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Writing a Research Paper

Integrating Sources Using the BEAM Framework

When it comes time to use a source in your paper, it's not enough just to have "enough" sources on your topic. Rather, you need to consider how you'll use them. How are you going to use the information or ideas in this source to support the argument you're making? 

One method that can help organize how you're using your sources is Joseph Bizup's BEAM framework. BEAM is an acronym standing for:





See the tab for each source type for details. As you look at each tab, remember: no source is inherently a B, E, A, or M source. These categories describe how sources can be used, and give guidance on how to incorporate sources in different ways in the process of making your argument.


These sources "set the scene" for your argument. Often they are encyclopedia articles or institutional reports that provide definitions or dates and statistics or figures taken to be generally accepted. However, they may also be scholarly articles that form a broad background for your essay but whose arguments you are not directly engaging. Unsurprisingly, these sources most often appear at the beginning of your essay, setting the stage for what's to come. Remember: what is "generally accepted" will vary depending on context, so it's important to remain cognizant of your audience and what they will or will not take for granted.



These are documents, images, field notes, and numerical data that are vital to the argument you're making. These generally consist of what are termed "primary sources": a first-hand account of an event, raw data recorded by a scientist, or contemporaneous reviews of a book that are being used as part of an historical argument.

Example (note how the quote from an exhibit source is immediately followed by analysis):


Argument sources are those of scholars, critics, or other writers with whom you're engaging, whether in agreement or through criticism. These sources whose ideas you're in dialogue with; they make up the "scholarly conversation" on a given topic. Examples include scholarly articles, cultural criticism, essays, or book-length monographs.



Method sources provide theories, frameworks, and methodologies that you're applying to the analysis of your exhibit or argument sources. These sources might not directly address the subject matter you're writing about, but they provide pertinent analytical lenses for you to use. Social theories, papers outlining experimental processes, and analytical frameworks are all examples of works that are often used as method sources.


More on Using Sources in Introductions

Introductions serve different purposes depending on the genre of writing. Magazine articles or personal essays often start with a "hook" that sets the scene, creates tension, or engages the reader's thoughts and emotions. Academic essays tend to rely on a different kind of hook, one that situates that author's work in relation to the sources, ideas, and scholarship that have paved the way for their own work, or that they are responding to or critiquing.

Scholars John Swales and Christine Feak have mapped out a pattern such introductions tend to follow, one that you can use when writing your introduction and incorporating sources into it. An adaptation of Swales and Feak's map, which is based on three "moves," is shown below. Click on each tab for more detail and examples.

Move 1: Setting the Scene, Move 2: Describing the Problem, Move 3: Entering the Conversation

Adapted from Swales and Feak, Academic Writing for Graduate Students

Move 1: Setting the Scene, Step 1: Claiming centrality, and/or Step 2: Making topic generalization(s), and/or Step 3: Reviewing previous research

The first move, Setting the Scene, is about laying out the broad strokes of your topic, its importance within the discipline you're working within (psychology, biology, business, etc.), and/or key pieces of research that form the background to your particular focus. As you may expect, this often entails drawing on the Background kinds of sources outlined in the BEAM method above.

Here's an example from the article "Exploring Curation as a Core Competency in Digital and Media Literacy Education" by Paul Mihailidis and James N. Cohen:

                            Highlighted portion of example text: Introduction In today's hypermedia landscape, youth and young adults are increasingly using social media platforms, online aggregators and mobile applications for daily information use. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 'Eight- to eighteen-year-olds spend more time with media than in any other activity besides (maybe) sleeping-an average of more than 71⁄2 hours a day, 7 days a week.' The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Center's (2012) annual State of the Media report found information consumption habits migrating significantly towards digital platforms. In this context, how students learn to be analytical, inquiring, and critical thinkers encompasses a new set of pedagogical approaches.

By pointing to broad statistics about digital media use, Mihailidis and Cohen provide the broad context in which they are working and point to the importance of focusing on the topic. The final sentence situates their focus as being in the educational field, as shown by the use of phrases like " students learn..." and "...pedagogical approaches..." (i.e., methods used in teaching). As readers, we now have a bit more grounding and know the general areas the authors will be discussing.

