secondary Sources

Sometimes it’s impossible to access primary sources, and researchers rely on secondary sources to obtain information for their research. 

It includes:

  • Newspapers
  • Publications
  • Periodicals
  • Encyclopedia
  • books

Step 3 – Analyse the Data

After collecting the information, you need to analyse it. You can use data analysis methods like 

  • Thematic analysis
  • Coding system
  • Theoretical model (Researchers use multiple theories to explain a specific phenomenon, situations, and behavior types.)
  • Quantitative data to validate

Step 4 – Criticism of Data

Data criticism is a process used for identifying the validity and reliability of the collected data. It’s of two types such as:

External Criticism:

It aims at identifying the external features of the data such as signature, handwriting, language, nature, spelling, etc., of the documents. It also involves the physical and chemical tests of paper, paint, ink, metal cloth, or any collected object.

Internal Criticism:

It aims at identifying the meaning and reliability of the data. It focuses on the errors, printing, translation, omission, additions in the documents. The researchers should use both external and internal criticism to ensure the validity of the data.

Step 5 – Present your Findings

While presenting the findings of your research, you need to ensure that you have met the objectives of your research or not. Historical material can be organised based on the theme and topic, and it’s known as thematic and topical arrangement. You can follow these tips while writing your research paper:

Build Arguments and Narrative

Your research aims not just to collect information as these are the raw materials of research. You need to build a strong argument and narrate the details of past events or incidents based on your findings. 

Organise your Argument

You can review the literature and other researchers’ contributions to the topic you’ve chosen to enhance your thinking and argument.

Proofread, Revise and Edit

After putting your findings on a paper, you need to proofread it to weed out the errors, rewrite it to improve, and edit it thoroughly before submitting it.

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Tips to Collect Data

In this world of technology, many people rely on Google to find out any information. All you have to do is enter a few keywords and sit back. You’ll find several relevant results onscreen.

It’s an effective and quick way of gathering information. Sometimes historical documents are not accessible to everyone online, and you need to visit traditional libraries to find out historical treasures. It will help you explore your knowledge along with data collection. 

You can visit historical places, conduct interviews, review literature, and access primary and secondary data sources such as books, newspapers, publications, documents, etc. You can take notes while collecting the information as it helps to organise the data accurately.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Historical Research

Advantages Disadvantages
  • It is easy to calculate and understand the obtained information.
  • It is applied to various time periods based on industry custom.
  • It helps in understanding current educational practices, theories, and problems based on past experiences.
  • It helps in determining when and how a specific incident exactly happened in the past.
  • A researcher cannot control or manipulate the variables.
  •  It’s time-consuming
  • Researchers cannot affect past incidents.
  •  Historical Researchers need to rely on the available data most excessively on secondary data.
  • Researchers cannot conduct surveys and experiments in the past.

Frequently Asked Questions

Initial steps for historical research:

  1. Define research scope and period.
  2. Gather background knowledge.
  3. Identify primary and secondary sources.
  4. Develop research questions.
  5. Plan research approach.
  6. Begin data collection and analysis.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.