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ENGL 1102 Online: Research

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

On this page....

Step 1: Plan your Research

Allow enough time for your research!  Searching for literary criticism may require more technique (and patience) than research projects you have done before.

plannerYou might try one of these research planners to develop a schedule for your assignment and not wait until the last minute:

Which planner do you like better?
DBU: 10 votes (32.26%)
UFV: 21 votes (67.74%)
Total Votes: 31

Step 2: Types of Resources and Where to Find Them

Now think about your topic, or potential topic. Before you plunge in and start searching, think about the types of resources that fit your needs best and where you should look for them. Also consider the types of resources specified in your assignment. The other pages of this guide will help you learn use databases and the library catalog to locate the resources you need. 

Click on the icons next to each type for examples.  They will require the appropriate passwords off-campus.

Emily Dickinson's Vision (connects to ebook in GIL Find)Books/ebooks

        • Good for overview or in-depth analysis of a topic.
        • You may be able to use a chapter or part of a book -- Check the table of contents or index.
        • Many are in e-book form (locate in Library catalog, DISCOVER, or e-book databases), but many are only available in print (locate in GIL-Find catalog).

American Literary Realism (links to JSTOR)Scholarly Journal articles

        • Good for in-depth analysis from a scholarly point of view, including literary criticism.
        • Usually the topic is very specific.
        • Find journal articles online using the DISCOVER Search or search individual research databases in Databases by name A-Z   Print journals may be located in library catalog.  (You cannot find individual articles in the catalog, but you can find the whole journal and the dates included in our collection.)

Toni Morrison article in TIME (connects to GALILEO)Magazines

        • Articles may be general or specific.
        • Usually written for the general reader by journalists.
        • Credibility varies, but are not considered scholarly.
        • May be good sources for background information on an author or topic, but not literary criticism.
        • Use DISCOVER or Databases by name A-Z databases to locate magazine articles. Look for print copies by the magazine title in the library catalog.


New York Time front page connects to article about John Lewis's book, MarchNewspapers

        • Articles tend to be short and specific, often local
        • Written for the general reader by journalists
        • Not considered scholarly
        • Use DISCOVER or Databases by name A-Z to locate. Some are freely available on the web.


Videos/audio  - Rarely a source of literary analysis, but you may find author interviews that provide insight on the work you are studying. Locate in Films on Demand or Research Databases or in the library catalog.

Websites - Generally not a good source for literary criticism, although there are an increasing number of quality sources being published on the Internet.  Beware of Wikipedia, Sparknotes, etc and look for sources that have a respected literary journal or institution sponsoring them.  You may try Google Scholar to find high-quality scholarly sources, but if it asks you to pay, see if you can find the same source for free in our Research Databases or GIL catalog! 

Click on the icons next to each type for examples.  They will require the appropriate passwords off-campus.

Scholarly/ Academic Journals

In scholarly research, it is important to use high quality, reputable sources. Many research databases label articles as being published in either a scholarly journal/academic journal or a magazine/newspaper. What's the difference?

Scholarly Journals Popular Magazines & Newspapers
Articles written by experts in their fields of study. Articles written by journalists.
Reports on in-depth research and analysis. Written for entertainment or lighter information.
Articles usually longer in length. Articles usually shorter in length.
Author's credentials and affiliation stated. Usually a university or research institution. Writer may or may not be identified.
Has extensive citations and references. Might mention information sources in text but has no reference list at end of article.
Usually doesn't contain advertisements (may contain a few directly related to journal subject). Includes advertisements for popular products.

