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English 701

A guide to starting your research project

Literary Research

There is a ton of information out there about your research topics for English 701. Where do you even start?!

This guide offers some "best bets" for finding scholarly sources.

It may seem counterintuitive that logging into several different databases to conduct research is more efficient than, say, just Googling it. But in fact, once you know how these databases work, you'll see that they're designed to help you find and evaluate sources much more effectively and quickly! (If you're anything like me, you'll still end up with 50 tabs open at a time, though.)

Different Sources for Different Purposes

You have a great idea for a paper. You've found a fresh, new angle, and you CAN'T WAIT to tell people about it.

So what?

The trick to writing a great paper is the "so-what" of it all: Convincing your readers that your argument matters. How do you do that? By demonstrating how your insights develop on existing ideas, challenge accepted interpretation, and open up new avenues for research--that is, by entering the scholarly conversation.

This means being attentive to the purpose that your sources serve: to help you shape and situate your own argument. And different kinds of resources are organized help you do that in different ways.

The chart below offers one possible path a researcher might take through the network of available resources, using different resources to answer different purposes. In combination, the sources identified through this research process can help the author make the case that their interpretation matters on many different levels.

to establish the relationship to existing literary circles & historical context: get background info from library reference sources and Wikipedia; find mentions of obscure texts or authors in JSTOR


To establish a text's relationship to existing literary circles & historical context:

  • Find background information on Wikipedia and in library reference sources
  • Find mentions of obscure texts or authors in JSTOR (this works because JSTOR is a full-text database rather than an index like MLA, and I'm happy to nerd out with you about that distinction!)
  • Read contemporary reviews in historical newspapers

To identify adjacent scholarly conversations:

  • Search MLA and/or Project Muse for the title of work or name of author; sort the results by publication date and skim the article titles and abstracts to get a sense of general trends and gaps, then begin narrowing the results by adding keywords or limiting the range of publication dates so that you can focus in on the most relevant sources
  • Find mentions of obscure texts or authors in JSTOR and notice the patterns in where they turn up
  • Ask yourself, What what theoretical lenses might apply here? What scholarly key terms are at stake? Conduct keyword search in MLA International Bibliography
  • Use OneSearch to find books, which can often provide a broader overview of current scholarship

To connect a text to adjacent literary & historical conventions and history of genre:

  • Use OneSearch to find books, which can often provide a broader overview of a particular time period or genre and help establish the stakes of your argument for the field
  • Find reviews to establish reception history and find primary sources to establish historical context
  • Ask yourself, how does this text disrupt genre? What scholarly reframing needs to be done to explain these disruptions?

Citation Managers

You're using a lot of sources at this point! You might want to consider using a citation manager to keep track of them (and to generate bibliographies automatically).

Further Resources

Can't find what you're looking for? "Find It! at CUNY" doesn't actually, well, find it? That's OK! We have agreements with other libraries to get you the resources you need.