Roberta Tipton
Created February 3, 1998
Revised May 15, 2009
Learning Tools: Class Guides: Dana Class Guides:
Guide to Literary Criticism Research

If you are not familiar with literary research, the three guiding principles will help you as you search for critical material on a given literary work (e.g., novel, short story, play, poem).

Otherwise, use the Search Steps to find "LitCrit" quickly and efficiently.

Three Guiding Principles

Principle 1

Before you even attempt to search for literary criticism, make sure you have

  • READ THE WORK in question,
  • IDENTIFIED MAIN THEMES or characteristics of the work, and
  • MADE NOTES about your reactions to these themes and characteristics.

This preparatory work will help you identify the relevant portions of any criticism you encounter.

Principle 2

Most items are retrieved by searching for the author's name as a subject. Even author biographies commonly deal with literary works as an outgrowth or reflection of the author's life experience.

A note about using books: Students are usually concerned that they will have to read an entire book in order to find material on a single work, but that is rarely the case. Use the preface, table of contents, and index of a book to identify and locate the pieces of each volume really wanted or needed.

Principle 3

Adjust your search according to what you actually find. For example, a single poem by a well-known poet might receive very little coverage in a given periodical index. On the other hand, the author may be covered very well.

Since authors often write about recurrent themes (or even personal or artistic obsessions!), a workable strategy is to "fall back" to the "author's name as subject" position. Then, apply what you find out about the author's writing in general to that specific work.

Search Steps

  1. Go to the Gale Literature Resource Center for background material.

  2. Consult appropriate Library Guides for more sources.

  3. Search IRIS, the Rutgers online catalog, using the author's name as a SUBJECT.

  4. Search Academic Search Premier (EbscoHost) using the title of the work. If you fail to find enough material, try the author's name. Although Academic Search Premier is not a literary database, some literary articles are available here in full text. If Academic Search Premier fails to yield enough material, do not hesitate to move along to Humanities Full Text and MLA International Bibliography.

  5. Search Humanities Full Text using the title of the work as SUBJECT. If you fail to find enough material, try the author's name as SUBJECT.

  6. Search MLA International Bibliography using the title of the work as SUBJECT. If you fail to find enough material, try the author's name as SUBJECT.

  7. Search Literature Online (LION).

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