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Shear and Bending Moment Diagrams Made Easy Using the

Continuous Segment Method


Timothy Wayne Mays, Ph.D., PE1

Abstract
This paper presents a novel approach for developing shear and bending moment diagrams for beams and
frames that is different than methods typically presented in structural analysis and mechanics of materials
textbooks. This nontraditional approach called the Continuous Segment Method utilizes an organized
bookkeeping methodology that results in a simplified means for solving structural analysis problems by
direct integration. Irrespective of problem complexity, free body diagrams are not needed to develop shear
and bending moment diagrams using the Continuous Segment Method. A student survey has been
performed and students at The Citadel strongly prefer this nontraditional method to traditional methods
used in the same and other courses. More importantly, the methodology is directly compatible with
advanced topics in structural analysis such as deflections using virtual work and the analysis of
indeterminate structures. This paper provides a derivation of the method, a simple outline of rules and
procedures, and various application examples for beams and frames.

Introduction
Typical structural analysis and mechanics of materials textbooks introduce shear and bending moment
diagrams by first defining the differential relationship among external loading, shear, and bending moment.
Using the aforementioned relationship, such textbooks illustrate common loading cases graphically so that
students can develop shear and moment diagrams by recognizing the change in slope of the loading and
shear diagrams, respectively. For examples, see [Hibbeler, 1], [Gere, 2], [Nelson et al., 3], and [Hibbeler,
4]. This traditional approach to shear and bending moment diagrams conflicts with advanced structural
topics such a deflection by virtual work, a process that requires students to define shear and bending
moment diagrams as a function of x (i.e., along the length of a beam) in order to solve the problem. In
addition, traditional methods do not provide self-checking mechanisms that can be employed as part of the
analysis process.
Other approaches are also used to help students learn structural analysis. For example, [Das, 5] presents
how computer software can be used to help students learn structural analysis. [Rojiani and Schottler, 6]
and [Holzer and Andruet, 7] provide web based approaches to learning structural analysis. [Lesko et al., 8]
presents a more practical and experimental approach to learning structural analysis by having students load
actual small-scale structures. The literature suggests that such approaches have quantifiable merit.
This paper presents a novel approach to shear and bending moment diagrams called the Continuous
Segment Method. The Continuous Segment (CS) Method is based on a manipulation of the differential
relationship among external loading, shear, and bending moment, whereby constants of integration are
accounted for in tabular format. The CS Method has numerous advantages over traditional methods to
include all of the following.

Free body diagrams are not needed to develop shear and bending moment diagrams.
1

Assistant Professor, The Citadel, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, 171
Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC, 29409.
ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

The method is directly compatible with advanced topics in structural analysis such as deflections using
virtual work and the analysis of indeterminate structures.

The method applies to all beams/frames and for any loading (e.g., students are not required to memorize
ways to solve special case problems).

Special tables are not required to locate the centroid of abnormal curves (e.g., loading or shear diagrams).

The only disadvantage to the CS Method is also that students are not required to develop free body
diagrams of the structure. Understanding free body diagrams is a major civil engineering concept that
students must learn prior to structural analysis and mechanics of materials courses. Developing and
application of free body diagrams should be enforced during structural analysis and mechanics of materials
courses and unless the professor requires the diagrams, students using the CS Method most often choose
not to draw them. Hence, professors choosing to adopt the CS Method are encouraged to assess their
students ability to develop and use free body diagrams by requiring students to show CS Method table
values on free body diagrams of the structures.

Development of the Continuous Segment Method


Figure 1 shows a simply supported beam loaded by a continuous load w(x), a point load P 0, and a point
moment M0. To derive the differential relationship among external, loading, shear, and bending moment
for the various loadings, first consider a differential element of length dx taken somewhere along the region
of continuous loading as shown in Figure 2(a).

w(x)

P0
M0

x
Figure 1. Simply supported beam with typical continuous and point loadings shown.
Summing forces vertically, the relationship between continuous loading and shear can be obtained,

Fy V w ( x )dx ( V dV ) 0
dV w ( x )dx
or
dV
w(x)
dx
Note that the loading w(x) is defined in Figure 1 as positive downward. Hence, a net upward beam loading
must be treated as a negative loading w(x). Examining the differential element shown in Figure 2(a), it is
apparent that the force w(x)dx does not act directly in the center of the element (i.e., at dx/2 from the right
face), but at some distance kdx from the right face. Keeping this in mind, the relationship among
continuous loading, shear, and bending moment can be obtained by summing moments about the right face
of the differential element.

