Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetorical Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86. DOI: 10.1080/07350190701738858

Bizup reviews the approaches composition scholars have put forth for improving students’ research writing; but argues that while these reviews are important, students’ source use must be examined. Students typically look at sources as “products of research” – how they connect with “external points of reference” instead of their “rhetorical function” (79). Sources are generally referred to as primary, secondary, and tertiary; however classifications are not fixed and can be problematic to students’ understanding. Bizup suggests a new BEAM approach, adopting a rhetorical perspective: Background, Exhibit, Argument and Method.

The focus with BEAM is on what writers “do” with sources, how they “rely on background sources, interpret or analyze exhibits, engage arguments and follow methods” (76). Background sources provide general information or common knowledge. Exhibitsources are those that provide “explication, analysis, or interpretation.” Argument sources are the ways writers “enter into the conversation” with his/her sources. Method sources provide information on concepts, terminology, models or perspectives.  Bizup connects standard source naming with BEAM by noting that tertiary sources are typically background; primary are usually exhibits; and secondary sources could provide argument, background or method (75). 

Bizup notes three areas where BEAM is advantageous. First, it can be adapted across disciplines. Second, it responds to Bizup’s “Burkean paradox of research-based writing,” referring to sources as “intrinsic parts” of a writer’s text, as opposed to just external. Third, it enables students to find new ways to use sources that don’t fit within current source interpretation. Drawing BEAM into critical reading and writing, Bizup points out how relying on source types can be confusing, as sources can change their function based on a writing or discourse purpose. B, E, A, and M are used as a marking system for students as they read a text to see source patterning  (78). He points out that by not stressing minimum or maximum source numbers, students have the freedom to develop lines of inquiry, thus working “outward from specific exhibits” rather than “narrowing a topic” (81). Bizup advises his students “If you start with an exhibit, look for argument sources to engage; if you start with argument sources, look for exhibits to interpret” (81). Finally, he counters Larson’s 1982 “pessimism” by recognizing that composition scholarship has changed in 30 years and posits that writing teachers should be teaching “research-based writing” and can do this by focusing on writing that “incorporates the products of research” as opposed to the “teaching of research” (83).

I appreciate that Bizup is using rhetorical language as a way to draw students into looking at “how” they use sources in their writing. My concern is using new “naming” of sources across the disciplines (confusion?), but it is worth drawing from the examples of BEAM to better articulate what sources are “doing” in writing. Bizup’s differentiation of teaching “research-based writing” as opposed to “teaching research” begs the question for me with both as to where is the library? I assume “resources” are not all class texts. The “teaching of research” or “research-based” source discovery is where librarians can collaborate. There are still many connections to be made!