Alex E. Blazer Curriculum Vita Teaching Portfolio



Web Sources
    Subject Guides
    Subject Directories
    Search Engines
Print Sources
      Primary Texts
      Secondary Texts
Other Disciplines

Research Checklist

Documenting Sources

Online Research Methods in the Literature Classroom


This handout is designed to help teachers and students traverse the mire of research tools available online. More specifically, it outlines the typical search strategy for the literature student at OSU.

Part One: Web Source Research

The web offers scores of academic and scholarly websites devoted to giving biographical and background information on all genres and periods of literature--the foremost problem is finding them. The following kinds of sites--subject directories, subject guides, search engines--are organized from the most academic and most specific to the least. Thus, the first place to start web source research for an academic paper would be subject directories, the last place would be search engines. The second problem, as you will discover as you find and evaluate even the most academic sites, is that the world wide web offers only a paucity of critical argument and scholarly interpretation. Therefore, use web sources if and only if your instructor and assignment specifically allow them.

1. Subject Guides in Literature

Expert subject guides focus on specialized information within a field or group of fields, and are usually maintained by experts within those fields. Such sites make no attempt to catalog the entire web and are necessarily dependent on the expertise and judgment of whomever runs the site. However, a good subject guide can be an invaluable resource for focused academic research because the site operator has annotated the best sources for a particular field on the web.

2. Subject Directories

After searching a subject guide, the next place to go is a subject directory. Subject directories are sites which categorize not just one discipline, but any number of fields. Moreover, they some are not necessarily academic and are not maintained by people intimate with the field. Moreover, some links, especially in commercial sites, are actually paid to the subject directory for placement. The benefit to such sites is that they do allow simple searches within them. If a subject guide is a specialty boutique, then a subject directory is shopping center.

3. Search Engines

Search engines are massive databases of web pages compiled and updated by automated programs called "spiders." Spiders catalog the content of web pages word by word and trace connections among these pages link by link and report these results back to a central database. Although search engines are thorough, they have no editorial refinement and can only be searched by keywords. Therefore, if a word appears on a page, then that page would be generated on the search, regardless of the overall context of the page. If one looks up "Emily Dickinson" in a search engine, then pages found in the subject guides and directories will come up, but so too will commercial sites trying to sell her books and fan sites that merely list her on a links page. Moreover, some search engines, because they are commercial sites, rank search results according to paid sponsorship. Others rank search results by popularity. In either case, the results are not ranked by quality.

a. Meta-Search Engines

Meta-search engines are search engines that compile other search engines. The same cautions regarding and organization by popularity and paid sponsorship apply.

Note: Refer to CCL's handouts on online searching to get the most out of search engines.

Refer to CCL's handouts on website evaluation to help you analyze the quality of the sites found in your search, and contrast those sites to what is available in scholarly print sources.

Part Two: Print Source Research

The easiest material to find on the web when researching literature is biographical, historical, and contextual. The most difficult is scholarly criticism and interpretation. If you're doing a research paper, it's best to use scholarly books and journal articles found through the library's online catalogues. This section will guide you first through a book search and then through a journal article search.

Note: This handout provides strategies only; for more detailed manipulation of the catalogues, check out CCL's handouts on using OSCAR and Ohiolink's literary databases.

1. Books

All of The Ohio State University Libraries' catalogues are available online at <>.

At OSU, all searches for books begin with OSCAR, <>.


a. Primary Texts


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. For example, entering "Eugene O'Neill" into an "Author" search will return original works written by O'Neill himself; entering Long Day's Journey into Night will return all editions of the play that the library has.


b. Secondary Texts


If you want to search for secondary texts, that is, works of criticism about the author or primary text, enter the author and/or title of the work to be studied into a "Subject" search. This retrieves a list of works that the library has already organized for that particular author or work. If the subject search doesn't offer many results (either you've input an obscure author or an obscure work that doesn't have its own subject listing), then input the same author or title into a "Words" search. This results in entries that have the keywords somewhere in the listing (in the author, title, subject, or table of contents, for instance). The keyword search will yield both primary texts by the author or work and secondary texts about the author or work.

