For any research project, you should 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 (academic or professional journal), format (electronic or 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 to use as many as you need to fully (or even partially) explore a research question.
If your professor requires certain types of sources, you will need to understand the differences between types of sources, like a peer-reviewed article versus a literature review. It may also be helpful to think about at what stage of your research a source may be useful. Reference sources, like encyclopedias, are useful when reading for background information, but you’ll want to read more specialized sources when exploring your research question later on.
However, even more important than identifying the type of source is knowing how you can use them in your paper or project. A very helpful approach to determining the usefulness of different types of sources is the BEAM method, developed by Joseph Bizup. BEAM stands for: Background, Evidence (or Exhibit), Argument, Method.
- Background: using a source to provide an overview of a topic or to provide general information that explains the topic. For example, you may want to present some information or statistics about the problem/question (such as, "[blank] % of people over age 65 years experience problems with sleeping").
- Exhibit or Evidence: using a source to analyze and interpret your problem/question. For instance, you might use a data set, an interview, or experimental results to provide an example of or give evidence for a claim.
- Argument: really the heart of the paper; using sources to make claims about your thesis/purpose statement by engaging with the sources, either to agree or dispute or expand upon them. This is where you enter the conversation within your field about the topic/ question/ problem, by referring to the work others have done and adding your own thoughts to the discussion..
- Method: using another source to help you conduct the research for your problem/question, sometimes using the other source as a model. For example, you might adapt/use another study’s methods, definitions, or conclusions in your own paper. Useful when identifying interventions you might use.
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.