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Literatures in English Research Guide

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

Why this guide?

Close reading depends very heavily on paying close attention to the text in front of you. 

It does not require the use of outside sources, including the work of other literary critics. 

However, there are still some library resources you may want to consider using. 

Resources for Close Reading

Why use the OED?

The OED is not just a list of definitions but a historical record of the English language.  It compiles senses from throughout the life of a word.

This means that you can use it to find out what a word meant at the time it was used, and how it's changed since then. 

What's in the OED?

  • Definitions
  • Quotations showing uses of the word in context
  • Timelines showing when different kinds of words were adopted into English
  • Fascinating blogs about language in time

Are there any guides to using the OED?

Try the help file and information pages

I find the list of abbreviations particularly helpful.

Literary dictionaries can help you to:

  • Identify something as a particular type of work
  • Better understand the conventions of a genre
  • Make sense of literary terms you may have seen used to refer to a work
  • Give you a better understanding of an author

Author-Specific Reference Works

Many authors have dictionaries and encyclopedias devoted to them specifically. These works may do several different things:

  • Explain references in an author's work
  • Give a fuller explanation of recurring concepts 
  • Provide biographical information about an author's associates, locations, etc
  • Give overviews of the criticism on particular works

Author-specific reference works can be found in the Reference section of the Library (Floor #3) or online. 

To find them, search for the author as subject in the catalog and look for subheadings like "encyclopedias."


Biographies can give you a sense of where the author was coming from and what was going on during her or his life.

Critical biographies are especially good, because they look specifically at an author's work and how biography may have influenced it. 

You may also want to search for book-length biographies of authors. These could be print or electronic.