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Literatures in English Research Guide

The following is intended as a general guide to research in literature.

Why Articles?

Articles represent shorter, more focused works of criticism. Because they can be published more quickly than books, they are often more recent.  Also, it is often easier to search for an article about a particular work than a book about the same work, because articles have a narrower scope than books do.

Literature-Specific Databases

These databases have special features designed specifically to help you search for criticism on literary works. 

Interlibrary Loan

Full-Text Collections

These collections have very few special search features, but they do allow you to search for the word(s) you want throughout the entire text of all the articles in the collection.

Related Databases

These databases aren't specific to literature, but they are important in related fields and may be of use. 

Finding Articles in Literature-Specific Databases

Searching by Work

In the databases, you can search for a particular work rather than an author.

Some databases (especially MLA International Bibliography) allow you to specify that you are searching for the title of a work.

Name of Work search in MLA International Bibliography

Use Name of Work to look for criticism on a a work of literature (for instance, Beloved).  

This gets you everything MLA has about the work, and only results related to that work.

Searching by Literary Author

There are some circumstances in which Person--About works better:

  • For poetry, as individual poems often aren't included in the index
  • For contemporary authors
  • When multiple works have the same or similar titles and you need to specify which one you want

Note that it's "person" instead of "author" -- you can also use this search for directors, illustrators, or others who contributed to a work.

Searching by Keyword

If there are too many results, you can add a Keyword.  It's a good idea to look at the headings of the results you have already retrieved when choosing keywords. In MLA especially, I would advise you to brainstorm as many keywords as you can related to the idea you want. Join them together using the word OR. 

Finding Articles in Full-Text Collections

Full Text Search Strategies

In JSTOR and other full-text databases, you  can find all the articles that use a specific set of words, but you cannot specify that you are searching for the title of a literary work.

Quotation Marks

You can compensate for this by using quotation marks around the title, like this: 

"Raisin in the Sun" 

This will bring you more specific results than the same search without quotation marks. 

The same approach also works for other words you want to search as a phrase.

Search Terms

When you are searching a full-text database, it is important to know which words authors are likely to use.  Look through your readings to make sure you are using the most likely terms. 

Note that different authors may use different terms to describe the same phenomenon.


Limiting by date can be really important, especially in JSTOR, which includes a lot of older material.