Commencement and the Rhetorical Side of Research

Graduates tossing their caps into the air
Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash


Bizup (2008) shows us how a source can provide Background information, an Exhibit, an Argument, or a Methodology.   We think less on what a source is and more on how we use it.  Let’s shine a BEAM–Pun very much intended!–on commencement.

If we research commencement as a rite of passage, we may want general background on higher education rituals.  We can use a book such as Ritual, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education (Manning, 2000).

We may want to analyze a source: That source would be our exhibit (Bizup, 2008, p. ?).  For example Bock (2014) looks at how graduates decorate their mortarboards.  She uses photos of decorated caps to illustrate the themes she discusses.

An argument source gives us ideas to support, extend, refine, or dispute (Bizup, 2008, p. 75).   McLaren calls for organizers to look more closely at campus rituals (as cited in Magolda, 2003, p. 794).  Magolda actually does so.

We can also turn to a source to inspire our methodology.  The Methods section of most scholarly articles will cite such sources.  Magolda (2003) cites multiple sources in his Methods section (pp. 780-782).

BEAM is not a set formula.  Even experienced researchers do not always agree on how to categorize a source (Rubick, 2015, pp. 104-105).  All the same the concept has us thinking more about how we use sources.  Congratulations and best wishes to all of our graduates!


Bizup, J. (2008). BEAM: A rhetorical vocabulary for teaching research-based writing. Rhetoric Review, 27(1), 72-86. Retrieved from

Bock, S. (2014). Performing the personal in a state of transition: Decorated mortarboards. Journal of Folklore and Education,  1, 34-38. Retrieved from

Magolda, P. M. (2003). Saying good-bye: An anthropological examination of a commencement ritual. Journal of College Student Development, 44(6), 779-796. doi:10.1353/csd.2003.0073

Manning, K. (2000). Ritual, ceremonies, and cultural meaning in higher education. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Rubick, K. (2015). Flashlight: Using Bizup’s BEAM to illuminate the rhetoric of research. Reference Services Review, 43(1), 98-111. doi: 10.1108/RSR-10-2014-0047

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