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GEP 110

A guide to help you get started on your research project.

BEAM Method

How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method

When you begin searching for sources for a research project, you're not just interested in finding sources, but also in thinking critically about the sources. How do these sources help you understand your research topic? How do they fit into your research? What gaps are there that need to be considered? The BEAM method is a useful way of thinking about how you might use a source.

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 type of source (academic, popular), format (blog, print) and publication dates. To research a question in depth, you need a variety of sources, both in type and point of view, in order to fully (or even partially) explore a research question. 

For this project, you'll focus mainly on credible popular sources appropriate for use in a college research assignment. It’s important to understand the differences between types of sources, such as a peer-reviewed article versus a popular one so that you can choose appropriate information.

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 and familiarizing yourself with a topic.  For in-depth research,  you’ll want to read more specialized sources and arguments when exploring your research question. 

More important than identifying the type of source, however, is how you use them. Any type of source might be appropriate for a research project, depending on how you use it. The BEAM method, developed by Joseph Bizup, is a useful method for understanding how and why different types of sources are used in the research  process. When you are gathering information for your research, consider where each of your sources fits.

Let's take a look.

BEAM stands for: Background, Exhibit, Argument, Method.

Background: A source used to provide general information to explain the topic or to help you become familiar with a new topic. For example, the use of a Wikipedia page on the Pledge of Allegiance to understand the relevant court cases and changes the Pledge has undergone.

  • Background sources are often information that is accepted as common knowledge or fact.
  • These sources can help understand your topic broadly. They can include dictionaries, encyclopedias, and popular articles that give an overview of a topic.
  • You may not need to cite these sources if information is common knowledge.
    • Example: 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: A source used as evidence or as an example to analyze. For a literature paper, this would be a poem you are analyzing. For a history paper, a historical document you are analyzing, possibly a primary source. For a sociology paper, it might be the data from a study perhaps found in a peer-reviewed journal article.

  • Exhibit sources are 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
    • Example: 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: A source used to engage your argument. This will include information from other authors you are agreeing with, disagreeing with, or whose work you are building on.

  • Use argument sources to make claims related to your thesis statement and the argument you're making
  • These sources lay out the current knowledge in the discipline on your topic. 
  • Using and citing these sources  puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic; it brings you into the conversation
  • 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
    • Example: The "literature review" section in an academic journal article.

Method: Applying a source’s way of analyzing an issue to 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.

  • Used to determine a governing concept or manner of working
  • Can include research procedures, theories, and sources of discipline-specific vocabulary
    • Example: 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" 

*NOTE: For many research projects, where you are not conducting research yourself,  you may not need to identify a "method" for your project.


 Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 February 2014.

Adapted from:

Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License Creative Commons License.

Modesto Junior College: Designing Research Assignments LibGuide