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Research Essentials

Source Use and Evaluation

Common Reasons to Use Sources

If you find yourself including quotations or sources merely to back up your argument or to fulfill an assignment requirement, remember the intended purpose of sources and citation:

  • Show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation
  • Communicate your understanding of an issue and your credibility
  • Inspire and enrich your own ideas
  • Acknowledge the work of others
  • Connect readers to related research

Adapted from Yale College Writing Center's "Using Sources" webpage.

Key Questions to Ask

  • How is this source being used in this context?
  • How might I use the source for my own purposes?
  • What other types of sources will I need?

Source Purpose & Use (BEAM model)

The BEAM “rhetorical vocabulary” describes four different ways to use sources in a research assignment. 

Background sources

Some sources provide general information or factual evidence about a topic that can be used to provide context. 

e.g., encyclopedia article, dictionary definition 

Exhibits, Examples, or Evidence sources

These sources contain material that the author analyzes or interprets. Often, these sources are used to provide an example of, or support for, the argument that the author is trying to make. 

e.g., literary or artistic works, field observations, scientific specimens, contemporary reviews, historical documents

Argument sources

These sources are used to provide examples of the discussions and conversations going on among scholars within the field. Often, a writer will either support or refute the arguments that other scholars are making, or else discuss how those individual arguments contribute to the broader conversations surrounding the topic. 

e.g., scholarly articles, opinion pieces

Method/theory sources

These sources provide general concepts, theories, or procedures that the writer adopted to carry out his or her research. 

e.g., references to theories/methods used by the author (e.g., feminism, New Historicism/ direct observation, mixed methods)

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

Ways to Use Sources: BEAM Model

BEAM Model: Background sources provide general information and context. Evidence sources intend to be analyzed and interpreted. Argument sources highlight discussions and contributions made by other scholars. Finally, Methods sources establish the theory and mode of thinking about the topic