Skip to Main Content

Reading Scholarly Articles

Scholarly articles may seem daunting when researching. They often are long and filled with jargon. However, reading them efficiently comes down to having the right approach.

Does Your Source Fit Your Information Needs? 

You've found some potential sources for your research project. So what now? First, you need to be sure the sources truly fit your information need. Otherwise, you may have to go back and look for more sources later. While this is okay and is part of the research process, spending a bit of time evaluating your potential sources at the beginning may save you time later in the research process. 

It is important to keep in mind that not all sources serve the same function and a source may serve more than one function.  For instance, a journal article could include background information, exhibits, argument and method.  While, an encyclopedia entry on “Alzheimer's disease” is likely to only serve as background information. 

So, how do you determine if a source serves your purpose? Well this may involve just asking your self questions like if this source helps you answer your research question or if it helps support your argument. However using something more strategic, like the the BEAM method developed by Joseph Bizup, can make this work easier. The BEAM Method chart below outlines types of sources. You may not be using all of these sources for your project, but this chart will give you a better idea of what you may be working with.

BEAM stands for: Background, Exhibit, Argument, Method.


Source Function Explanation Examples Common Locations
Background Factual and noncontroversial information, providing context

Encyclopedia articles, overviews in books, statistics, historical facts

Exhibit/Evidence Data, observations, objects, artifacts, documents that can be analyzed

Text of a novel, field observations, focus group transcriptions, questionnaire data, results of an experiment, interview data (primary sources)

Body, Results section
Argument Critical views from other scholars and commentators; part of the academic conversation Scholarly articles, books, critical reviews (e.g. literacy criticism), editorials

Body, sometimes in Introduction or in Literature Review

Method (or Theory) Reference to methods or theories used, usually explicit though may be implicit; approach or research methodology used

Part of books or articles with reference to theorists (e.g. Foucault, Derrida) or theory (e.g. feminism, post-colonialism, new historicism etc.); information on a research methodology

Methods section or referenced in Introduction or Body


Adapted from:
Hayden, W. & Margolin, S. (n.d.). How to use a source: The BEAM Method. Hunter College Libraries. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
UC Merced Library:;(CC BY-NC 4.0)

Is the Information in Your Source Accurate? 

Telling if your source is providing accurate information can be a difficult task. There is no one rule or sign that indicates accuracy. Rather there are methodologies that you can follow to help you determine if a source is accurate. One that we at the library recommend is the SHIFT method by Mike Caulfield. 


Investigate the source. 

Find better coverage. 

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context. 

Infographic of the SHIFT Method

For more information about this method check out this short video series by Mike Caulfield ,



The SIFT method was created by Mike Caulfield. All SIFT information on this page is adapted from his materials with a CC BY 4.0 license.