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ENGL 151L: Literature: ENGL 151L: A. Carpenter

Need to write a research paper about a short story, poem, play, or novel? Use this guide to find library sources!

Students in Professor Allison Carpenter's ENGL 151L classes can use this page for help finding their 3 secondary sources for their literary analysis project (research proposal, annotated bibliography, and essay).  

Below, you can learn more about or review:

  • Approaches to literary research
  • Information sources you might choose to use
  • Troubleshooting and extending your research
  • Suggested library databases and websites
  • Search tricks common across databases
  • MLA citation style and formatting
  • Annotated bibliographies

Refer to your ENGL 151L course in Blackboard for complete assignment instructions, guidelines, additional help resources, and any presentation slides from the library class sessions.

Approaches to Literary Research

Literary research can be different than other research you may have done before and you may need to adjust your strategy and approach. The following questions and considerations might help you get in the right mindset before you begin to look for information.

What about your primary text and its themes or characters intrigues you? What can you explore within it or have to say about it? Start with your own ideas about your text and topic you want to focus on. Write them down. Don’t lose track of your original thoughts as you begin to search for secondary sources and layer on others’ ideas. 

Don't expect that others have written on your topic or written exactly what you hope to write about it. With literature especially, the more information available about the work, the harder it is to analyze it in a new way or add something original to the conversation surrounding it. 

Your ideas are the primary text are most important and the primary text is the one you will be citing and using most. Information from your secondary sources supplements your ideas, but your ideas should be the focus of your essay. 

Information Sources You Might Choose to Use

Your primary text (Fences or a poem of your choice) will be the most important source you use for these assignments, but you will also need to cite secondary sources.

Choose secondary sources related to the topics or ideas you are exploring from your primary text, but remember that two of your sources should be scholarly, peer-reviewed and the remaining source used should be credible. 

Within these guidelines, you can use a few different types of information sources, including 

  • Scholarly, peer-reviewed sources such as literary criticism or critical essays, books or book chapters, research studies, or journal articles

  • Credible sources such as reference articles, biographies, interviews, magazine articles, or websites

Troubleshooting and Extending Your Research

Problem: Nobody has written any literary criticism about your text or topic or you found some literary criticism but not enough. 

What to do: Rely on the primary text and supplement ideas with sources that support or comment on related ideas.

This might mean looking for criticism about other works by the author for ideas that you think also apply to your text. It might mean criticizing someone's viewpoint and making a different argument about the text.

But you can also extend your research in other ways and broaden your searches by thinking about what the work might be saying or the issues that it might be responding to. How does the author's life (biographical information), time-period the work was written during (historical information), or themes (social or cultural information or theoretical or practical research) connect to the text and your interpretation of it? The good thing about this problem is that your research will be original.

Suggested Library Databases and Websites

During class, your librarian demonstrated searches in these library databases, which contain literary criticism, critical essays, and biographical information for authors and poets:

But you could also search another subject-specific database for other information sources that fit for the topics and themes you want to focus on from a historical or social context. These databases might be helpful:

Use the library's Database list and the subject filter there to identify others that might be especially useful for your topic. Our NCC Libraries YouTube channel has tutorial videos demonstrating searches in many of our databases. 

In addition, if you are working with a poem or poet and looking specifically for literary criticism, the Modern American Poetry website is the best internet source to use. There may be other credible internet sources you can use for other information about your topic as well. 

Search Tricks Common Across Databases

Common Search Tricks (with your keywords)

  • combine or mix and match search keywords using AND or OR (ex. nature and beauty, son or daughter and parent relationships)
  • search for phrases by grouping the words in the phrase in quotation marks (ex. "natural beauty"
  • use * as a wildcard to catch variations of words (ex. relat* will extend the search to relate, relatives, relationships, relating, and more)

Common Search Results Filters:

  • Source Type
  • Full-Text
  • Scholarly Peer Reviewed

Search Keyword Reminders

  • single words or phrases
  • main ideas
  • words with a lot of meaning
  • related words or synonyms
  • specific examples
  • smaller ideas

Evaluating Information Sources

For literature research, the following factors will likely be the most important for you to consider as you try to decide if a source is credible and appropriate for academic research. Of course, these factors (and their importance) may vary depending on the specific topic you have chosen and how you are using the information as well. 