M Right Face Vdx w ( x )dx (kdx ) M dM M 0


dM Vdx

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

or
dM
V
dx
The term w(x)dx(kdx) above is the product of two differential values and possesses a negligible magnitude
relative to the other terms in the derivation.
w(x)

P0

M+dM
V

M+ M

V+dV
dx
(a)

M0

(b)
dx

V+V

M+ M
V+V

dx
(c)

Figure 2. Differential beam element taken at (a) any location of continuous loading w(x), (b) location of
applied point load P, and (c) location of applied point moment M0..
Next, consider a differential element of length dx taken at the location of the applied point load P 0 as shown
in Figure 2(b). Summing forces vertically, the relationship between an applied point load and change in
shear can be obtained.

Fy V P0 (V V ) 0
V P0
Note that the change in shear follows the applied load. In other words, if a downward point load acts at
some location on a beam, the shear just to the right of the point load is equal to the magnitude of the shear
just to the left of the point load minus the magnitude of the point load. Conversely, if an upward point load
acts on a beam (e.g., a reaction), the shear just to the right of the point load is equal to the magnitude of the
shear just to the left of the point load plus the magnitude of the point load.
The relationship among applied point load, shear, and change in bending moment can be obtained by
summing moments about the right face of the differential element shown in Figure 2(b).
M Right

Face

Vdx P0

dx
M M M 0
2

dx
0
2
When the terms V and P0/2 are multiplied by the differential length dx, they are considered to generate a
negligible change in moment M over the length dx.
M Vdx P0

Finally, consider a differential element of length dx taken at the location of the applied point moment M 0 as
shown in Figure 2(c). Summing forces vertically, the relationship between an applied point moment and
change in shear can be obtained.

Fy V ( V V) 0
V 0

The relationship among applied point moment, shear, and change in bending moment can be obtained by
summing moments about the right face of the differential element shown in Figure 2(c).

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

M Right Face Vdx M 0 M M M 0


M Vdx M 0 M 0
As mentioned in the derivation for point loads, the term Vdx is considered to generate a negligible change
in moment over the length dx.

Application of the Continuous Segment Method for Beams


As the name implies, the CS Method requires that the beam be visually identified as a series of continuous
segments. For statically determinate structures, a continuous segment is defined as a segment of a beam
where the applied loading (including reactions) is continuous. For example the beam in Figure 1 has four
continuous segments. The first segment is from the left support to the end of the continuous load. The
continuous loading over this portion of the beam is satisfied by the loadings description w(x) which means
that the loading is a continuous function of x. The end of the continuous load creates a discontinuity that
requires a new beam segment. The second beam segment is from the end of the continuous load until the
point load is encountered. The nonexistent loading over this range satisfies the continuous loading
requirement by the equation w(x)=0. The point load discontinuity requires a third beam segment that
begins at the location of the point load and ends at the location of the point moment. The nonexistent
loading over this range also satisfies the continuous loading requirement by the equation w(x)=0. The point
moment discontinuity requires a final beam segment from the point moment location to the end of the
beam. The final beam segment also has no loading and w(x)=0.
It should be noted that if the CS method is used to analyze statically indeterminate structures or to generate
equations used to calculate deflections, the definition of continuous segment must be slightly altered. For
such applications, a continuous segment shall be defined as a segment of a beam where the applied loading,
the beams modulus of elasticity, and the beams moment of inertia in the direction of bending are all
continuous. If any of the three beam properties are not continuous over a segment, new segments must be
tagged and used for CS Method analysis. Since the focus of this paper is simplified shear and bending
moment diagrams for statically determinate beams, the previous definition of a continuous segment shall be
used herein.
The steps used in the CS Method are listed below. Following each step, an application example is provided
for the simple beam shown in Figure 3.
12 k

10 ft

10 ft

6k

6k

Figure 3. Example problem used to illustrate steps of the CS Method.

STEP 1: Determine the Minimum Number of Continuous Segments


The first step for CS Method analysis is to identify the minimum number of continuous segments for the
beam. Based on the aforementioned definition of a continuous segment, the minimum number of
continuous segments for the beam shown in Figure 3 is two. The left half of the beam will be labeled
segment one and the right half of the beam will be labeled segment two. The point load in the middle of
the beam is a discontinuity in the otherwise nonexistent beam loading. Hence for the two segments, the
continuous loading is w(x)=0.

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

STEP 2: Create an Analysis Table for Each Segment


The second step is to create a table consisting of two x rows and three columns for each segment. The
label for column one should identify the range of values over which the shear and bending moment for the
segment are to be determined. The range shall be in terms of and not x, where is relative to the left end of
the segment and x is relative to the left end of the entire beam. and x are identical for the first segment
only. The second and third column labels shall provide the location for calculation of shear and bending
moment using equations yet to be obtained. The general labels are =0 and =end where end denotes the end
of the segment. These values are obtained to aid in graphing and to use for subsequent segments of the
beam. For the first segment of the beam in Figure 3, the table headings are provided in Figure 4. For the
second segment of the beam, the table headings are provided in Figure 5. Other equations and values listed
in the table are presented and discussed in steps 3 and 4.

