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ENGL 1102 Lit Crit (Breedlove): Research Strategy

Introduction to Literary Criticism using For Students, Gale Literature, and Bloom's.

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 an article, so that'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.  Reading 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.

Choose your search terms and how to use them.

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, Opposing Viewpoints, CQ, 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.
    •  GIL-Find, Academic Search Complete, and most 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 searches work like Google -- that is, you can enter some search terms and the search engine will look for all of those search terms in the results.  The  more search terms you add, the more specific your search will be.
  • Other searches require Boolean operators.  That means it will look for the exact phrase that you enter in the search box unless you connect the terms with AND, OR, or NOT.

These 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.

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

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 or suggestions for additional reading.

Watch this video to find out 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.
  • An book about the representation of mental illness in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

This video will give you more examples: