Qian had the prerogative to choose who, what, why and how things happened in his history.
Qian chose to quote his sources as much as possible. An example is the account of the attempt made by Jing Ke on the life of the first Chinese emperor, which was an eyewitness account by the great-grandfather of his father's friend, who served as a low-ranked bureaucrat at court of Qin and happened to be attending the diplomatic ceremony for Jing Ke. Qian also created highly probable and consistent events even when there were none available.
His work eventually consisted of 130 chapters about Dynastic houses, the biographies of the Han emperors, dates of events, descriptions of rites and rituals, music, and various other topics of interest. Also included were the histories of the states which existed during pre-Qin China and the biographies of other important personages in history.
Before The Records of the Grand Historian, historical texts tended to downplay the role and events from other dynasties and played up their own. This tendency was also present in Sima Qian's historiography. Qian portrayed the Han dynasty as having the Mandate of Heaven and gave lesser importance to the dynasties that preceded it.
Among the features that Qian emphasized in his work was the ascendant character of the Han Dynasty. Consequently, he depicted the preceding Qin dynasty, which was Legalist, as evil and as such deserved to be replaced by the Han which prescribed to Confucianism. This theme is recurrent in his biographies which often contained moral lessons and anecdotes.
Qian also took every opportunity to point out that Legalist ideals which were abundant and commonplace in the Qin Dynasty did not benefit anyone unlike Confucian ideals which redounded to benefits for the people. Examples of these biographies which justified the ascendant moral plane of the Han were the Chen She, Han Xin and the Empress Lu. This bias of Qian's against the Qin dynasty is fairly evident throughout The Records of the Grand Historian.
Qian's favorable disposition towards Confucianism is explained by his belief that it is a more preventive means by which to keep peace among the peasants. He believes that fair, just and moral rulers will beget fair, just and moral peasants for them to rule. This common nature when achieved among both rulers and peasants would result in peace, according to Qian's beliefs.
In contrast, he believes that the Legalist approach is able to preserve peace through the rule of a tyrannical government. He contends that a tyrannical government places all its constituents, peasants, nobles and ministers alike, under threat of mistreatment and enslavement.
Qian also pointed out that there are major differences in how the Qin and Han perform their rites and treat their ancestors. In Confucianism, rituals and ancestors were central in their beliefs. This was exemplified in the biographies of Han Xin and Chen She. Qian pointed out that the latter's grave was cared for by thirty families which saw it as an honor to perform such duty. Qian also related how Han Xin buried his mother "on a high broad expanse of earth with room enough around to set up 10,000 households," similar to the treatment received by an honored ruler. Both personages were practitioners of Confucianism in their lifetime and were correspondingly rewarded with power and influence. In contrast, Qian's biography of the