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 genre of source (academic, popular), format (blog, print) and publication dates. To research a question in depth, the answer to the question of “how many and what type of sources do I need” is all of them. You need a variety of sources, both in type and point of view, in order to fully (or even partially) explore a research question.
Your professor may require certain types of sources, so it’s important to understand the differences between types of sources, such as a peer-reviewed article versus a popular one. 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, but 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.
In discussing the usefulness of different types of sources, we will use the BEAM method, developed by Joseph Bizup. BEAM stands for: Background, Exhibit, Argument, Method.
- Background: using a source to provide general information to explain the topic. For example, the use of a Wikipedia page on the Pledge of Allegiance to explain the relevant court cases and changes the Pledge has undergone.
- Exhibit: using a source as evidence or examples to analyze. For a literature paper, this would be a poem you are analyzing. For a history paper, a historical document you are analyzing. For a sociology paper, it might be the data from a study.
- Argument: using a source to engage its argument. For example, you might use an editorial from the New York Times on the value of higher education to refute in your own paper.
- Method: using a source’s way of analyzing an issue to apply 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.
Citation: 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.
Taken from "How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method" by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin.