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ENG L506: Introduction to Methods of Criticism and Research

A library research guide for the English L506 course

Background Information & Books

Before you can start any research on your topic, you must have a background knowledge of it. Books and websites can provide you with that knowledge.

This is important because:

  1. Background sources give you the language that people are using to discuss your topic. You will use this language when you start to search databases for scholarly articles and resources on the topic.
  2. This "pre-research" gives you a sense if your topic is focused enough. If your initial searches bring back so many results you can't even figure out what the language is, then you should consider narrowing your topic.

Remember, background information is always a starting point for research, not an ending point.

English reference sources

Below is a list of reference resources--meaning resources like Wikipedia that you can use to look up quick facts about authors, places, time periods, or literary movements, as well as do some background reading to become more familiar with a topic.  I'm also including the OED and the AP style guide for quick reference on word definitions and grammar usage. 

Be sure to also check the encyclopedia-style databases listed above in the "Background Information" box. 

Searching in Reference Materials

Searching in reference books and reference databases requires different skills. However, one aspect remains similar. You will need to either search with a keyword or browse.

If it is a book, you can search the Index of the book to find your keyword(s) or topic(s). If it's an eBook, often you can search the full text through a search box. You can browse the book's Table of Contents for its structure and an overview of the book's content. 

If it is a reference database, you can use keywords to search it; however, you may also take a moment to familiarize yourself with how it is structured. Topics may be organized hierarchically, and in that case, you may wish to browse to narrow down to your topic. Also, reference databases, like Wikipedia, sometimes link to other related topics and concepts.