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ENGL 153 (Hannah Calder): Studies in Narrative

Research - Literature

Writing an essay requires you to answer a research question.

How does the author's use of certain themes or styles contribute to your understanding of the text? How do the depictions of characters differ from one work to another? Essentially, you are creating an argument supported by the text along with research sources. 

Purdue University has some great information on writing about literature. This link would make a great starting point: Literature Topics & Research

How you choose to answer your research question is up to you, but your response to the question should be backed by research that shows evidence to support or oppose the views being expressed. You will likely need to use a combination of research sources, some of which may relate directly to the author or work about which you are writing, and some which may discuss material you want to explore in your assignment that you can relate to your text. For instance, if you were investigating an author's representations of mental health or depression, you might look for sources that consider how those have been represented in other art or literature. 

Searching for information using library tools is best accomplished when you stick to keywords or phrases that describe your subject specifically (do not type in your entire research question and expect useful results!)

"Author Name" AND "Name of Work Being Studied" "mental health" OR depression  
"Bram Stoker" gothic OR horror  
literature AND depression    
Writing a research essay is similar to telling a fact-based story. Think to yourself:

What do I want to tell my reader? A thesis should tell the purpose of the paper.

Read background information about your author / work / literary movement. Interviews, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, course notes, etc. will all help you interpret detailed academic sources in your research, and may bring to mind ideas for research questions you want to pursue.

You would never build a house without a blue-print, so why would you write an essay without one? Build the scaffolding before filling in the details. Break out topics and sections first so you know where your paper is going, and you know your research needs. 

Identify your keywords before searching. Use a thesaurus to come up with synonyms for the same word to expand search results.

Find a good article? Check the citations or reference list and search OCtopus to find the articles used by the author.

Tips:

  • Use KEYWORDS, avoid phrases that include filler words such as, of, the, it, if, are.
  • Words that contain multiple concepts require quotation marks to be processed as a PHRASE. This is especially important when searching for names of authors and/or their works. For example, "Kurt Vonnegut", "Cat's Cradle".
  • AND, OR, and NOT will improve your search results. These are BOOLEAN search terms used to join more than one search concept. 

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