This guide is intended to help students with research assignments in American Literature I & II courses. This page will help you as you prepare or begin to research your topic.
Use the other pages of this guide to see highlighted library materials, for help finding sources in the library's collections, to see suggested internet resources, and for help with MLA citation.
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Before you start searching for information, think about what information you need. Do you need information about an author, poet, or playwright? Information about historical or cultural events and social conditions that may have influenced or inspired their work? Are you exploring the themes that may be common or connect to other works by the same or another author? Do you need literary criticism and analysis about a poem, short story, play, or novel?
Which sources, and library resources, you use will depend on your answer to this question and your specific information needs. Refer to the assignment guidelines and prompt your instructor has given you for guidance about what information you are looking for and will need to include in your paper or project.
Your searches may be very straightforward depending on what topic you are trying to find information on. Are you looking for information about an author? It's likely you will search using their name. About a specific work? You may be searching using its title. About an idea, theme, or event? You will need to choose keywords using the main, meaningful words or phrases that describe or represent that idea.
Your assignment may direct you to use certain types of sources and not others. One of the source types you are likely to use (depending on your assignment and prompt) is literary criticism. Literary criticism is the evaluation, analysis, description, or interpretation of literary works. It is usually published in the form of a critical essay. Criticism may examine a particular literary work or may look at an author’s writings as a whole.
The library's resources are the best ones to use to find literary criticism, but you may also be able to use some internet resources and websites if you've determined the source and information to be credible and appropriate for academic research, and your instructor's instructions allow you to. You may also have a need to use other sources like books, eBooks, streaming video, reference articles, magazine articles, or research articles from journals. Think about your topic, your prompt, what information you need, and where it is likely to be as you start to look for and gather sources.
The nature of literary criticism will likely lead you to scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. You're likely to encounter them as you search, even if you aren't necessarily looking for them.
What does peer-reviewed / scholarly mean? It means the work (usually a book or article) is:
The words are usually interchangeable and refer to the same types of sources. Some professors may only desire research articles and analyses when they use the terms scholarly or peer-reviewed, but books can also be scholarly or peer-reviewed, especially when published by university presses. Be sure to ask them if you are not sure what they want.
Research is a process -- one where it's easy to overlook or underestimate the first few beginning steps. Taking the time to think about your topic, to brainstorm possible search keywords, to gather some basic or background information, and to identify the types sources you will be looking for often sets you up for success later and can help you avoid frustration or getting stuck.