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Evaluate Information

A how-to guide covering topics related to the evaluation of information.

How to Use Resources in Academic Writing

How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method

For any research project, you want to use a variety in types of sources as well as points of view. Some assignments will have certain requirements for the sources, in terms of genre of source (academic, popular), format (video, print) and publication dates.

To research a question in depth, the answer to the question of “how many and what type of sources do I need” is all of them. You need a variety of sources, both in type and point of view, in order to fully (or even partially) explore a research question. Any type of source might be appropriate for a research project, depending on how you use it.

Of course, your instructor may require certain types of sources, so it’s important to understand the differences between types of sources, such as a peer-reviewed article versus a popular one. However, it may also be helpful to think about at what stage of the research project a source may be useful. Reference sources, such as encyclopedias, are useful when reading for background information, whereas more specialized sources, like journal articles, studies, and argumentative pieces, will be more useful when exploring your research question in-depth. 

BEAM Method Overview

In discussing the usefulness of different types of sources, we find it is helpful to use the BEAM method, developed by Joseph Bizup, BEAM stands for: Background, Exhibit, Argument, Method.

  • Background: using a source to provide general information to explain the topic. For example, the use of a Wikipedia page on the Pledge of Allegiance to explain the relevant court cases and changes the Pledge has undergone. These sources help you become more familiar with your chosen topic. You may or may not end up citing these sources in your final paper.
  • Exhibit: using a source as evidence or examples to analyze. For example, for a counseling paper, your exhibits may be data or results gathered from a specific study. Or, for a business paper, it may be financial information found in a company’s annual report.
  • Argument: using a source to engage its argument. For example, you might use an editorial from the New York Times on the value of higher education to engage with in your own paper, either for or against or somewhere in between.
  • Method: using a source’s way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue. For example, you might use a study’s methods, definitions, or conclusions on gentrification in Chicago to apply to your own neighborhood in New York City.

Keep in mind that as you read and learn more through gathering source material, you topic may change or shift, and that is to be expected. Also, keep in mind that you any source may be used in a paper as long as you evaluate it properly and engage with it meaningfully. You can learn more about the BEAM method in the following video:


Bizup, J. (2008). BEAM: A rhetorical vocabulary for teaching research-based writing. Rhetoric Review, 27(1), 72-86.

Hayden, W. & Margolin, S. (n.d.). How to use a source: The BEAM method. Hunter College Libraries. (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Portland State University Library. (2018, November 8). Using your sources: The BEAM research model [Video]. YouTube. (CC-BY-NC-SA)