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Designing Research Assignments

This research guide is intended to help instructors create more effective research assignments

What is BEAM?

BEAM is a framework for discussing the usefulness of different types resources. Developed by Joseph Bizup as a more functional alternative to the traditional primary/secondary classification, BEAM stands for Background, Exhibit, Argument, and Method.

Bizup describes the need for BEAM this way: "If we want students to adopt a rhetorical perspective toward research-based writing, then we should use language that focuses their attention not on what their sources and other materials are (either by virtue of their genres or relative to some extratextual point of reference) but on what they as writers might do with them. We should adopt terms that allow us to name, describe, and analyze the different ways writers use their materials on the page or, equivalently, the various postures toward their materials that writers adopt" (75).  

Background Sources - Materials that provide an overview of a topic, such as core concepts and facts

  • Used for information that is well established in the field
  • Sometimes don't need to be cited if considered "common knowledge," which is information in a discipline or subject that is universally accepted by those in the field
    • 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 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
    • 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 Sources - Information from other authors you are agreeing with, disagreeing with, or building upon

  • Used to make claims related to your thesis statement and the argument you're making
  • Citing them puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic; it brings you into the conversation
  • Constitutes the literature review section in many disciplines
  • Note: 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

  • Used to determine a governing concept or manner of working
  • 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
    • 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" 

Using BEAM

The BEAM method provides an avenue for instructors to discuss how to find, evaluate and use different types of information in an academic setting. Then, instead of requiring students to cite "three scholarly articles," for example, consider stipulating that they use one (or more) sources in each of the BEAM categories. (Note: Method is sometimes left off, especially in lower-division settings.) In addition, couple this approach with an expectation that all sources be evaluated using the CRAAP Test to ensure credibility.      

Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review, vol. 27, no. 1, 2008, 72-86.

Excerpted from Evaluating Sources. Beeghly Library, Heidelberg University,