Authority - the source of the information.
Who is the author or publisher?
What are their credentials or organizational affiliations? Is the author qualified to write on the topic? If that information isn't on the source itself, are you able to find it with additional searches for it?

Accuracy - the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the information.  
Is the information supported by evidence? Has it been reviewed? Does the author credit or cite other's sources and ideas? Can you verify any of the information in another source or from your existing personal knowledge?  Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors? Is the information current or outdated?

Relevance The importance of the information for your needs. 
Is it useful to you? 
Does it relate to your topic or answer your questions? Is the source at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced or technical for your needs)? Is it the best source of the ones you found, not just the first source you found?

Purpose - The reason the information exists.  
Is it intended to
 inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? Who is the intended audience? Is the information fact or opinion? Is the information false and being shared to deliberately harm someone or something? It is false and being shared to incite hatred or otherwise strong emotional reaction? Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?  Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? Does it show the topic from multiple viewpoints? Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases? 

MLA Citation and Formatting

MLA format is the citation style created by the Modern Language Association, is used often in English, in other language studies, and in the humanities. It requires in-text citations (sometimes known as parenthetical citations) within the body of your paper and a Works Cited list that includes all your sources at the end of the paper. 

Some sources provide a suggested citation for you to use. The library's databases may also provide citations for sources you find in them. But these should only be used as a starting point, as they may not be entirely accurate. They often include too many elements, miss elements, or are formatted incorrectly (they might be missing hanging indents, italicization, or double-spacing). It is your responsibility to check the accuracy of your citations before submitting research papers or other class assignments. 

If your professor has given specific instructions about how citations should be formatted for their assignments, always follow those instructions. Otherwise, below are some guidelines and examples of MLA in-text parenthetical citations and Works Cited citations for sources you are likely to encounter with literature research. You can learn more about MLA and see our recommended help resources on the library's Citing Sources page as well.

Formatting examples

Critical Essay from a Collection, but originally published in another source, found in an Online Database

Author Last Name, First Name. "Title of Essay." Name of Collection or Book, edited by First Name, Last Name, Volume number, Name of Publisher, Year Published. Name of Online Database, URL. Date of Access (Day, Month, Year.) Originally published in Journal Name, Volume number, issue number, Publication Date, page numbers. 

Scott, Nathan A., Jr. "Elizabeth Bishop: Poet without Myth." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, edited by Janet Witalec, vol. 121, Gale, 2002. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 3 Apr. 2021. Originally published in Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 60, no. 2, Spring 1984, pp. 255-275.


An Article in an Online Database

Author Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal or Publication, Volume number, Issue number, Publication Date (Day, Month, Year), page numbers. Name of Database, DOI or URL. Optional Access Date (Day, Month, Year).

Costello, Bonnie. “Response to Alicia Ostriker.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 30, no. 3, 1989, pp. 465–469. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Apr. 2021.


Interview on YouTube

Interviewee Last Name, First Name. Title of the Video. Title of Container. Uploaded by Person or Show Name. Date of upload (Day, Month, Year), URL.

Ostriker, Alicia. NYS Poet Alicia OstrikerYouTube. Uploaded by New York State Writers Institute. 15 May 2020,

Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, periodicals, and websites) used in researching a topic, with a brief (usually a short paragraph) summary and/or evaluation included with each source. This evaluation is called an annotation. 

Bibliographies sometimes differ from a Works Cited list in that they might list all potential sources a researcher may have read, whether they are referred to in the paper or not. Works Cited lists only include sources actually cited in the paper.

Your professor may have specific instructions for how they want you to structure your annotated bibliography, what sources should be included, and what they want you to include in the annotations. Always use those instructions for guidance. 

Here's an example of what an entry on an annotated bibliography typically looks like:


Note: The sample citation included here is not formatted according to MLA 8th edition. 

The NCC Learning Center has a helpful handout explaining the details of annotated bibliographies, and Online Writing Lab at Purdue University also has helpful tips: