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13-Roles of Research Sources

BEAM: A Solution That Might Shine

This table, created from the ideas developed by Joseph Bizup, describes the roles that sources can play (some of the ways they can be used) in your finished assignment, such as a term paper. Bizup called his model BEAM, an acronym that stands for background, exhibits (or evidence), argument, and method.

Role for Sources How to
Use Them
Kinds of Sources
That Can Have That Role*
Background** Writers rely on these sources for general factual information. For instance, a writer could use background information to introduce a setting, situation, or problem in the term paper. Usually secondary sources and tertiary sources, but, basically, just anything other than journal articles that report original research. Some examples: literature review articles, non-fiction books, and biographies (secondary) and field guides and Wikipedia (tertiary).
Exhibits or Evidence Writers interpret and analyze sources like these in the same way they are used as exhibits and evidence in a museum or a court. Usually primary sources. Some examples: newspaper articles from the time in question, works of literature or art, and research articles.
Argument Writers engage with these sources that they agree with or disagree with. The sources are usually written by scholars in their field. For instance, writers often include sources that describe earlier work that is specifically relevant to their own research question and their thesis (what they consider to be the answer to that question.) Usually primary and secondary sources. Some examples of primary sources: research articles in the sciences and humanities and recordings of performances in the arts. Some examples of secondary sources: commentaries and criticisms, such as those that appear in literature reviews, textbooks, and blogs that comment on research.
Method or Theory Writers follow the key terms, concepts, or manner of working that are explained in these sources. That is, they pay attention to and use the relevant work of others before them to carry out their own work and then describe it in the term paper. Often secondary sources. Some examples: literature reviews, textbooks, and blogs that comment on research.

*See Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources
**See Background Reading

Tip: BEAM at a Glance

Download this BEAM Reference Chart to help you quickly determine how you might find or use a source.


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BEAM: A Solution That Might Shine by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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