0 x 10 ft
V V0 w ( x ) 6 0 6

@ x 0 @ x 10
6
6

M M 0 V( x ) 0 6 x 6x

60

Figure 4. CS Method table values and appropriate headings for segment one.

0 x 10 ft
@ x 0 @ x 10
V V0 w ( x ) 6 12 6
6
6
M M 0 V ( x ) 60 6 x

60

Figure 5. CS Method table values and appropriate headings for segment two.

STEP 3: Calculate Shear and Bending Moments for Each Segment


The third step is to determine the shear and bending x moment as a function of along the length of
each segment. The shear and bending moment equations should be obtained in order beginning with the
leftmost segment and ending with the rightmost segment. For each segment, the shear V as a function of is
obtained from the following expression.
V V0 w ( x )

x The

term V0 consists of any point load or

reaction applied at the leftmost end of the segment and the final shear value for the previous segment as
obtained from the previous table (if one exists). The term w() is used in lieu of the term w(x) to denote
that the loading is continuous only over the segment and should be defined as a function of .
For the example beam of Figure 3, the shear along segment one is a constant value of 6 as obtained from
the equation above and shown in Figure 4. Note that since the loading is nonexistent, the term with the
integral is 0 and V0 consists only of the leftmost support reaction. However, for segment two, the loading
is also nonexistent but the term V0 is comprised of the point load value of 12 and the previous table value
of 6 resulting in a net V0 = -6 as illustrated in Figure 5.
For each segment, the bending moment M as a function x of is obtained from the following expression.
M M 0 V( x )

x The

term M0 consists of any point moment

applied at the leftmost end of the segment and the final bending moment value for the previous segment as
obtained from the previous table (if one exists). It is important to note that as derived in a previous section,

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

a clockwise applied point moment provides a positive contribution to M 0. The term V() is identical to the
expression above for V since V has been obtained as a function of .
For the example beam of Figure 3, the bending moment x along segment one is found as a linear function
of as shown in Figure 4. Note that there is no applied point moment at the left end of segment one and that
there is no previous table to the one used for segment one. Hence, for segment one, the value for M 0 is
zero. However, for segment two, the term M0 is the previous table value of 60 as illustrated in Figure 5.

STEP 4: Plot Shear and Bending Moment Functions for Each Segment
The final step in the CS Method is to plot shear and x bending moment diagrams as a function of x
along the length of the beam. These plots can be generated readily using table values from the CS Method
and equations for V and M that are generated as a function of as part of the process. The simplest way to
generate the diagrams is to first plot the calculated table values (end reactions) directly on the graph. These
points can then be connected by plotting the shear and moment functions directly from point to point.
Straight vertical lines are used to connect points with the same assigned value of x. These vertical lines
indicate discontinuities in the beam loading. Shear and bending moment diagrams for the beam in Figure 3
are shown in Figure 6.

Application of the Continuous Segment Method for Frames

Results of
Limited Student
Survey

8
6
4
2
0
-2 0
-4
-6
-8

80

10

Moment (k-ft)

Figure 6. Shear and


bending moment
diagrams for the twosegment example.

Shear (k)

For frame analysis, a preliminary step is used to simplify the process. The beam and beam-column
segments making up the frame are isolated so that the end reactions of all members can be obtained from
statics. After obtaining all end reactions, the frame members are treated as individual beams and the
methodology used for beam and frame analysis is identical. An example problem illustrating the CS
Method for frames is provided at the end of this paper.

60
40
15
20

20

25

0
0
Location (ft)

10

20

Location (ft)

To gauge the students opinion of CS Method, anonymous survey results have been obtained from Students
taking CIVL 309 Structural Analysis course at The Citadel. Given the small sample size, nine students,
statistically presenting the results (all in favor of the CS Method) could be misleading. Rather, it is
important to list the general statements made by the students regarding the use of the CS Method.

The CS Method provides a convenient check of results and is easy to follow, understand, and apply.

The CS Method is easy to teach to others.

Calculations using the CS Method require less time and are more straightforward.

There is not enough documentation on the CS Method (several students commented on this).

I would have a much harder time analyzing structures without the CS Method.

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

30

Future literature will present the CS Method as applied to advanced structural analysis concepts such as
indeterminate beams and virtual work. Also, the CS Method will be taught again in the spring of 2004 and
an expected sample size of approximately 25 will be used in the next survey.

