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First Year Seminar - Bisson: Using Information (BEAM)

What you will learn in this module

Instructions: Watch the video to the right on the BEAM method, and then take the accompanying quiz below, which will prepare you for the in-class activity when a librarian visits your class.

For your argument paper, you must use at least 5 'substantial' sources. But what makes a source substantial? 

We hope you will evaluate information in two different ways (explained more in the box to the right): 

1) To determine credibility

2.) To determine usefulness for your specific purpose, or for the argument or claim you are making

We propose a method of source evaluation called the BEAM method that will help you think about information in a different way and will help you evaluate the credibility and usefulness of the sources you select. 



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.

Watch the BEAM video below to learn about the BEAM method of source evaluation and use. It will help you think about the kinds of sources or evidence you might need to build your bridge/argument for the reader. 

BEAM Method Video

BEAM Method Quick Guide

BEAM Method Quick Guide

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 (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.