Move 2: Describing the Problem, Step 1A: Counter-claiming, or Step 1B: Identifying a gap, or Step 1C: Raising questions, or Step 1D: Continuing a tradition

Having created a background to work with, you can then turn to the second move of Describing the Problem, where you zero in on the whats and whys of the topic that you're focusing on.

What this looks like can vary: you may discuss gaps in research or unanswered questions you want to address in your writing, or you may point to previous work your own work is building on, or you may suggest that there may be flaws in the existing research you've already outlined when Setting the Scene. You're not yet discussing precisely how you're going to address the problem you're defining, but you're preparing the ground for you to do so.

Expressed in BEAM terms, the sources you cite may be more specific Background sources, or they may be Argument sources that will be discussed in greater detail in the body of your paper.

Mihailidis and Cohen's example is again illustrative:

Highlighted portion of example text: In her book Digital and Media Literacy (2011), Renee Hobbs stresses the competencies needed to prepare students for lives of constant technological evolution. She finds it ever more necessary for students of a digital age to harness human curiosity, the ability to listen, and seek diverse knowledge in the context of integrated information spaces, constant sharing, public identities, and low barriers to production (Hobbs 2011). One of the largest impacts of the Internet today is in the integration of various information types (news, entertainment, personal communication) and mediums (television, radio, print) into aggregated spaces. Search engines and social networks have replaced specific channels, shows, and even web sites as the predominant places youth go for information. Many-to-many communication platforms that allow for the large-scale reach of media messages have cultivated a vast information landscape that lacks basic organizational structure. The result is that students not only have access to seemingly endless amounts of information, but also personalize content and reorganize it in a fashion that best allows them to make sense of a topic, and to share it with peers (Lessig 2008). Teachers at all levels of education must be prepared to negotiate the digital realities of their students as they design learning experiences around critical inquiry, analysis, and evaluation. Indeed, educators today have a certain responsibility to focus student skills and experiences in an exercise of participation with the surrounding media (Jenkins et al. 2009).

So, what kind of problem are they framing here? They positively cite Hobbs's work on the sets of skills students need to thrive in a digital world, then focus specifically on the skill of navigating the personalized way the internet allows people to aggregate content into uniquely curated collections of information. In this sense, they build on Hobbs's work but also identify a potential gap to be filled by focusing on curation as an important competency teachers need to be prepared to cover. We now know what Mihailidis and Cohen will be focusing on.

Move 3: Entering the Conversation; Step 1A: Outlining your purposes, or Step 1B: Announcing your present research, Step 2: Announcing your principal findings, Step 3: Outlining the structure of the article/essay

Having outlined the problem your paper is addressing, you can then turn to Entering the Conversation. This final move entails explaining the particulars of your paper, including (as applicable) your thesis and outline of your argument, your hypothesis and findings, and/or the general structure of the essay. Again, the standards of what is included will vary depending on the stylistic conventions of the discipline you're writing in; using previous work as a model can be a helpful guide.

Let's return one last time to Mihailidis and Cohen:

Highlighted portion of example text: This paper explores the concept of curation as a pedagogical tool to embolden critical inquiry and engagement in a digital age. Specifically, the online digital curation tool Storify is utilized to present a theoretical justification for using curation to increase digital and media literacy, and six practical applications for curation pedagogy to teach about critical thinking, analysis, and engagement online. Storify allows for a student-driven, creation-driven and multimedia- driven approach to learning that enables students to engage and participate directly with multimedia content. This paper seeks to encourage instructors, particularly on secondary and tertiary education levels, to bridge the gap between informal learning outside of the classroom with formal learning to create a more dynamic place for students to advance critical inquiry, dialogue, and engagement through new forms of content creation, curation, and dissemination.

Mihailidis and Cohen now lay out that they will intervene in this scholarly conversation by discussing the specific example of one piece of online software and the ways it can be used as an instructional tool. In doing so, they outline the structure of the paper as well as point to the larger goals behind their choice to focus on this subject, which we would expect to find them discussing in the paper's conclusion.

Guides for Proper Citation

The HNU Library offers extensive guides for both MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association) citation styles. Links to these guides are available below:

And psst...remember how we mentioned RefWorks in the Exploratory Research section? Now might be a great time to get set up with it if you aren't already. It'll streamline your citation process and ensure you have proper formatting. Check out our detailed tutorial here.