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Literature: Getting Started

How to find information about authors and works of literature, and also literary criticism.

Getting Started

Determine which of the following is the main subject of your research:

  • Author
    • Are you looking for works by the author?
    • Are you looking for works about the author?
  • Work
    • Locating reviews.
    • Locating literary criticism.
    • What is the difference?
  • Literary themes or movements
  • Identify appropriate search terms by browsing a variety of sources:
    • Internet.
    • Books.
    • Electronic books.
    • Library reference databases.
    • Library periodical databases.
  • Effective search terms.
    • Combine terms.  Why combine terms?
      • Combining terms is a step in Boolean algebra.  See the Boolean Machine for visual examples of Boolean searches.
      • Some databases supply the AND for you.  Read search suggestions or HELP before searching a database.
      • Or combine phrases,using the command AND, e.g., “robert frost” AND “criticism.”
        • Combine terms to reduce the number of retrieved items.
        • Combine terms to make the search more relevant.
    • Keep track of which terms you have used and whether they were successful.
      • Write the search terms down.
  • Browse results of your search at each stage to determine if you have found relevant sources.  Retrieved items do not have to be perfect!  You can use relevant portions.
  • Be sure to write down which documents you have used and where you found them, even if you have made a print out or obtained a copy. 
  • Printing out or saving a preliminary MLA citation is a good way to keep track.
  • If necessary, modify your search term(s) and try again.
  • Ask a librarian for help.