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Conducting literary research at F&M

This video demonstrates how to conduct literary research using the College Library's online databases, including the MLA International Bibliography, Google Scholar, and JStor. 

General Search Tips

Keywords
  • Remember that you need to use keywords to search library resources, not natural language. 
  • Think about various different terms that are or could be used to describe your topic, including synonyms. 
  • Use "quotes" around multiple terms that you'd like to use as a phrase.
  • For example:
    • "natural environment" AND business
    • "feminist theory" OR feminism
Boolean Operators
  • AND, OR, NOT are used between your keywords to broaden or narrow your search. 
  • AND will search for both terms. 
  • OR will search for either one term or the other, but not both. 
  • NOT will search for one term but not the other.
  • For example:
    • business AND ("natural environment" OR sustainability) 
    • "feminist theory" NOT economy
Subject Headings/Terms
  • Subject Headings/Terms are controlled phrases assigned to library materials to organize them. 
  • Use Subject Headings/Terms to find similar items when searching the library catalog and databases.
  • For example:
    • Sustainable development
    • Business enterprises -- environmental aspects
    • SOCIAL SCIENCE Feminism & Feminist Theory 
Limiters/Filters
  • Many databases provide ways for you to limit your search results.
  • If your initial search is too large, consider limiting by date, type of publication, subject, etc. 

Finding sources on contemporary literature

Finding criticism and relevant secondary sources for works of literature published since the 1990s can sometimes be challenging. Use the following strategies to ensure that you have found all the scholarly and popular sources that are out there:

1. Search in multiple databases: It is always wise to start your search at the MLA International Bibliography, but you should also search in Google Scholar too. In addition to databases like JStor and Project MUSE, Google Scholar also searches institutional repositories containing scholarship by students and faculty at a given school. Running a search in Google can also help you find popular sources which you may be able to use, like book reviews, online articles, and books from commercial presses like Random House and Knopf. And it is always a good idea to search in Discover for books owned by the College Library or which we can get you through Interlibrary Loan (individual chapters) or EZ-Borrow (entire print books)

2. Run multiple searches using different keywords: If you search for the title of a short story and get no results, try searching for the title of the collection of short stories in which it was published. If titles of the works plus the author's last name are not getting you any results, try a search for the author's name only and look through the results for relevant works.

3. Use subject headings to expand your search to related topics and historical periods: The hyperlinked subject headings in databases like MLAIB and Discover can be a great way to expand your search to include sources on the historical period and place in which the work of fiction is set, the work's genre or affiliation with a literary movement like Modernism or Postmodernism, or the work's key themes and concepts like feminism, gender, or race. Unable to find a source with subject headings? Think about which headings and concepts would apply to the work and run searches using them as keywords.

4. Use citations and bibliographies to find additional sources: Once you find a relevant secondary source, use it to find others by searching in the footnotes/endnotes and Bibliography/Works Cited list for additional relevant works.

5. Ask Chris Barnes for research assistance: Tried the above strategies and still unable to find suitable secondary sources? Email Chris Barnes with a description of your research need. He can help you make sure you have exhausted all your search options or he can schedule a one-on-one online meeting with you to discuss more complicated issues.

 

Chris Barnes intro video

What makes a source scholarly?

Scholarly sources...

  • ...are written by and for faculty, researchers, or scholars. 
  • ...use scholarly or technical language specific to the field. 
  • ...include full citations for sources used. 
  • ...are often peer-reviewed or refereed. 
  • ...are NOT book reviews or editorials, even when they are in a scholarly journal. 

What's Peer Review? 

  • Process by which research articles are published in an academic journal. 
  • Essentially quality tests done by experts that help verify the article's findings, arguments, and conclusions. 
  • A synonym for refereed articles, as peer reviewers are sometimes called referees. 
  • For more about peer review, watch the video below!

Scholarly Communications Librarian