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ARTH 399 Special Topics in Art History: Evaluating Sources

BEAM Method

How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method

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 For a history paper, a historical document you are analyzing.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.

Questions for Evaluation

Here are some questions to help you evaluate the information you find.


  • When was the information published?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?


  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?


  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?


  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?


Adapted from


Evaluating Database Results

Databases typically provide information that can help you evaluate if a source is relevant, current, and scholarly for your topic.

Look for:

  • Article Title
  • Abstract
  • Date
  • Title of publication (how scholarly?)
  • Length

Using Notes & Bibliographies

If you find a relevant source on your topic, look at the references to quickly locate additional reliable sources.

Example from Lavin, Irving. "Divine Grace and the Remedy of the Imperfect. Michelangelo's Signature on the St Peter's Pietà." Artibus Et Historiae 34, no. 68 (December 2013): 277-328.


Google Scholar Cited Reference Search

Google Scholar can help you find articles which have cited an article that you have found. Frequent citation is often (but not always!) a marker for a particularly influential scholarly work.

Step 1: When looking at search results, check for the 'Cited by X' link underneath each result. That will tell you how many subsequent articles (that Google Scholar is aware of) have cited this particular article or book.

Step 2: Click that link, and you will be taken to a new set of results, all of which have cited the original article, which will still be listed at the top of the page. 

Google Scholar Search

Using Book Reviews

By consulting book reviews of the scholarly works you are reading, you can gain a better understanding of the place of a particular work within the field. Here are some search tips for finding book reviews in selected databases.


  • Select the "Advanced Search" option
  • Type (in quotation marks) the title of the book for which you seek reviews.
  • Under the limiter options, select "review" in the "Type" category.


  • Search the title of the book in quotation marks.
  • Limit to articles.
  • Refine search to book reviews if this option is available.

Art Full Text

  • Search the book title.
  • Choose book review as document type in the drop down menu.

Evaluating Book Entries in Primo

Look at the item details to help you evaluate the source:

Book Example from Primo: