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Identifying & Using Scholarly Sources

Best practices for selecting authoritative scholarly sources for your research needs.

Evaluating Information

In your paper, think about creating a smooth bridge for your reader. The reader starts without knowing your claim, but plank by plank you provide evidence and interpretations in a clear sequence so that your reader can step across to your side of the river, the side where everyone knows your claim and believes it to be credible.


Those planks on your bridge are comprised of evidence and your interpretations and justifications of that evidence. Here are the four ways that you can use sources while you're building your bridge for the reader.

Using Information (BEAM)

BEAM: Background, Exhibits, Argument Method

Background Exhibits
  • Give context
  • Provide facts
  • Present authoritative information
  • Often includes "tertiary sources"
  • To be analyzed
  • To be interpreted
  • Often includes "primary sources"
  • Evidence
Argument Method
  • Show the pre-existing conversation/discourse
  • Engage those earlier conversations
    • Refute them
    • Refine them
    • Extend or build upon them
    • Affirm them
  • Often includes "secondary sources"
  • Provide definitions of terminology and concepts 
  • Explain how you will analyze and integrate the exhibits

Selecting and Analyzing Sources Using the BEAM Method

When conducting research, you are often instructed to select certain types of sources, such as "use at least 3 peer reviewed journal articles, or at least 1 primary source." But let's think about sources in a different way. Instead of focusing on what sources are, let's focus on what you, as a researcher, might do with them. The BEAM method is a way to categorize sources based on how you use them in your writing. 

BEAM stands for:

  • B - Background sources
  • E - Exhibits
  • A - Argument sources
  • M - Methodology (depending on the focus of your paper, you may not need this category!) 

Descriptions of BEAM categories:

B - Background sources

Background sources provide general information that provide facts and context about your topic.

This is where your tertiary sources are most useful. They provide background and varying viewpoints on your topic.

Note: Although you would definitely cite a book, some background sources, like an encyclopedia, may not be appropriate to cite in an academic paper or presentation. Sometimes background sources are used for sparking ideas, finding terminology, or helping you to form a research question but  may not be the most substantial sources of information on a topic. Use discretion when thinking about including your background source in your annotated bibliography. 

E - Exhibit sources

Exhibit sources refer to materials the writer (you) offers for explication, analysis, or interpretation. The simplest sort of exhibit is the example, a concrete instance offered to illustrate some more general claim or assertion. Exhibits could also be statistics, data, field observations, visual images, or personal interviews that the writer (you) analyzes and uses to support your topic. 

Where to find exhibit sources: Exhibit sources could be anything that you analyze or use as an example, so where you find them really depends on the exhibit, but if you wanted to analyze statistics on immigration for this sample topic you might look at government agencies like The Bureau of Justice Statistics or Immigration Data & Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security are great places to find statistical information. Research organizations like the Pew Research Center or The Kaiser Family Foundation are also helpful. 

A - Argument sources 

An argument source is one in which the writer makes a claim, which you, the researcher, then affirms, disputes, refines, or extends in some way, thus entering into a "conversation" with the writer. Argument sources are those you most heavily interact with when presenting your own stance. They are typically academic/scholarly in nature but could also include an in-depth essay from a magazine or newspaper. Your exhibits should help you back up (or refute) these arguments. Keep in mind that this source does not have to support your own argument. Counter arguments can be just as illustrative as supporting ones. 

Source: Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review 27 (2008): 72-86.