Welcome to the literature & literary criticism research guide!
This guide is intended for both English undergraduates and graduate students working on research projects or essays. In this guide, you will find resources for books, databases, journals, articles, and other kinds of materials, as well as research tips and professional resources.
Use the sidebar to navigate to particular types of resources, both library resources and external resources. Don't forget to check the Professional Resources tab for help finding conferences and academic journal CFPs!
Use the tabs above for more information about finding peer-reviewed articles, learning about good searching strategies, and tips for finding literary criticism at the library.
Contact your subject librarian, Hannah Menendez, with any questions or to request a research consultation.
General search tips:
1. Library databases don't work like Google.
You can't type a full sentence or phrase in; the database will pull every example of "and," "the," and "is" in and muddle your results. Use keywords with AND in between, for example: Beloved AND modernism.
2. Use quotation marks and Boolean operators to refine your search.
For most databases and in EngineOrange, if you put quotation marks around a phrase, it will search for that exact phrase rather than each word individually. For example, searching for Toni Morrison will likely pull up instances of John Morrison or Toni Doe, for example, but if you put the name in quotation marks, only articles using both names together exactly how you wrote it will come up in the results.
Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT: putting these (usually in all caps, though not every database requires that) between keywords can refine your search. AND between keywords searches for materials using both keywords; OR between keywords searches for materials that have either keyword (but not necessarily both); NOT between keywords searches for the first keyword but excludes the second.
OR is useful for when you're using a keyword with several synonyms that are relevant to your search. Instead of running multiple searches with different synonyms, you can run one search with OR between the keywords.
Use NOT if you're pulling up a lot of irrelevant material and there is a keyword that can exclude this material. For example, if you're searching for information about Mark Twain and you keep getting articles about the Mark Twain National Forest, you can exclude the phrase "National Forest" to get rid of those results.
Finding peer-reviewed articles:
Most journals and articles included in literary criticism-specific databases (see "Articles" tab) will be peer-reviewed; however, if you'd like to be sure, click on "advanced search" on the Engine Orange page or on any of the databases, and then check the box that says "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals." This box will be in different locations depending on the database, but the most common location is shown in the figure below:
You can also check to see if a particular journal is peer-reviewed by going to that journal's official website and checking the "for authors" or "submissions" page.
What is literary criticism?
Literary criticism is not "criticizing" literature: it is, quite simply, thinking about, analyzing, and commenting on literature. When your professor asks you to write an analysis essay or research paper about a novel, poem, short story, or other literature, you are being asked to write literary criticism. Formal literary criticism, however, is a field of study and scholarship. Like other kinds of scholarship, most formal literary criticism can be found in scholarly journal articles and books.
Finding literary criticism
Most literary studies courses will require you to analyze other scholars' arguments about your chosen text in order to make your own argument and/or analysis. The "Articles" tab of this guide lists several databases that contain journals dedicated to literary criticism.
1. Finding criticism for a major author:
If the text you are analyzing is well-known, often-studied, and/or older, chances are there is a large body of criticism out there. JSTOR is a great place to start, especially for anything written more than 10 years ago (the older the better, for your chances in JSTOR). If you're researching a very popular and often-studied text, such as a Shakespeare play or Jane Austen novel, you might have to keep your searches narrow (adding in more keywords) in order to find relevant material. Searching with a particular approach in mind will help: for example, if you're writing an essay on Pride and Prejudice from an ecocritical perspective, use "Jane Austen" AND "Pride and Prejudice" AND "ecocriticism."
Many major authors have their own journals and/or societies dedicated to criticism of their works. Use the Journal Search feature (you can find the search bar on the "Articles" tab of this page) to search for journal titles dedicated to that author. Remember as well that scholarly books and book chapters are excellent sources of criticism!
2. Finding criticism for a recent or lesser-known literary work:
The Project Muse and Humanities Source databases are probably your best bets for peer-reviewed journal articles about recently-published fiction. Keep in mind that if you're analyzing a text that was published fewer than three or four years ago, you are unlikely to find many, if any, published and peer-reviewed critical articles about it. This is simply because the peer-review publication process can take several years.
Another option is to check the Dissertations & Theses database (linked on "Articles" tab on this guide) and limit your search to the most recent posts; sometimes dissertations will include more recent material than peer-reviewed, published articles.
If the work is too recent or obscure to have much or any criticism about it, you still have a few options. If the author has previously published other works, read criticism about those works to see if there are any common themes or relevant analyses for your argument. You can also check with your professor to see if you can use book reviews and/or author interviews instead of journal articles as research for your essay. If neither of those are options, you might want to look outside of literary criticism and instead research theoretical or sociological peer-reviewed material relevant to the topic or theme.
3. Finding criticism for popular or genre fiction:
While there are several academic journals dedicated to popular fiction or various kinds of genre fiction, if the author is not writing "literary fiction," you may also have a difficult time finding literary criticism. If you're not finding much about your chosen work in the main literature and humanities databases, ask your professor if you can use non-peer reviewed materials. Reviews and essays in popular magazines can also be literary criticism, even if they aren't written in academic language or published in a peer-reviewed journal.