Library Research Guide : Literature
Literary criticism involves the discussion, analysis and appraisal of a literary work –whether a poem, play, novel, short story or essay.
This guide offers suggestions for organizing your research and contains selected subject specific resources available at Okanagan College Library and via the internet. It is intended to provide a starting point for literary criticism, sufficient for basic research needs.
For more extensive guidance, contact your Library Reference Desk.
Note: Most online resources listed in this guide are licensed for use by OC students and faculty, and are accessible from campus labs, offices and at Library Information Commons. Off-campus access is possible, provided you have a valid Okanagan College ID number (student or employee) or Library card number and pin.
Step 1. Getting Started! Define your Topic
If your topic is “ Is Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello racist or not? “
You might come up with the following keywords for your searches:
Shakespeare and Othello and race
racism; colour & racial difference; racial prejudice(s), discrimination; race relations
portrayal, depiction, treatment; character, disposition
If you have trouble thinking of synonyms, check a dictionary or encyclopedia (general or on literature) to find new terminology.
Using the example above,
The topic above could be broadened by substituting keywords like:
Shakespeare - political & social views - society England 16th century, 17th century Shakespeare drama - social aspects, politics
Step 2: Begin your Research
Looking in Reference Sources
Reference Sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks and manuals. They are invaluable research tools for helping you define your topic as well as for finding biographical information and for bibliographies and even full-text of, critiques of authors’ works.
They are often shelved in the Reference Section of any library. OC Library also subscribes to online reference sources that can be searched via the internet.
This will provide you with an overview and definition of your topic and often bibliographies of further resources to check.
To find them, do a Subject Browse search on the Library Catalogue entering words like literature and dictionaries
Provides access to key Oxford dictionaries and reference works for literary research.
Click on Search within a subject and select Literature
Then search or browse within the key literary titles listed e.g. Concise Oxford Companion series to national literatures, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Dictionary of Writers & their Works
On the Library Catalogue, look for biography as you search your author’s name or more generally under national literatures, genres or time periods
A comprehensive multi-volume biographical dictionary of individuals who have contributed to American, British, Commonwealth and Modern European literature. Volumes are organized by topic, period and/or genre. A cumulative index appears at the end of each volume. Watch at the end of each entry for the useful lists of references you can follow-up.
Tip! Use Gale Literary Index publicly available on the internet to quickly identify which DLB volume covers your author
Tip! Search the publicly available Gale Literary Index via the internet. It is the master index to help you identify where your author’s works may be covered in Gale’s major literary reference sets (see below for some key titles).
These might be in print on library Reference shelves and/or online in Gale Literary Databases.
With each print set on the Reference shelves, you can also look up your author/title in annual or cumulative index volumes
Literary Criticism: from 1400 to 1800 (LC), Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism (NCLC), Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (TCLC), or Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC).
Drama Criticism (DC), Poetry Criticism (PC), Short Story Criticism (SSC)
Use the Library Catalogue to find a bibliography, by entering a Subject Browse search, using words like American Literature or the author’s name and looking for the sub-heading, bibliographies
Literary Index [internet]
An index of the authors and works covered in Gale's literary reference book series which OC Libraries hold variously in print on their Reference Shelves or as online databases . Search by author or title.
Step 3. Find Books
To find the works written by literary writers
Tip! Remember to type the last/family name first
To find critical material on an author of a literary work
Tip! To get readily to the different aspects of your author’s work, use Subject Browse . (A Librarian can help you think of the best subject words )
For more general discussions of literary genres, periods or themes
Tip! Check the location and status of any useful item, as well as noting it’s call number, author and title. You can request items from other OC campus libraries, right where you are in the catalogue!
Browsing the Library Shelves
Call Numbers are used to organize items on the Library shelves by subject. Literature and literary criticism are shelved in the P section.
Useful call numbers to browse are:
PN General History of Literature by Period & Genre
PR English Literature
PR 8309-9680 International Literature in English
PS American Literature
PS 8001-8599 Canadian Literature
PT European Literature
When browsing, remember that at each call number section
§ A good investigator follows up leads! Be sure to check the bibliography or chapter references of any book for other useful citations
§ Be flexible! If you find little or no critical material on a particular author’s work, consider looking at criticism of their other work, or their style or technique or themes. Then make connections to the work you are examining.
Step 4. Find Articles
Online Article Indexes
Using an index or abstract in literature, you can find citations for literary criticism articles published in scholarly (“academic” or “peer-reviewed”) journals, popular magazines and newspapers.
Complete articles (full-text) are often included, when you look up online indexes and databases !
Most online article databases listed below are licensed for use by OC students and faculty, and are widely accessible on campus and at Library Information Commons. Access off-campus is possible, provided you have a valid Okanagan College student number or Library card number and pin.
