Literary Research Methods
This handout will help you find scholarly journal articles, books, and book
chapters using Voyager and the article databases available on the University
It will also help you find authoritative and scholarly websites using online
subject directories, guides, and search engines. You should always use
scholarly journal articles and books in a research paper because these constitute
appropriate research in all venues. However you should not use websites
in research unless your instructor explicitly allows and your assignment
prompt directly calls for them because websites generally offer context rather
At GVSU, all searches for books and book chapters
begin with a Voyager search, the online catalogue accessed on the University
Libraries homepage as the "Do we own it?" search or on the Voyager page
that affords advanced search options.
a. Primary Texts
- Author Search: If you want to search for primary texts by an author,
input the author's last name then first name, separated by a comma, into an
Author search. For example, entering O'Neill, Eugene into an Author search
will return original works written by O'Neill himself.
- Title Search: If you want to search for primary texts, that is, works
of literature (novels, shorts story collections, books of poetry, plays, films,
albums), input the title of the work into a Title search with quotation marks
around the title. For example, entering "Long Day's Journey into Night"
will return all editions of the play that the library has.
b. Secondary Texts
- Subject Search: If you want to search for secondary texts, that
is, works of scholarly criticism written about the author or primary text,
enter the author (last name, first name) into a "Browse Subjects" search.
This retrieves a list of works that the library has already organized for
that particular author. For example, Arthur Miller has his own subject
catagory that is subdivided into different catagories, including his major
- Keyword Search: If the subject search doesn't offer many results,
then try a Keyword search. Inputting the author's name (first name and last
name in quotation marks) or the work's title (in quotation marks) will retrieve
books that have that exact phrase somewhere in the title, table of contents,
or subject. The Keyword search will yield both secondary texts about the
author or work as well as primary texts by the author or on the work.
- Records Options: The table at the bottom of the results page allows
you to display, print, or email the results of your search to yourself in
a number of bibliographic formats.
2. Journal Articles
Journals are scholarly publications that are issued two to four times a year.
Journal articles are extensive, sometimes book chapter-length essays written
by scholars in the field. Therefore, journal articles should not be confused
with magazine and newspaper articles, which are short essays written by non-academics
on deadline. Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, refrain from using
magazine and newspaper articles as sources in a literary research paper. There
are two steps in the process of researching journal articles. First, you must
search article databases for articles; and, second, you must locate the journals
that contain the articles.
a. Searching Article Databases
There are a two ways to commence your search for journal articles, each of
which are linked under the "Start" heading on the University
Libraries homepage. Note: clicking eJournals will take you to a title
listing of journals, not a searchable database of journal articles.
- Subject Resources : Clicking on Subject
Resources and then English or Literature will take you to English databases .
- Databases: Clicking on Databases allows you to see all of the databases licensed for use by the GVSU community.
- Nautilus: I only recommend using Nautilus if you do not know what subject resource (like English or Art) or database (like Academic Search Premier or Literature Online) to choose.
No matter the route you take, you will be using article databases, the most
appropriate for your search are listed in order of importance.
- Academic Search Premier (Ebsco) : Also known as Academic Search
Premier, this database covers a broad range of periodicals, not all of them
academic or literary. If you use this database, be sure to "Limit your
results" by "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals." Also make
sure to use only the literary journals.
- Literature Online (LION) : Incorporates the Annual Bibliography
of English Language and Literature (ABELL) and JSTOR into
its index, accesses over 150 full-text journals, and provides full-text of
over 350,000 English and American poems and play. Click on "Criticism
and reference," then proceed with your Keyword or Author/Subject search.
- ABELL: A database much like MLA (see below), but smaller.
- JSTOR: Searchable database of over 300 scholarly journals in
the humanities alone. Even more in other disciplines.
- Literature Criticism Online: Contains full-text of Contemporary Literarary Criticism, Twentieth-Century,
Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism,
Shakespearean Literature Criticism,
Literature Criticism 1400-1800,
Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism,
Short Story Criticism,
Drama Criticism, and
Children's Literature Review
- MLA International Bibliography: A database of over 3000 journals.
Input the author and/or the title of the work you're researching (inside
quotation marks) into a Keyword search. Results include journal articles,
book chapters, and dissertations.
- Dissertation Abstracts International: Unless you're working
on senior research with a lot of time to obtain these, it's safe to disregard
- Book Reviews: Book reviews are not journal articles; rather
than using a book review as a source, you should obtain the book
- Project Muse: Searchable list of over 200 scholarly journals now
- Humanities Index: A much smaller database than MLA, but nonetheless
- Literature Resource Center: The articles located under the Literary
Criticism, Articles, and Work Overviews tab count as scholarly journal articles
in research papers in my classes. However, the overviews and reviews do not count.
The author biographies from Contemporary Authors, the Dictionary
of Literary Biography, and so forth contained under the Biographies tab
do not count either.
- Cambridge Companions Online: Over 200 books covering major authors
and issues in the humanities available online.
Note for Liberal Studies students: Because Liberal Studies courses include not only literature but also music, art, and philosophy, you may need to use other Subject Databases after checking the English databases above.
- Art Abstracts
- Humanities Abstracts
- Liberal Studies
- General OneFile
- Wilson Select Plus
- Arts and Humanities Citations Database
- RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
Here are two good databases available outside
of the library's site.
b. Locating Journals
After you have found the listings for journal articles within the article
databases, you must retrieve the articles. Although many listings have links
to the full-text articles, some journals are available
only in print. However, like books, GVSU does not possess every journal listed
in the article databases. To determine if GVSU owns the journal, input
the title of the journal from which the article comes into a "Do we own it?"
journal title search on