The library has an extensive collection of books on literature plus one-on-one research assistance from librarians, so it’s worth a visit. We’re located in the heart of campus in the 3500 building. In addition, a wealth of literary criticism is available to you online through the library’s databases. The library homepage is a gateway to our resources.
So you’re writing a research paper about a novel, short story, play, or poem, and your instructor recommends that you find some literary criticism or secondary material on the topic. You guess she’s probably not looking for a Wikipedia article, but what exactly does she mean?
In literature, the novel or story you’re reading is considered the primary source, and essays, articles, books, and websites about the story or author are secondary sources. For example, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien is a primary source, while the book Tim O’Brien: A Critical Companion is a secondary source. Literary criticism refers to the kind of scholarly studies usually found in books and academic journals.
The web has made possible a wide-open conversation about books and poems, one that you yourself may want to join, but for in-depth analysis and interpretation of literary works, you will find the best resources in the library. This guide will show you how to find critical essays and books on your topic, whether it is a poem, short story, novel, or play. For print resources you will need to visit the library in person, but we also have many resources available online.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
-- Zora Neale Hurston
When you start work on a research paper, you join a community of scholars. Your job is not simply to report the literary criticism you read, but to evaluate and use it to support your own ideas and opinions. "By using secondary sources you can enrich your analysis, as you place yourself in the midst of the scholarly community ..."*
*Barnet, Sylvan and William E. Cain. A Short Guide to Writing about Literature. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009: 306.
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