Watch the video below to learn more:


Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources -- In literature, the primary source is the work which you are studying. It is an original work of literature, and does not analyze, interpret or evaluate another work of literature. Here are examples of primary sources:

  • A play: "Othello," by William Shakespeare.  
  • A short story: "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • A poem: "Because I could not stop for death" by Emily Dickinson
  • A novel: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

Secondary Sources -- These works analyze and interpret primary sources. Here are examples of secondary sources:

  • An article from a literary journal that evaluates the roles of women in Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein."
  • A book of essays comparing characters in Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" to characters in her short story "Everyday Use."
  • A line-by-line commentary on T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," noting the poet's influences such as World War I and his friendship with poet Ezra Pound.
  • A book about the representation of mental illness in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

This video below will give you more examples:


Peer-Reviewed Sources

Peer-reviewed sources are sources that have been reviewed by a group of scholarly peers. It usually works in this manner:

  • An author writers their article and submits it to a scholarly journal for publication.
  • The editor of the journal reviewed the article and sends it out to a group of peers. These peers are scholars within their field.
  • These peers read and review the article. They either approve it for publication, suggest not publishing it, or even suggest changes to be made before publication. They then send this information and their recommendation back to the editor.
  • The editor communicates this information to the author. The author makes changes if necessary.
  • The article is publish (or not if the peers suggest not to publish).

Watch the video below to more information:


Step 3: Choose Your Search Terms

Selecting good search terms and combining them effecitively are the keys to successful searching!

The characteristics of your search tool may affect the search terms you choose and how you combine them.  Consider....

Does the search look inside the articles or does it just look at information about the article, like the author, title, and subject terms?

  • If the search function looks inside the articles, your search terms should be words that might be in your ideal article.
    • DISCOVER, Lexis Nexis, CQ Researcher, Bloom's, JSTOR, and Literature Resource Center default to this type of search.
  • If the search function only looks at information about the article -- title, author, subject terms, etc. -- your keywords should be more general.
    •  Library catalog, Academic Search Complete, and some other ESBCO databases default to this type of search.


Search terms should be words that describe the main ideas, author, or title.

You might try putting your research idea in the form of a question, then identify the two or three most important nouns as your search terms.

 Does the search require Boolean operators?

  • Some database searching works like Google -- that is, you can an entire question, and the search engine will know to look for the keywords within the question.
  • Other searches require only proper nouns and Boolean operators. This means you should only be entering nouns and connecting the words with AND, OR, or NOT.

The below examples illustrate some searches using Boolean operators.

I am looking for information about the portrayal of vampires, particularly in Stephanie Meyer's book, Twilight.

Twilight Vampires search

Twilight and vampires

Twilight and Vampires and Meyer

For more information about Boolean operators, selecting search terms and how to use them, see the "More help" box to the right.

Step 4: How to Select Relevant Articles

Now you've got a list of results that fit your criteria for being scholarly, an acceptable date range, etc., how do you judge which are most on-topic?

  • Title -- your keywords in the title are a great sign, but also think in terms of more global subjects. For example, an article called "Hemingway in Spain" might contain something about Hemingway and bullfighting.
  • Subject terms. The subject terms are all major topics of the article.
  • Abstract. The abstract is a summary of the article, so it's a great way to find out what the article is about before reading the whole thing.
  • "Find" function. Use Ctrl+F or look for a search function in a PDF to look for your keywords. Read a brief passage surrounding your keyword to get an idea if the article might be relevant.
  • Skim. Sometimes none of the above give you a clue and you need to skim the article to determine its suitability for your project.

Remember to always consider too the requirements for you assignment. If your instructor has asked only for peer-reviewed articles, make sure the article is peer-reviewed, etc. See the peer-reviewed and the scholarly articles versus popular magazines box for information on figuring out how to tell if an article is what you need.

Practice Exercise

Let's say you're going to do research on Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Black Cat."

  • Go to the Academic Search Complete database. (Use your GSU username and password to log in.)
    • Search for Poe Black Cat and examine your results: How many results did you get?  Do they appear to be on topic?
    • Search for Poe AND Black Cat and examine your results.
    • Search for Poe OR Black Cat and examine your results.
    • Search for Poe NOT Black Cat and examine your results.
  • Try the same searches in the DISCOVER Search. How do these searches compare?
    • Try the above four searches again, this time putting quotation marks around "Black Cat."

Explanation: Academic Search Complete database, by default, requires that you connect search terms that are not exact phrases with AND, OR, and NOT. The GALILEO Discover Search, on the other hand, automatically operates as though you had an "AND" between all your search terms.  Only if you include OR or NOT or put quotes to indicate an exact phrase does the search change.

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