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Scaffold the Argument Paper: Choosing and Using Sources

A series of assignments that will guide students through the process of research and writing

Best Practices and Guidelines

Best Practices and Guidelines

Many students have experience evaluating information sources using a checklist approach (author, publication, date, etc) and have been told, "Don't use Google" and "Don't cite Wikipedia" countless times, but they still use poor quality sources. A more effective approach might be to focus on how students can use sources in their paper. 

We propose using the BEAM Method as a way to categorize the different types of sources necessary to support an argument. See the box at the bottom of this page for an explanation of BEAM.

Possible Assignment

Read Smarter, Not Harder! Critical Reading of Scholarly Articles

Possible Assignment

Annotated Bibliography with BEAM

Critical Thinking Activity

Evaluating Sources with BEAM

Librarian-led instruction:

1. Flipped approach - Instructors should require students to complete the pre-assignments before the librarian comes to class, which include an introduction to the BEAM Method and to using the library's OneSearch.

2. In-class activity - Students will be placed in groups. Each group will be given one source from the "Culture of Contempt" essay. They will analyze how the source was used in the text and categorize it according to the BEAM Method. 


Selecting and Analyzing Sources Using the BEAM Method

Instead of requiring students to use a certain number of source types (peer reviewed journal articles, books, etc.), ask them to think about sources in a different way. Instead of focusing on what sources are,  focus on what the student might do with them. The BEAM method is a way to categorize sources based on how they are used and for what specific purpose. 

BEAM stands for:

  • B - Background sources
  • E - Exhibits
  • A - Argument sources
  • M - Methodology (freshmen probably won't need this category!) 

Descriptions of BEAM categories:

B - Background sources

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

For example, if you're researching immigration, you might want to provide a definition of undocumented immigrants or of amnesty, or you might use a book that provides a history of immigration in the United States in order to give some context to today's immigration issues. 

Where to find background sources: In addition to Google, of course, use OneSearch on the library's home page to search for books. Use a database like Opposing Viewpoints to get background and varying viewpoints on an issue. 

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. If you want to argue that undocumented immigrants are a drain to the U.S. healthcare system, you might look at the Affordable Care Act and what immigration statuses qualify for coverage, or you might look at statistics of how many undocumented immigrants are in the United States. You could also provide an example or anecdote of how one undocumented immigrant received healthcare.

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. 

Where to find argument sources: Search OneSearch or library databases for academic/scholarly journal articles 

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