Literary Research Methods
This handout will help you find scholarly journal articles, books, and book
chapters using Minerva and the article databases available on the University
It will also help you find authoritative and scholarly websites using online
subject directories, guides, and search engines. You should always use
scholarly journal articles and books in a research paper because these constitute
appropriate research in all venues. However you should not use websites
in research unless your instructor explicitly allows and your assignment
prompt directly calls for them because websites generally offer context rather
At U of L, all searches for books and book chapters begin with Minerva,
the online catalogue accessed on the University
a. Primary Texts
- Author Search: If you want to search for primary texts by an author,
input the author's last name then first name, separated by a comma, into an
Author search. For example, entering O'Neill, Eugene into an Author search
will return original works written by O'Neill himself.
- Title Search: If you want to search for primary texts, that is, works
of literature (novels, shorts story collections, books of poetry, plays, films,
albums), input the title of the work into a Title search with quotation marks
around the title. For example, entering "Long Day's Journey into Night"
will return all editions of the play that the library has.
b. Secondary Texts
- Subject Search: If you want to search for secondary texts, that
is, works of scholarly criticism written about the author or primary text,
enter the author (last name, first name) into a "Browse Subjects" search.
This retrieves a list of works that the library has already organized for
that particular author. For example, Arthur Miller has his own subject
catagory that is subdivided into different catagories, including his major
- Keyword Search: If the subject search doesn't offer many results,
then try a Keyword search. Inputting the author's name (first name and last
name in quotation marks) or the work's title (in quotation marks) will retrieve
books that have that exact phrase somewhere in the title, table of contents,
or subject, The Keyword search will yield both secondary texts about the
author or work as well as primary texts by the author or on the work.
- Records Options: The table at the bottom of the results page allows
you either to email the results of your search to yourself or to save your
search to be retrieved later using your library card number.
2. Journal Articles
Journals are scholarly publications that are issued two to four times a year.
Journal articles are extensive, sometimes book chapter-length essays written
by scholars in the field. Therefore, journal articles should not be confused
with magazine and newspaper articles, which are short essays written by non-academics
on deadline. Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, refrain from using
magazine and newspaper articles as sources in a literary research paper. There
are two steps in the process of researching journal articles. First, you must
search article databases for articles; and, second, you must locate the journals
that contain the articles.
a. Searching Article Databases
To search for journal articles, use the links under the Articles heading
on the University
Libraries Homepage. Note: If you are using an ISP other than UofL's,
you must login to
verify that you are affiliated with UofL to use the licensed databases discussed
all types of literature (poetry, drama, fiction, film), click Article
databases by topic and then, on the following page of topics, click Literature
and Languages. The databases that will be of most use to you, listed
in order of size and importance (in other words, in the order in which
you should use them), are:
- Literature Online: Incorporates the Annual Bibliography of English
Language and Literature (ABELL), JSTOR, and the MLA International Bibliography
into its index, accesses over 150 full-text journals, and provides full-text
of over 350,000 English and American poems and play. Click on "Criticism
and reference," then proceed with your Keyword or Author/Subject search.
- ABELL: A database much Like MLA (see below), but smaller
- JSTOR: Searchable database of over 300 scholarly journals in
the humanities alone. Even more in other disciplines.
- MLA International Bibliography: A database of over 3000 journals.
Input the author and/or the title of the work you're researching (inside
quotation marks) into a Keyword search. Results include journal articles,
book chapters, and dissertations.
- Dissertation Abstracts International: Unless you're working
on senior research with a lot of time to obtain these, it's safe to disregard
- Book Reviews: Book reviews are not journal articles; rather
than using a book review as a source, you should obtain the book
- NOTE: There are two ways to access the MLA International Bibliography,
and these two ways provide different search parameters and thus
search results. Therefore, I advise you to search MLA both ways.
- Literature Online > Criticism and Reference: Searching MLA
through Literonline Provides some full-text results; however,
users cannot limit the results to books and journals.
- MLA International Bibliography: Searching MLA as its own individual
database (from the article databases list on UofL Libraries)
allows advanced control of one's search; however, no results
provide full-text links.
- Humanities Index: A much smaller database than MLA, but nonetheless
- Project Muse: Searchable list of over 200 scholarly journals now
- EBSCO Academic: Also known as Academic Search Premier, this database
covers a broad range of periodicals, not all of them academic or literary.
