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ENGL 1102 Online: Search Tips
for Lit Crit

Research literary and non-literary topics using electronic and print sources. Also offers citation guidelines.

Search Strategy for Literary Criticism or Author Biography

Where do I look ?

  • Articles from the "For Students" series, available as ebooks or in print, are often a great place to start.
    • Articles include an author biography, a summary of the work, themes, historical context, and some criticism. 
    • Find "For Students" articles in  the GIL-Find catalog or go directly to the GVRL database.
      Video demo: Finding "For Students" articles in GVRL (3:30 -YouTube)
    • When searching in GIL-Find, enter the name of your work and the author as search terms, then narrow to electronic format.
    • Not ALL works are included in the For Students series, so if yours isn't, just move on. 
  • As a next step, try looking in the GIL-Find catalog if you prefer print resources or e-books.  For electronic resources, look in Bloom's and/or Literature Resource Center databases.  
  • Look in the other recommended databases to round out your research.

For more information about using these resources, look at the appropriate pages of this guide.

Learn from your results, revising your search terms and strategy as you go. 

Search Tips for Literary Criticism

Search Tip #1: Search Terms

  • Use the Author's name as a search term.  Try various formats:
    • F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Fitzgerald, F. Scott
    • Scott AND Fitzgerald
  • Use the name of the work as a search term
    • No results? Try looking for the title in the full text of the article.
    • Wrong results? Try quotes, e.g. "As You Like it" or "Power and the Glory"
  • Use the word, criticism, as a search term
  • Use your topic as a search term, e.g. bullfighting
    • No results? Try looking within the full text of the article.
    • Try synonyms

Search Tip #2: Know what you're searching

  • Full text - Many databases look for your search terms within the full text of the articles. 
    •  To get more specific results, add more terms.  If you're not getting enough results, use fewer search terms or more general search terms (for example, "music" instead of "jazz.")
  • Item Record -- GIL Catalogs and EBSCOHost databases look for your search terms within the author, title, subject terms, and descriptors of the item, but do not look within the text of the item itself. 
    • You may be able to use a drop-down box to look within the article (the part that says "TX All text") for some terms, like this:

hemingway and bullfighting

Search Tip #3: Become more powerful with Advanced Search and Drop-Down boxes

  • Advanced Search options give you much more control over your search
  • Drop Down boxes can help you look for your search terms as only the title, author, or subject term. 
  • You may be able to use the drop-down box to change a search from an Item Record search to a full text search.
  • Drop Down boxes may change the type of search from All your search terms to Any of your search terms

Search Tip #4: When is an author not an author?

  • The author you are researching is the SUBJECT of your research -- sometimes you can select "Person about"
  • The person who wrote the article/book about the author is the AUTHOR of the article
  • Similarly, when you search for TITLE, be aware if the search function will look for the title of the article or the title of the work you are researching.

For example, if you are looking for an article about the playwright, August Wilson, "August Wilson" is the subject of your search.  If you are looking for a play written by August Wilson, August Wilson is the Author.

Search Tip #5: Narrow to Scholarly Sources

  •  Narrow your results to Scholarly Sources (Academic Journals, Scholarly Journals, etc.) when appropriate
  • JSTOR and some other databases only have scholarly sources so there is no scholarly journals limiter. 
  • If you're not sure, read the description of the database in Databases A-Z.

Search Tip #6: Whether or not to use Boolean Operators

  • In EBSCOHost, the default search assumes your search is an exact phrase unless the words are connected with the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT
  • Many other databases automatically assume you mean "AND" for your search terms
  • Drop Down boxes may change the type of search from All your search terms to Any of your search terms

Here's an example of a complex search that uses Boolean operators:



Practice Exercise

The links below will take you to interactive practice exercises using the databases, MLA International Bibliography and Gale Literary Sources. They will take you to the live database and walk you through an exercise so you can practice search strategies. They may open in a new window.

Screenshot from Gale Literary Sources tutorial

Check for Understanding

Literature Research Playlist

YouTube icon

Advanced Search Techniques