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Use Sources in My Paper

Common Reasons to Use Sources

If you find yourself including sources just to fulfill an assignment requirement, remember the intended purpose of sources and citation:

  • Show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation.
  • Communicate your understanding of an issue and your credibility.
  • Inspire and enrich your own ideas.
  • Acknowledge the work of others.
  • Connect readers to related research.

Adapted from Yale College Writing Center's "Using Sources" webpage.

Key Questions for Source Use

  • How is this source being used in this context?
  • How might I use the source for my own purposes?
  • What other types of sources will I need?

Using Sources Rhetorically: 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.

Citing Sources

Citation involves properly crediting the authors of information sources used in a paper or presentation. Different disciplines use certain citation styles. These style guides can help.

All your sources should be cited, including images and video.

Citing when Quoting or Paraphrasing

Cite quotes with quotation marks and an in-text citation

e.g., The Gettyburg Address opens "Four score and seven years ago" (Lincoln, 1863, p. #). 

Paraphrases restate someone else's ideas in your own words. Cite them with an in-text citation.

e.g., The Gettysburg Address opens by looking to past decades (Lincoln, 1863, p. #).

More on Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing