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Welcome to Vanderbilt Libraries: Evaluating Sources




I have a list of results.  How do I further narrow that list down to sources I might use?

The best way to do that is to read the whole article or book.  However, during the research process, there isn’t always time to do that.  Whenever possible, you should take advantage of tools such as subject headings/descriptors and abstract.

subject heading (sometimes known as a descriptor) is a standardized term, usually a word or a phrase used to describe what the article or book is about. There are usually several subject headings per book or article. Subject headings exist in order to organize a collection of information. Consider using subject headings you find as search terms.

An abstract is a short summary of what the article or book is about.

Other tools for books you should use are a table of contents and the index once you find the book on shelf.

You've done your search in a database and found a list of articles.  Or you have some book titles to consider.  You now have to decide whether or not these potential sources help you accomplish your purpose.  One way to do that is to see how you might use those sources in your research paper.

The BEAM model below might be helpful. As you examine your results ask yourself, does this source fall into one (or more) of the categories below?

More Details


Background Sources

  • Rely on them for information accepted as unquestionable fact
  • Provide general information to explain a topic
  • Sources to consider: books, encyclopedias (either general or subject-specific), articles.

Exhibit Sources

  • Materials a writer is interpreting or analyzing
  • Used to provide an example of or give evidence for a claim
  • Sources to consider: Depending on your topic and discipline, scholarly books or articles, a film,  novel, a data set, an interview, experimental results, a diary, letters, a work of art, etc.

Argument Sources

  • Information from other authors you are agreeing with, disagreeing with, or building upon
  • Citing them puts your research in the context of other scholarship on that topic--brings you into the conversation
  • You use your exhibit sources as examples of why you agree with, disagree with, or want to add more to what was claimed in your argument sources
  • Sources to consder: articles, books.

Method Sources

  • Materials an author follows to determine how they are doing their research
  • Sources to consider: Course readings, books, articles, Can include research procedures, theories

Adapted from:

Additional Sources:

Woodward, Kristin M. and Ganski, Kate L., “BEAM Lesson Plan” (2013). UWM Libraries Instructional Materials. Paper 1.

Rubick. Kate. 2014. "Flashlight: Using Bizup's BEAM to Illuminate the Rhetoric of Research." Presentation at Library Instruction West 2014.

Rumble, Juliet, Carter. Toni and Noe, Nancy.  2015. "Teaching Students the 'How' and 'Why' of Source Evaluation: Pedagogies that Empower Communities of Learning and Scholarship." Presentation at 2015 LOEX Conference.

BEAM originally developed by Joseph Bizup.

Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review 27, no. 1 (2008): 72-86. doi:10.1080/07350190701738858

icons with slogans Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Better Coverage, Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the Original Context

These strategies will help you look beyond less important surface features of an information source (for example, how professional it looks or if it's a .org), and think more carefully about who is behind the source, what their purpose is, and how trustworthy and credible they are. The SIFT model (from Mike Caulfield) provides a framework for thinking critically about information:

Pause and ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim's reputation.
If not, use the four moves (below) to learn more. If you start getting too overwhelmed during the other moves, pause and remember your original purpose.


Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Is this source worth your time? Look at what others have said about the source to help with you these questions. (For example, a company that sells health food products is not the best source for information about health benefits/risks of consuming coconut oil. A research study funded by a pharmaceutical company is also suspect.)

 Find Better Coverage

Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more importance to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.

Trace Claims to Original Source

Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). If needed trace the information back to the original source in order to recontextualize it. 

modified from this source (Andrea Baer and Dan Kipnis, Rown University)

Want to learn more about fact checking and verifying claims? Check out this short, self-paced course, to find out how to fact and source-check (each lesson takes about 30 minutes apiece). The guide below also provides additional guidance.


Need help navigating the library's website? Tracking down a particular resource? Contact a librarian!

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