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Evaluating Sources

How to identify what sources you should use for your research

What are you using that source for?

In order to be able to evaluate a source, you need to think about how you are going to use that source in your research. A framework for looking at what your source is being used for is BEAM.


Background Sources

  • Rely on them for information accepted as unquestionable fact
  • Will sometimes be uncited if considered "common knowledge," which is information in a discipline or subject that is universally accepted by those in the field
    • Ex. The existence of natural selection is a given in biology, so Darwin's On the Origin of Species does not need to be cited to prove it

Exhibit Sources

  • Materials a writer is interpreting or analyzing
  • Used to provide an example of or give evidence for a claim
  • Depending on your topic and discipline, exhibit materials can be a novel, a data set, an interview, experimental results, a diary, scholarly books or articles, and much more
    • Ex. If you are researching depictions of working women on TV, an episode of 30 Rock could be an exhibit. If you are researching changes in employment in the United States, a data set from the Bureau of Labor Statistics might be your exhibit

Argument Sources

  • Information from other authors you are agreeing with, disagreeing with, or building upon
  • Citing them puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic--brings you into the conversation
  • The literature review section in many disciplines
  • You use your exhibit sources as examples of why you agree with, disagree with, or want to add more to what was claimed in your argument sources

Method Sources

  • Materials an author follows to determine how they are doing their research
  • Can include research procedures, theories, and sources of discipline-specific vocabulary
  • Some methods become so common in a field that scholars do not feel the need to cite them but will presume their readers will know them
    • Ex. Scholar who studies game theory in economics may presume their audience is familiar with the prisoner's dilemma, while a scholar in critical literacy studies may not define "reification" 


BEAM originally developed by Joseph Bizup.

Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review 27, no. 1 (2008): 72-86. doi:10.1080/07350190701738858