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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

ENST-495: Senior Seminar

A course guide for Environmental Studies 495

Thinking about Sources & Methods

  • Break your primary and secondary questions up into more-focused searches using the tips and search strategies you've developed in the previous stages.
  • Look at the footnotes and bibliographies/reference lists of books or articles you've already found or used in class, then use Discover to locate those relevant sources.
  • Footnotes in secondary sources (books and articles) are a great place to find clues to locating primary sources like archival material or data.
  • Bibliographies and reference works can guide you to relevant sources that are widely cited by scholars.
  • You can use sources in lots of ways, as seen in BEAM below: some might be for content, some for models of structure or tone, some for methodological approach.
  • Think about methods you might use. If you think you might want to do original research like interviews or an ethnography, be sure to read through our Qualitative Research Guide first. Object-oriented research can also look very different in terms of process.


You can use the BEAM framework to

  • Determine what kinds of sources you need for your research
  • Evaluate how sources can be useful in your research, given your goals and context

​BEAM refers to 4 key ways researchers use sources, as...

Background: Using sources to provide factual or general information about your topic. For example, you might use an encyclopedia entry to offer a quick historical overview related to your topic.

Exhibit: Using sources as examples to analyze, or as evidence. Exhibits are often primary sources. For example, a novel or an image you are analyzing would be an exhibit. Census data, an oral history interview, or social media posts could also be exhibits if you analyze them as evidence.

Argument: Using sources to engage the arguments they make. For example, you might align your thinking with another author's argument, extend their argument in a new context, or present their argument in order to counter it with your own. You can find arguments in scholarly sources (like academic journal articles and books), as well as in popular sources (like newspaper editorials).

Method: Using sources to inform your research methods; to help you explain your analysis or interpretation of your exhibits; and to define key conceptual terms. For example, you might draw on another source's explanation of a theoretical framework or concept to explain that idea to your audience, or you might describe your methods in relation to those used in another study.

Adapted from Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86.

Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and other resources. Each citation is followed by a brief summary and/or evaluation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.*

Some questions you might ask/answer of each resource you use as your prepare your annotated bibliography include:

  • Using the BEAM framework, what kind of "work" will this source do for your research?
  • Is the author making an argument? 
    • What type of argument is it?
  • How does the author's argument and/or methods used relate to your own research/ class themes?
  • What questions and sub-questions does the source raise for you?
  • What resources in the bibliography seem like they could be useful to you?

*Adapted with permission from How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography, Research & Learning Services, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA

Activities & Resources