Click the links below or from the Find Articles link on the Library page.
Tip! You can be even more specific as the number of articles in these databases is huge! Remember those ways to narrow your search.
Best Bets !
Subject coverage: Literary Criticism & Biographies
Description: Full-text biography and criticism of more than 120,000 authors. Includes such titles as Contemporary Authors and Contemporary Literary Criticism
Subject coverage: Language & Literature; Linguistics; Folklore
Description: Citations and abstracts for more than 4,400 scholarly journals, books, book chapters and dissertations. Follow links to find full-text in online journal collections such as JSTOR.
Citations for 400 popular and scholarly journals covering humanities topics, including literature and literary criticism. Includes access to full-text articles
A large multidisciplinary index including full-text from literary journals
For researching more articles on Canadian literature,
refer to the Library’s Canadian Literature : Library Research Guide (under construction)
For more Book Reviews, select under General / All Subjects
A comprehensive listing of book reviews including millions of citations and 630,000 full text reviews published in newspapers, popular and academic journals since 1965. Including reviews of literary and critical works.
Tip! If no full-text is immediately available in the database you are searching, click on Where can I get this article?
A search will be automatically performed across all OC Library subscribed databases and the Library Catalogue to find full-text in either online or print versions.
If none is found, you will be prompted to consider inter-library loan from other libraries, should you have patron privileges & sufficient time.
Step 5. Find e-Journals
OC Library subscribes to access full-text of important scholarly journals via the internet. e-Journals in the fields of arts, humanities and literature can be searched or browsed via such archive databases as: [add hyperlinks]
To find e-Journals on a literary subject
If you already know a particular journal title or a specific article citation from it
Tip! Use these online journal collections after you have searched online indexing & abstracting databases for articles.
For example, use MLA International Bibliography (found on the OC Library webpage under Find Articles) to search for your topic. You can do a more refined search than in the e-journal archives like JSTOR. As you choose relevant citations to journal articles, click on where can I get this article? The system will bring up the full-text of articles if they are held in JSTOR, Project Muse or Oxford University Press Journals archives.
Step 6. Find Web Resources
Tip! Don’t believe everything you read!
There is a growing amount of reliable, scholarly information available on the publicly accessible Web. There is also a growing amount of information of dubious quality. So it is a good idea to exercise caution and judgment when using the open Web, as it is when referring to any source of information.
Evaluate web sources very carefully for their accuracy, authority and currency.
More on evaluation criteria to help you:
University of California Berkeley Library “Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask” http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html
Use our Web Search from the OC Library webpage Research links menu to locate credible materials on the internet using search engines and subject directories, and with focus on sites produced or evaluated by scholars and librarians.
Selected Web Resources for Literary Research & Criticism
Meta Sites :
Critical and biographical websites about authors and their works that can be browsed by author, by title, or by nationality and literary period
Comprehensive collection of links to sites covering English & American literature (Compiled by Jack Lynch of Rutgers University)
English literature section of a mega-gateway organized by period, nation, subculture, and genre
(University of California, Santa Barbara)
Contemporary/World Literature :
Provides information about contemporary literature and authors in countries that were formerly colonies of Great Britain (Project of University Scholars Programme of the National University of Singapore)
American Literature :
Outlines & bibliographies of authors, themes and literary movements in the U.S. from colonial days to the present (California State University, Stanislaus)
An award-winning scholarly web site with annotated links to Shakespeare resources (Palomar College, California)
Step 7. Evaluate what you Find
Consider the materials you have located.
More on evaluating what you find
Purdue University Online Writing Lab "Evaluating sources of information" [internet]
Now write your paper.
If you need any help, here is a selection of resources on writing about literature
Thomson Gale: “How to write a term paper” [internet]
Uses example of studying, researching criticism and writing term paper about a novel
University of Victoria Hypertext Writer’s Guide [internet]
Useful guide covering all the basic components of writing and studying literature, and includes a glossary of literary terms
Search on OC Library Catalogue for such titles as :
McMahan, Elizabeth Literature and the writing process 7th ed Prentice Hall, 2004
Barnet, Sylvan A short guide to writing about literature 9th ed Longman, 2002 / 2004
Roberts, Edgar V. Writing about literature 10th ed Prentice Hall, 2002
[Located on the Library shelves in section PE 1479 .C7 ]
Step 8. Cite your Sources
Respect, not dis-respect! Acknowledge and cite!
Plagiarism is using other people's ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information. To avoid plagiarism, follow a few simple rules . . .
Cite your sources using the style recommended in your subject discipline or approved by your faculty. The following selected Citation Guides are to help you:
Prepared by: Michelle Ward & Anne Cossentine, Librarians Location: Penticton
Phone: (250) 492-4305 Local 3233
Last updated: April 2006