Dr. Alex E. Blazer Curriculum Vita Teaching Portfolio

Literary Research Methods


Primary Texts

Secondary Texts


Journal Articles

Searching Databases

Locating Journals


Web Sources

Subject Guides

Subject Directories

Search Engines


This handout will help you find scholarly journal articles, books, and book chapters using Minerva and the article databases available on the University Libraries Homepage. 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 than analysis.

1. Books

At U of L, all searches for books and book chapters begin with Minerva, the online catalogue accessed on the University Libraries Homepage.

a. Primary Texts

b. Secondary Texts

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 here.


For 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:

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:

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 the University Libraries Homepage.

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 web.

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.

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.