Use the "Mark Records" and "Export Saved Records" function on the browsing or records view to save citations to disk or send them to your email account for later use.

If you can't find any books or book chapters in OSCAR, click on "Ohiolink" and do the same set of searches. Ohiolink, which borrows from over 70 institutions in Ohio, takes 5-10 business days to ship items to OSU.

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.


While searching OSU's online catalogues for books is straightforward, searching for journal articles is not as they can be found in a number of places. Some journal articles can be directly downloaded from the research database while most must be obtained from the stacks after using OSCAR to locate them as one would a book. The first step in a journal article search is to find the articles. Journal articles are indexed in databases under "Other Online Research Tools" on the Libraries' main page.


(A note on online journals: Increasingly, scholarly journals are being published simultaneously in print and online. Online journal articles that mirror print articles are thus appropriate to use in an academic research setting. However, some online journals are not scholarly and are journals in name only. If you've found the journal through OSU's library system, then it's scholarly, if not, make sure that the journal adhere to the same standards as scholarly print journals, i.e., written by scholars in the field, extensively researched, referreed. When in doubt, check with your instructor to determine if it's appropriate to use as a resource.)


a. OhioLink Databases by Subject <>
   and by Title <>


These databases contain a broad range of information on innumerable topics. As OSU pays for the use of most of these sites, you must be logged on to the Internet via your OSU username and password to access them. If you're Off-Campus and not using Homenet, look for the Off-Campus Access link <>.


If you know the title of the database you want, use Databases by Title; otherwise, the first place to start is "Databases by Subject." For literary research, follow the "Language and Literature" link. Databases are then listed in alphabetical order. Most allow you to save and export records as in OSCAR. The most useful databases for secondary sources in literary studies are:

On the results page, you can click "Find a Copy" to determine if OSU Libraries has the journal and where it is located. Although a few journals in current issues are on the web; most are in the ETC reading room of the Main Library. Note that most journals cannot be checked out. You can copy the journal using the library's copiers or take notes on the journal while in the library (there's a computer lab beside the ETC reading room).

Alternatively, you can see if OhioLink has an electronic copy of the journal. On the OSU Libraries main page, Look for the OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center <> and use the drop down menu of Journals by Title.


b. Electronic Journals


Also check collections of journals with online articles to which OSU has access at <>. Most of the journals and searchable databases are scientific, but some are literary.

Part Three: Historical Background and Other Disciplines

Entering the author and the primary text into OSCAR by "Words" and "Subject" as well as literary databases gives secondary sources about the primary text that are mostly, if not wholly, literary.

You can also use OSCAR and other subject databases to find historical and contextual information, not necessarily about the work of literature itself, but about the culture it was produced in. For example, for a paper focusing on the Tyrones as an immigrant family in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, after searching for literary criticism on the topic, you could also search for variations of "immigrant family" in OSCAR "Words" and "Subject" to find books; and you could search (then limit) "immigration" in "History" Ohiolink subject databases such as Historical Abstracts, "Sociology" subject databases such as Sociological Abstracts, or even "Psychology" subject databases such as PsycInfo. Other useful databases for sociohistorical background include:

As literature incorporate all aspects of the human world, you can also research other relevant disciplines. Incorporate "Religion" research in a paper on Tyrone's Catholicism and Edmund's negative theology; or use "Medicine" research in a paper on Mary's morphine addiction and Edmund's TB prognosis. Depending on the work of literature and your topic, you may research art, education, ethnic and gender studies, law, mathematics, music, philosophy, and so forth.

Research Checklist

Have you checked . . .

Web sources like . . .

Subject guides like Jack Lynch's Literary Resources on the Web?
Subject directories like Academic Info?
Search engines like Hotbot?
Meta-search engines like Dogpile?

Print sources like . . .

Primary and secondary texts through OSCAR and
       through Ohiolink?
Journal articles through OSCAR and
       through Ohiolink subject databases such as MLA International Bibliography?

Documenting Sources

The Ohio State Universities Libraries has an abbreviated MLA style guide in html format at <> and in pdf format at <>.


CCL has a thorough checklist, with examples, of the information required for proper MLA citation of web sources at <>.