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Information Literacy

What type of source is this?

Knowing what type of source you're working with can help you decide how to situate it in your own writing. The video below describes some of the differences between popular and scholarly articles and gives an overview of the sections you might find in a scholarly article.

How will I use this source in my writing?

Once you know what type of source you are working with, you are better prepared to decide how you might incorporate it into your own work. The following categories, created by Joseph Bizup, describe the way that writers (like you!) use sources in their writing. You can remember these roles with the acronym BEAM.


Writers rely on these sources for general factual information. For instance, a writer could use background information to introduce a setting, situation, or problem in the term paper.

Exhibit or Evidence

Writers interpret and analyze sources like these in the same way they are used as exhibits and evidence in a museum or a court.


Writers engage with these sources that they agree with or disagree with. The sources are usually written by scholars in their field. For instance, writers often include sources that describe earlier work that is specifically relevant to their own research question and their thesis (what they consider to be the answer to that question.)

Method or Theory

Writers follow the key terms, concepts, or manner of working that are explained in these sources. That is, they pay attention to and use the relevant work of others before them to carry out their own work and then describe it in the term paper.

Example: Engaging with Sources

Let's say I'm working on a researched letter to the editor, in which I argue that Notre Dame should provide access to napping spaces across campus. In order to fully understand the topic, and to make a strong argument, I'll be pulling from multiple types of sources. Select the headings below to expand the relevant section and see one example in action.

I came across this magazine article on the Web, which provides case studies and summaries of academic research in a more accessible language that resonates with me and my audience...


Waxman, O.B. (2014, August 29). Napping around: Colleges provide campus snooze rooms. Time.

...and I can pair it with this academic article that presents the findings of a particular study and may be considered more authoritative by my audience.


Duggan, K. A., McDevitt, E. A., Whitehurst, L. N., & Mednick, S. C. (2018). To nap, perchance to DREAM: a factor analysis of college students’ self-reported reasons for napping. Behavioral sleep medicine, 16(2), 135-153.

Although certain types of sources may tend to play a single role for most authors (e.g. encyclopedia entries are most often used as background sources, arguments most often come from scholarly sources), some sources might play multiple roles in your writing. For example, I might use different parts of the scholarly article I found to serve different purposes in my letter to the editor.

The introduction provides me with the background knowledge that psychologists and neuroscientists use naps to understand sleep. The dense references in the text point me to other articles that I can follow up on. I'm particularly interested in the two studies that have shown that naps can mitigate the negative effects of sleep deprivation.


In the discussion section of this article, I like the DREAM acronym that the authors use to describe the reasons that people take naps. I am particularly interested in the finding that conscientious individuals use naps to increase productivity. I think this finding could be a compelling argument for my audience because of the high levels of conscientiousness I've observed in my fellow classmates and because the university already provides some support in developing good sleep hygiene through the wellness center.

Strategies for reading scholarly sources

Reading is an integral part of the research and writing process but reading scholarly sources often requires a different approach than the one we take when reading other types of texts. While you might read a magazine article from start to finish, you may want to read a scholarly article "out of order."

  1. Start with the abstract, a short paragraph that describes the rest of a larger work. Abstracts appear most often in scholarly sources, like journal articles, and describe the research question, findings, and conclusions of the work. They're designed to help you quickly decide whether the article will be useful to you.
  2. If the abstract makes the article sound useful for your research, continue on to the introduction. This section defines the article's guiding question and situates it within the existing research on the topic. Some articles might go quite in-depth in summarizing previous research in a separate literature review section. Both the introduction and the literature review are good places to gather background information and to find citations that you can use to follow the conversation.
  3. Jump all the way down to the conclusion, where the authors summarize their research and connect it back to the existing literature. 
  4. Go back to the middle of the article, sometimes labeled as the methodology and results sections, to learn more about how the authors came came to their conclusions. Reading this section last allows you to familiarize yourself with the authors' research question and results and can help get you through some of the jargon and technical explanations in the middle of the article.
  5. Don't forget to follow up on interesting citations in the bibliography, reference, or works cited list!

Try it out!

Engaging with Sources

Complete this activity to summarize a source and determine how you might use it in your own writing

Complete the Module