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Literary Criticism and Author Research

This guide will help you get started with research into authors and literary criticism. Use the tabs below to navigate through the guide.

What Type of Database Should You Start With?

Selecting the right database can be the best way to find relevant sources.  You may want to start with a general database, like Academic Search Ultimate and then move on to a more specialized one like Gale Literary Sources.  If you can't seem to find anything on your research topic, try different keywords or another database.  Remember, you can always ask for help by using Ask A Librarian.

research database:

  • can be subject specific (e.g. exclusively about literature)  or multidisciplinary (about many academic disciplines).
  • may include citationsfull text, or a mixture (full text and bibliographic abstracts) from hundreds or thousands of periodicals
  • Look for the in databases like Academic Search Ultimate and MLA International Bibliography. This powerful tool searches for the full-text article across all the library's electronic resources. If it can't find the article, it will point you to our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service, ILLiad.

The Difference between Book Reviews and Literary Criticism

When your professor requires that you read and cite only peer-reviewed journal articles, you should exclude any book reviews.  Book reviews may be acceptable sources if the author or work is very contemporary and little or no literary criticism has been published. Furthermore, most book reviews include a great deal of analysis and interpretation. However, reviews lack footnotes or citations and are not peer reviewed. Overall, a book review is the opinion of one professional book reader. A new edition of a previously published book may appear (for example, Nella Larson's novel Passing), and this event may lead to brand new reviews of Passing in culturall magazines like The New Yorker and Harper's.

You would also want to read and cite book reviews if your paper is a study of the reception of a book in popular media over the decades.

One clarification on the chart: It's not exactly accurate to say that book reviewers have no formal training in literary criticism. That is an exagerration to make the point that literary criticism almost always appears in scholarly journals, where professors publish their new ideas.