If you use this database, be sure to "Limit your results" by "Scholarly
(Peer Reviewed) Journals." Also make sure to use only the literary journals.
When researching theatre, film, or television, you should also try Article
databases by topic and then choose Theatre
/ Performing Arts from the topics page. The most useful database is:
- International Index of Performing Arts: Indexes
journals on theatre, film, and the performing arts. Many full text articles,
but be wary of film and play reviews. Journal articles are always preferable
Here are two good databases available outside
of the library's site and on the internet.
b. Locating Journals
After you have found the listings for journal articles within the article
databases, you must retrieve the articles. Although some listings have links
to the full-text of the articles provided online, most journals are available
only in print. However, like books, UofL does not possess every journal listed
in the article databases. To determine if UofL owns the journal, input
the title of the journal from which the journal article comes into a Journal
Title search in Minerva on
3. Web Sources
The web offers scores of academic and scholarly websites devoted to giving
biographical and background information on all genres and periods of literature.
However, even the most scholarly and authoritative sites do not provide the
kind of rigorous analysis and interpretation that a journal article or book
does; therefore, you should use websites if and only if your instructor and
assignment specifically allow them. Note to English 102, 312, and 491
students in my spring 2006 classes: none of your assignments allow web sources.
The following kinds of sites—subject
directories, subject guides, search engines—are organized from the most
academic and most specific to the least. The first place to start
web source research for an academic project is with a subject directories,
the last place is with search engines.
a. Subject Guides in Literature
Expert subject guides focus on specialized information within a field or group
of fields, and are usually maintained by experts within those fields. Such
sites make no attempt to catalog the entire web and are necessarily dependent
on the expertise and judgment of whomever runs the site. However, a good subject
guide can be an invaluable resource for focused academic research because the
site operator has annotated the best sources for a particular field on the
Lynch's Literary Resources on the Net:
A searchable links collection of scholarly sites ranging all areas of literary
studies, from classical to hypertextual. A good place to start one's investigation
of a period or discipline.
- Voice of the Shuttle:
The web page for not only literary research, but the rest of the humanities
as well. It's general sources sections highlights everything from conducting
web searches for scholarly materials and finding colleague emails to style
guides and conference in the humanities.
b. Subject Directories
After searching a subject guide, the next place to go is a subject directory.
Subject directories are sites which categorize not just one discipline, but
any number of fields. Moreover, they some are not necessarily academic and
are not maintained by people intimate with the field. Moreover, some links,
especially in commercial sites, are actually paid to the subject directory
for placement. The benefit of such sites is that they do allow simple searches
within them. If a subject guide is a specialty boutique, then a subject directory
is shopping center.
Innumerous subject pages that organize literature by period, genre, language,
and so forth, thus allowing easy access to the basic sites. Allows searches
within the website as well on the web entire.
- Academic Info:
Rich selection geared toward college and research users; somewhat limited
advanced searching features. No language and literature section.
From the Libraries of the University of California University, over 16,000
pages compiled by academic librarians; excellent annotations; some advanced
- Librarians' Index to the
Small but high-quality collection of sites compiled by public librarians;
excellent annotations; good advanced search features.
Another extensive subject guide, although commercial. Use with extreme caution.
c. Search Engines
Search engines are massive databases of web pages compiled and updated by
automated programs called "spiders." Spiders catalog the content of web pages
word by word and trace connections among these pages link by link and report
these results back to a central database. Although search engines are thorough,
they have no editorial refinement. Therefore,
if a word appears on a page, then that page would be generated on the search,
regardless of the overall context of the page. If one looks up "Emily Dickinson" in
a search engine, then pages found in the subject guides and directories will
come up, but so too will commercial sites trying to sell her books and fan
sites that merely list her on a links page. Moreover, some search engines,
because they are commercial sites, rank search results according to paid sponsorship.
Others rank search results by popularity. In either case, the results are not
ranked by quality. Use search engines with extreme caution, and utilize as
many Boolean terms and advanced search modes as you can to limit the results.
Allows Boolean terms in Advanced Search Mode.
Ranks by popularity; allows Boolean terms in Advanced Search Preferences.
Recommended for academic research, allows Boolean terms.