Examples Utilizing the Continuous Segment Method


Following the list of references below are examples that illustrate the CS Method for statically determinate
beams and frames. Example problems are provided to show common applications in structural
engineering. A commentary is not provided for each problem. Rather, the reader is encouraged to review
previous sections of this paper prior to working the provided example problems.

References
1.
1.

Hibbeler, Russell C. (2001) Structural Analysis, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Gere, James M. (2002) Mechanics of Materials, Brooks Cole, New York.

2.
Nelson, James K and McCormac, Jack C. (2002) Structural Analysis: Using Classical and Matrix Methods,
John Wiley & Sons, New York.
3.

Hibbeler, Russell C. (2002) Mechanics of Materials, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

4.
Das, Nirmal K. (2001) Teaching Structural Analysis Using MathCAD Software, Proceedings of the 2001
American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
5.
Rojiani, Kamal B. and Schottler, Robert (2000) Java Applets for Structural Analysis, Proceedings of the
2000 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
6.
Holzer, Seigfried M., and Andruet, Raul H. (1999) Learning Statics with Multimedia and Other Tools,
Proceedings of the 1999 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
7.
Lesko, Jack, Duke, Jack Holzer, Seigfried, and Auchey, Flynn (1999) Hands-on-Statics Integration into an
Engineering Mechanics-Statics Course: Development and Scaling, Proceedings of the 1999 American Society for
Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

Example Problem 1
14
12
10
8
6
4
2
0

2 k/ft
50 k-ft

154 k-ft

12 k

7 ft

7 ft

6 ft

0 x 7 ft
@x 0 @x 7
V V0 w ( x) 12 0 12
12
12

M M 0 V( x ) 154 12x

154

10

15

20

25

Location (ft)

70

0
-50

10

15

20

25

-100

0 x 7 ft
V V0 w (x ) 12 0 12

@ x 0 @-150x 7
-200
12
12

M M 0 V( x ) 70 50 12x 120 12x


0 x 6 ft
V V0 w ( x) 12 2x

120

Location (ft)

36

@x 0 @x 6
12
0

M M 0 V( x ) 36 12x x 2

36

Example Problem 2
15

1
w (x ) x
5

2 k/ft

10

1
w (x) 2 x
5

5
0
-5 0

10

20

30

-10

10 k

10 ft

0 x 10

10
ftft

V V0 w ( x ) 10

-15

10 k

1 2
x
10

1
1
M M 0 V( x ) 0 10 x x 3 10 x x 3
30
30

@ x 0 @ x Location
10 (ft)
10

80

0 60
40

66.67

20
0
0

10

20

0 x 10 ft
@ x 0 @ x 10Location (ft)
1
1
V V0 w ( x ) 0 2x x 2 2x x 2
0
10
ASEE
10 Southeast Section
10 Conference 2004
1
M M 0 V( x ) 66.67 x 2 x 3
66.67
0
30

30

Example Problem 3 (Preliminary Step of Isolating Members for Frames)


20 ft
2 k/ft

6 ft

100 k

6 ft

100 k
50 k

10 k

20 ft
2 k/ft
10 k

50 k

600 k-ft
10 k

50 k

600 k-ft
6 ft

100 k

6 ft

100 k
10 k

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

50 k

Example Problem 3 (CS Method for Left Column)


120

10 k

100
80

600 k-ft
6 ft

60
40
20

100 k

0
0

6 ft

10

15

Location (ft)

x
800

100 k

600

10 k

400
200

0 x 6 ft
V V0 w ( x ) 100 0 100

@ x 0 @ x 06
0
100
100

M M 0 V( x ) 0 100 x 100 x
0 x 6 ft
V V0 w ( x ) 100 100 0

10

15

Location (ft)

600

@x 0 @x 6
0
0

M M 0 V( x ) 600 0 600

600

600

Example Problem 3 (CS Method for Beam)

0
-10 0

10

20

30

-20

20 ft
2 k/ft

-30
-40

10 k

50 k

-50

600 k-ft

-60
Location (ft)

0 x 20 ft
V V0 w ( x ) 10 2x

M M 0 V( x ) 600 10x x 2

@ x 0 @ x 20
10

50

600

800
600
400
200
0
0

10

20

Location (ft)

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

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ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004

Timothy Wayne Mays


Dr. Mays came to The Citadel in August of 2002. Prior to his arrival at The Citadel, he worked as an
associate structural engineer for Lindbergh & Associates in Charleston, SC while teaching at The Citadel as
an adjunct professor. He received a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University and specialized in structural/seismic engineering. During his time at Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University, Dr. Mays received numerous regional and national awards such as a National
Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institutes most
outstanding student paper award, and the Universitys most outstanding engineering research award. He
has also been a guest speaker at numerous regional and national organizational meetings discussing current
topics such as antiterrorism, code development, and seismic design.

ASEE Southeast Section Conference 2004