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Search Strategies

In the field of literary studies, there are a variety of strategies for finding relevant sources to inform your essay topics. Consider searching for information on:

  • the author under study

  • specific works of the author, or broader discussion of their work

  • literary themes, techniques or subgenres represented in the text

  • identities important to the text (national, political, sexual, gender etc.)

  • combinations of the above

Tip: Add the term criticism to your search words to narrow results down to works of literary criticism


Text / author specific search journal artticle: Re-writing the Bhabhian "mimic man": Akin, the posthuman other in Octavia Butler's Adulthood Rites

Broadened, genre/theme journal article: Self and Other in SF: Alien Encounters

Background Sources

Background sources, also known as reference works (encyclopedias, handbooks, literary dictionaries, etc.) can be a helpful entry point to a research topic. They can provide biographical information about authors, overviews of key texts, introductions to literary genres, themes and techniques, along with helpful definition. 

TIP: Keep search queries very short when using background sources - usually one or two search words is enough, e.g. Octavia Butler, cyborg, dystopia, etc.

Recommended Collections
Recommended Titles

Finding Literary Criticism

  • MLA International Bibliography
    • Includes journal articles and references to books and book chapters (you will need to look for books/chapters in LibrarySearch)
    • Considered one of the most important tools in literary studies
    • Be sure to try the advanced search and experiment with the drop-down menus there. Use the drop-downs to search for keywords in the ABSTRACT, TITLE, or SUBJECT of results to improve relevance. 
      MLA dropdown
  • Literature Resource Center
    • Includes scholarly and non-scholarly content, focus on scholarly content (for example, avoid book reviews)
    • Keep searches simple - start with author name, or title of text
  • Literature Criticism Online 
    • This tool gathers reviews/critical commentary focusing on a specific author or work. Use the drop-down menu to search for author, title of text, or keyword search for thematic terms.
    •  Use the sidebars to narrow results.
    • Look at the word counts provided, to avoid short, non-academic articles.
  • LibrarySearch - on the MRU Library homepage 
    • Includes journal articles, books and book chapters of literary criticism, as well as book reviews
    • Try adding the term criticism to your search.
    • Try limiting your search by subject using the side panel. From the list, select a tag relevant to your topic, e.g., languages & literature, or science fiction. This pulls only those results that have been "tagged" with the subject term you selected.
    • Sign in when using LibrarySearch; this allows you to "pin" or save items you find.

MIne Bibliographies

Look carefully at the works cited lists of relevant sources:

Track down relevant titles you see listed there, then look for the full-text in multiple places:

Search Tips

Assembling search queries

- Put important phrases inside "quotation marks" e.g., "science fiction"

- Search for all possible endings of a word by placing an asterisk * at the end of a word stem, e.g., psychol*

- Experiment with synonyms or alternate way to express key ideas, e.g., other, otherness, alien 

Use filters to improve results

- Select journal article and scholarly & peer-review to limit to scholarly articles

- Use the subject filter to limit to results tagged with specific words


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Alice Swabey
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