Anything that tells us something about the past can be used as a source. This includes texts, pictures, objects, films, radio broadcasts, etc.
A distinction can be made between sources that have already been written for posterity (e. g. memoirs) and sources that have survived by chance (e. g. everyday objects). The former are referred to as tradition and the latter as remnants.
Not every type of source is suitable for every thematic aspect / period. When working with a source the specific characteristics of the source genre should always be taken into account. For example, the critical analysis of a movie is different from working with an early modern manuscript; different abilities and skills are required in each case.
Various questions can be addressed to sources. Even if not all these questions can be answered, the goal is to find out as much information as possible. To this end, the source itself is consulted and other sources and secondary literature are also used to supplement and contextualize the information contained in the source.
First of all, we need to clarify what kind of source it is:
Then the source must be read / looked at / listened to and understood. This includes, for example, clarifying unknown foreign words or terms unknown today / historical terms or contexts.
The next step deals with the context from which it originated, for example:
Finally, the content of the source needs to be analyzed:
After the source has been examined and analyzed in detail, consider its significance for your own research question(s):
You can find additional information and worksheets supporting your work with primary sources at the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration.